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‘Seismic Shift’ Ahead in Footwear? Experts Unpack Brand-New Data

Lacking last year’s stimulus-fueled boost, U.S. footwear unit sales and revenue both declined in the first quarter versus 2021, according to The NPD Group data.

Though average prices increased 11 percent year over year, a 12 percent drop in unit sales resulted in a 3 percent dip in revenue. Versus the first quarter of 2019, revenue grew 3 percent and unit sales dropped 10 percent.

In a blog post shared Thursday, NPD analysts Beth Goldstein and Matt Powell noted that in addition to missing income from stimulus money, “inflation fears” could be driving some of the softness in footwear this year.

Within the footwear industry, however, Goldstein and Powell said there is a “larger trend at play” of top brands underperforming. At the same time, newer brands, styles and technologies are entering the market. “We could be seeing the beginnings of a seismic shift in the industry,” they wrote.

The largest category in the U.S. footwear industry, sport leisure, saw revenue decline in the mid-teens during the first quarter, driving men’s and children’s sales down 6 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Sport slide sales fell 20 percent, while skate shoes declined by low single digits. Retro footwear sales also decreased “due to weakness from Nike, Jordan and Adidas,” Goldstein and Powell said.

U.S. sport leisure sales dropped about 25 percent at Nike and in the mid-teens at Jordan and Adidas, according to NPD. Puma, Skechers, Converse and Vans all saw revenue fall in the first quarter. New Balance sport leisure sales, however, grew about 25 percent.

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Performance footwear outpaced the greater footwear market in the first quarter, with revenue up slightly and average price down slightly, “a major slowdown from the 2021 rate,” Goldstein and Powell wrote. Unit sales grew in the low single-digits.

Running, the largest segment of U.S. performance footwear sales, saw a slight decline in revenue versus the prior-year period. Walking, soccer/football and training shoes experienced “solid growth.” Basketball, however, “continued its freefall” with “weakness” from Nike, Goldstein and Powell said.

With “weakness in virtually every category,” Nike saw U.S. performance footwear revenues declined about 25 percent. Adidas, on the other hand, saw performance sales grow in the mid-teens. Skechers experienced an even greater increase, with revenue up by more than a third. Under Armour improved in the high single digits, while Hoka One One, On, Puma and Saucony “all had good growth,” Goldstein and Powell said. Brooks saw a slight decline in sales, while Asics fell by mid-single digits. New Balance performance sales declined about 20 percent.

Hiking, trekking and mountaineering shoes experienced a low single-digit decline in revenue, while boots decreased by mid-single digits. Ugg outdoor footwear sales dropped mid-single digits, Merrell declined in the mid-teens and Columbia fell slightly. Timberland, Keen, Skechers, and private-label brands “had nice growth,” Goldstein and Powell said.

Revenue from work, occupational and safety footwear grew 10 percent in the first quarter, with sneaker silhouettes making up almost 90 percent of that growth. Boots declined in the low single digits, but were up in the teens against 2019. Reebok sales more than doubled, Timberland Pro grew in the low teens, private labels collectively increased in the mid-single digits and Skechers and Wolverine both improved slightly.

Women’s footwear sales grew by 4 percent in the first quarter amid an increase in average selling price and an 11 percent jump in fashion footwear revenue. Unit sales in fashion footwear, including dress, casual and slippers, fell 11 percent. Dress shoes made up two-thirds of the category’s growth, but remained soft versus 2019.

Within fashion, revenue at Steve Madden and Crocs grew 57 percent and 9 percent, respectively, thanks to increased sales in sandals. Skechers sales declined 14 percent and Clarks, Birkenstock and Ugg dropped in the mid-single digits. Private-label brands collectively declined slightly.

Looking to the second quarter, Goldstein and Powell predicted that a return to more pre-pandemic behaviors—in-person work, travel and attendance at events and gatherings—would fuel improved sales in fashion footwear. Interest in fitness and the outdoors, they added, will drive the athletic business. “Macro pressures on consumers,” as well as tough comparisons from 2021, “will likely curb growth,” they concluded.

Brooks forecasts continued growth in 2022

Though NPD data showed Brooks experiencing a slight decline in U.S. sales during the first quarter, the brand itself expects to see company-wide sales grow in the double digits this year. Last year, the running company recorded $1.11 billion in global revenue.

According to Brooks, NPD data showed the brand took the top spot in U.S. adult performance running footwear for the first time this past quarter, with 22 percent market share. In the Q1, its Ghost and Adrenaline silhouettes were the category’s top-selling franchise lines, collectively accounting for 14 percent of U.S. sales, Brooks added.

“While Vietnam factory closures last year caused us to fall short of fulfilling strong market demand for Brooks in Q1, we remain bullish for substantial growth in 2022,” Brooks CEO Jim Weber said in a statement.

This July, the company plans to introduce the Glycerin 20, Glycerin GTS 10 and Caldera 6. The new styles will bring a Brooks BlueLine Lab midsole innovation, DNA Loft v3, to in-line footwear styles. The nitrogen-infused midsole compound allows for a softer, lighter and more responsive running experience, Brooks said.