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Athletic Footwear Sales Cratered in Q1, Even Before COVID-19 Hit

Athletic footwear and apparel sales have suffered under the yoke of social distancing measures instituted to combat the coronavirus, The NPD Group said, heavily impacting first-quarter sales.

In Q1, athletic footwear dollar sales were down in the mid-teens, according to Matt Powell, NPD’s vice president and senior sports industry advisor. Both the men’s and women’s markets fell in the mid-teens while kid’s athletic footwear dollar sales were down in the high teens.

“Month by month, January sales grew by about 10 percent, driven by some brands releasing more limited edition shoes to help compensate for their Q4 numbers,” Powell said.

However, February’s numbers were down in the low-single digits even before the pandemic fully hit the United States as a result of a poor NBA All-Star Game performance for basketball footwear.

By March, sales were down 40 percent as the effects of social distancing measures began to fully impact the retail industry.

“At the channel level, athletic specialty/sporting goods stores and shoe chains both saw declines in the high teens, while moderate department stores dropped in the mid-teens and premium department stores were down in the mid-singles,” Powell said.

Athletic footwear related to spring sports, including baseball, golf and soccer, was the hardest hit of all categories and fell by an average of 30 percent during the quarter. Sports footwear more likely to be used casually, including performance basketball shoes and sport lifestyle footwear, still declined in the mid-teens.

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Not even running footwear was left unscathed, despite reports running has a received a popularity bump as people search for a form of exercise acceptable in the social distancing era.

“While anecdotally the word on the street is that more people are running today as they can’t or won’t go to fitness clubs, the data shows that running footwear sales also dropped in the mid-teens,” Powell said.

Skate shoes, one of the fastest-growing categories before the pandemic, fell by 20 percent in Q1, as well.

According to NPD, the best-selling individual styles in the first quarter were the Nike Air Force 1 Low, Nike Air Max 270, Nike Air VaporMax Plus, Nike Revolution 5, Nike Air Max 97, Jordan XIII, Nike Air VaporMax Flyknit 3, Adidas NMD R1, Jordan I Retro High OG, and Nike Air Max 90.

Despite its overall strong performance, , Nike footwear sales still fell in the high teens, while Jordan dropped in the low teens and Converse suffered a 30 percent decline.

Adidas, Asics, Skechers and Vans declined in the teens while Under Armour was down around 25 percent. Fila, one of the hottest brands in 2019, fell by almost half.

Puma, on the other hand, improved in the low single-digits. Brooks Running may have been the beneficiary of whatever running bump may have hit the market, as sales improved in the mid-single-digit range during the first quarter.

“Activewear sales also declined in the mid-teens for Q1, with the men’s and women’s markets down in the mid-teens and kids’ dropping by more than 20 percent,” Powell said. “Premium and mid-tier department stores and athletic specialty/sporting goods all declined in the high teens.”

Sweatpants and activewear apparel that can be worn in the home saw a sales increase in the low-single-digit range. According to NPD, all other categories declined, including bras, knit shirts, outerwear tops, shorts, sweatshirts, swimwear and socks.

Some brands have been able to capitalize on the new normal, including Champion and Hanes, which grew by mid-single digits. The aggregate sales of all activewear private brands saw a small decline, with Adidas down by 25 percent, Under Armour down by 20 percent and Nike down in the mid-teens.

Fruit of the Loom also saw a low-single-digit decline, NPD said.

NPD will continue to monitor sales in the category and will gauge whether the infusion of stimulus checks into the economy can bolster sales.