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US Footwear Sales Slump in Q1, But Athleisure Styles Still Hot

The NPD Group has released the latest numbers from its footwear sales tracking, revealing a weak market that’s still being dominated by leisure and sports-related styles.

Of the three categories covered—fashion, leisure and performance—all three reported lower sales in the first quarter of 2019 compared to the same time frame last year.

Leisure sales led the way, with a quarterly tally of $3.2 billion, just 1 percent lower than the $3.3 billion earned in 2018. In contrast, fashion footwear sales were down 12 percent at $2.4 billion compared to $2.7 billion in 2018 and performance sales were down 9 percent to $1.7 billion after recording $1.8 billion in the previous year.

“There were three main factors that affected Q1 athletic footwear sales. The 53rd week in the 2018 retail calendar, which was accounted for in January 2018, hurt January 2019 sales; the later and lower IRS returns had a negative impact on February and the shift of Easter to later in April dampened the March results,” Matt Powell, senior industry advisor at NPD explained. “In particular, performance footwear (especially basketball) and brands focused on this category underperformed in Q1. A bright spot continues to be that smaller brands are thriving and growing faster than the overall market.”

Broken down further, the category that saw the biggest loss in Q1 of 2019 was children’s fashion footwear, another possible casualty of the irregular tax return season. Fashion footwear sales among children were down 20 percent to just $90.6 million from $112.9 million a year ago.  There were no categories that improved upon the comparable period last year, only men’s leisure styles remained pat, pulling in $1.5 billion in Q1 both this year and last.

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“Athleisure remains the greatest driver in an overall weak apparel and footwear business,” Powell told Sourcing Journal. “Athleisure as an idea is here to stay.”

For the purposes of this report, fashion footwear sales included dress, casual, slipper and evening shoe styles while performance included walking, sport and running styles. Leisure, the largest category, includes hiking, occupational, sport lifestyle and boot styles.

Both Powell and Beth Goldstein, NPD’s fashion footwear and accessories analyst, added that, despite a major difference in retail calendars between the first quarter and the comparable period last year, sales would likely still be down for all but leisure styles.

Excluding the 53rd week in the 2018 retail calendar which fell in January 2018, trends would have improved by about five percentage points across the three major categories (fashion, leisure, and performance); however, only leisure would have shown an actual positive trend,” Goldstein noted. “Non-performance sneakers continued to grow throughout the quarter. ‘Buy now, wear now’ purchasing drove colder weather silhouettes earlier in the season, and more transitional/seasonless silhouettes such as mules and loafers in March.”