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Performance Footwear to Falter This Holiday As Athleisure ‘Maintains Its Grip’

It could be a long holiday season for brands looking to push performance footwear and activewear.

According to NPD’s vice president and senior industry advisor for sports retail, Matt Powell, there’ll be a lack of “hot” items in those categories this season, putting athletic brands in a tough spot.

As such, Powell expects desperation to set in and drive brands toward an “extremely promotional” holiday. Many, he wrote in his most recent “Sneakernomics” column, will likely look to increase production of previously limited silhouettes in an effort to compensate.

“Last year, brands dramatically increased those releases in the heat of the holiday season instead, so offsetting those releases this year will be challenging,” Powell said. “So far, I see no catalyst to drive sales into the positive column for Holiday.”

Athletic footwear sales were up in the low single digits in the third quarter but the category has been struggling since 2015 and is officially “out of fashion,” while athleisure controls the lion’s share of consumer interest.

“Despite this trend, brands continue to force performance shoes on consumers who have made clear they are uninterested,” Powell explained.

Even sport lifestyle, the category that encompasses athleisure trends and other sports-related footwear, has seen slower growth than usual, according to NPD’s Retail Tracking Service. The firm’s market analysis does not point to this trend changing during the holiday season.

However, some smaller brands have been able to gain momentum in the activewear and performance space, especially brands like Hoka One One, Vans, Puma, Fila and On Running—not to mention Champion, which is on track to become a $3 billion brand. Each of these brands, according to Powell, are currently outperforming the market and represent “a bright spot” among larger brands that continue to struggle.

Nike, Converse and Brand Jordan sales, for instance, were positive in the third quarter but Powell suspects it would be tricky to continue that progress over the holidays.

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“Converse continues to struggle, largely in part due to Vans’ strength as the two brands appeal to the same customer,” Powell said. “But, with Vans continuing to introduce new models it is showing an upper hand when comparing the two brands’ performances in the marketplace.”

As has been the case for months, Nike’s most popular shoe and the best-selling athletic shoe for the past two years, the Nike Tanjun, has seen declining sales despite the fact that it continues to dominate sales across the board. With no replacement to supplant or improve its position, NPD’s data predicts mid-tier channels and footwear-specific chains will have issues in the fourth quarter and for the holidays.

On the other hand, the outdoor industry has a case for growth in the fourth quarter as tracking data has reported positive sales in the climbing category this year. Still, with weakness in other segments, Powell suggested that entering into the resale market might be a wise choice for brands that want to capitalize on secondhand fervor.

Overall, the holidays may be bleak for retailers not already equipped to succeed during the shorter season, which could end up stripping $1 billion in sales from brands and retailers, according to Powell. Gift cards, however, may help companies regain some of those sales.

“With the shorter holiday season this year, gift cards will represent an opportunity and retailers need to flaunt the convenience factor that they represent,” Powell said. “We can also expect online sales to surge due to the short season. Ease and convenience have the potential to make or break consumers’ purchasing decisions.”