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2019’s Best-Selling Sneaker List Holds Few Surprises

Although sneakers of all shapes and sizes were still among the most dominant forms of footwear in 2019, the year’s sales results weren’t so much of a continuation of that trend as they were a warning that there could be change on the horizon.

Athletic footwear, which encompasses performance, sport-leisure, outdoor and work footwear, saw only marginal growth last year—up in the low single digits, according to The NPD Group’s retail tracking service. This result held true across men’s, women’s and children’s footwear, NPD senior industry advisor Matt Powell said, although kids’ shoes performed the best.

Why the slowdown? Athletic footwear lacked a “hot” item or brand to drive sales throughout the year and continues to struggle in serving up products that will entice women to spend. Each of the top five women’s athletic brands posted losses in 2019.

“The women’s business remains the industry’s greatest challenge and its greatest opportunity,” Powell said. “Hopefully the arrival of Lululemon footwear will shake the industry.”

By dollar amount, here were the 10 best-selling styles throughout the year:

  1. Nike Air Max 270
  2. Nike Air Force 1 Low
  3. Nike Tanjun
  4. Adidas NMD R1
  5. Jordan IV Retro
  6. Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2
  7. Vans Ward
  8. Converse Chuck Taylor OX Low
  9. Nike Air Max 97
  10. Jordan XI Retro

Though Nike continues to overpower the list, the presence of a top-five Adidas sneaker and the healthy performance of a Vans product could indicate some diversification at the top.

“It’s only news when Nike Inc. does NOT dominate this list,” Powell tweeted on Tuesday. “Some years they sweep.”

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Overall, Nike posted a low single-digit increase, NPD data shows, and wasn’t able to replicate the sales of 2018’s top-selling shoe, its Tanjun silhouette, with new sales for its popular Air Max 270. Meanwhile, Jordan grew in the mid-single digits but Converse declined in the mid-teens.

However, Adidas, which declined in the mid-single digits, failed to gain ground in the race due to a poor Q4 and Yeezy sales that Powell said “appear to be down” compared to 2018. Under Armour posted a decline in the low teens as it suffered from the consumer shift away from elevated performance and toward sports leisure.

Puma and Fila were both able to grab “solid gains,” according to NPD data. Vans saw sales grow more than 20 percent, continuing a remarkable rebirth and part of a skate shoes category that achieved low-teens growth. Among running shoe brands, Asics fell by low singles and Brooks increased its revenue in the low teens.

By category, sport lifestyle or athleisure footwear continues to be the driving force in the athletic footwear market. As the largest individual category, NPD reported that sport lifestyle footwear grew in the high-single digits and continues to outpace fashion footwear.

All other major performance categories went negative in 2019, Powell said, with performance running falling in the low-single digits. Last year, basketball shoes represented just 5 percent of all sales and have almost completely dropped off as a driver of footwear sales, declining in the low teens.

“I hope people are not expecting a big lift to performance basketball shoe sales due to NBA All-Star Game,” Powell tweeted of the category. “That train has left the station.”