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These Sneaker Brands Dominated Back-to-School Sales, NPD Says

For most students, going back to school means a brand new pair of sneakers—and the brands they choose can offer some great insight into the mindshare today’s sneaker giants command.

According to the NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service at the halfway point of a 13-week back-to-school season, which started July 7 and ends the last week of September, athletic footwear sales increased slightly in dollars but fell in units sold. This led to a low single-digit increase in the average selling price.

Matt Powell, NPD’s vice president and senior industry advisor for sports, suggested the results may be an effect of a shifting back-to-school season.

“Over the nearly 20 years I’ve been doing research on the athletic footwear industry, the back-to-school season has changed significantly,” Powell wrote in a blog post. “The season lasts longer, extending well after Labor Day. I think kids are waiting to see what the others are wearing and parents believe if they wait, they’ll get a better price. Back-to-school, while still an important shopping period, does not peak as it used to. Consumers are spending money when they need to—not based on a retail calendar.”

This analysis follows what many have said about the footwear and apparel industry, at large. Consumers have largely come to prefer products that work year-round and can transition into multiple situations. Sneakers have long been the prototype for this model and have therefore become effectively season-less.

That doesn’t mean there was nothing to glean from the new data, however. Some brands significantly outperformed others when it came to the youth demographic.

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FILA’s sales, for one, grew by “more than a third” over the comparable mark last year, according to NPD, followed by Vans at 25 percent growth. Puma was up in the high single-digits and Brooks managed to be the only running brand not to decline in the quarter, growing in the mid-single digits.

Nike and Adidas, on the other hand, could have performed better during the back-to-school season. Nike’s sales improved in the low-single digits, but Brand Jordan fell in the mid-singles and Converse in the mid-teens. Nike brands were down overall, and Powell said the group “ceded share” during the period.

Adidas declined by low single-digits, a disappointing mark for the brand, but NPD data shows it was able to offset that in part by issuing a new Yeezy release during the quarter. Skechers was also down in the mid-single digits and Under Armour declined in the mid-teens.

The market itself also went through some changes compared to this time last year. According to the report, the sport lifestyle segment—think athleisure sneakers—has fallen off from its historic growth.

“The sport lifestyle segment—which represented 57 percent of sales—grew in the mid-singles, well off its previous pace,” Powell noted. “Last year’s top-selling shoe has not been replaced, but its sales are in sharp decline. The lack of a true ‘hot item’ is hurting this critical category. If the trend continues to plateau, overall sales will suffer. Skate shoes grew in the mid-teens, again, off of its previous pace.”

In 2018, the Nike Tanjun was the top-selling athletic shoe, according to NPD, providing consumers with a low-price entry into the Nike footwear experience. However, Powell authored a tweet at the end of July that said the Nike Air Max 270 had unseated the sneaker in terms of total revenue throughout the first half of year. Following the Tanjun in that measure was the Jordan IV Rings, the Nike Air Force 1 and the Jordan VI.

The top six styles in the first half were all made by Nike, ending its streak with the Jordan IV. But both Vans and Adidas made the top ten on a list that has, at times, been completely dominated by the Oregonian sports brand. The seventh best-selling style in the first half was the Adidas NMD R1 sneaker, followed by the Chuck Taylor OX Low, the Vans Ward and the Nike Revolution 4 running shoe.

Additionally, NPD data revealed that troubles have continued for basketball sneakers. The category now represents less than 5 percent of total athletic footwear sales. According to Powell, there is “no evidence that any performance segment will be back in fashion anytime soon.”