As the Performance Footwear Market Struggles, Here’s What’s Driving Shoe Sales in the US

The performance footwear market continues to be dwarfed by athleisure’s ascent.

That’s according to market research firm The NPD Group Inc., which today released its third-quarter sales data and insights for three major footwear categories: leisure, performance and fashion.

While the latter two recorded declines from the previous-year period ending in September, the leisure segment — spanning work, skate, hiking and outdoor, as well as the more popular sport-lifestyle group — showed solid improvements with footwear sales in the category collectively rising 7% to $3.9 billion.

Broken down into departments, men’s footwear sales jumped 9% to $1.8 billion, while women’s increased 3% to $1.1 billion and children’s rose 7% to $971.3 million.

Comparatively, the performance segment logged a 4% loss, falling to $2 billion. Within that category, men’s and women’s performance footwear fell a respective 4% to $1 billion and 5% to $563 million, while children’s shoes remained roughly unchanged, at $408.1 million.

“The performance category again struggled this quarter, with running, basketball and training shoes all experiencing negative sales results,” explained senior industry adviser of sports Matt Powell. “Most of the third-quarter growth for U.S. athletic footwear sales can be traced to an increased amount of limited-edition shoes released compared to the same period last year. Particularly, the limited releases were a boon for the sport-lifestyle segment, which now represents more than half of all athletic shoes sold.”

Fashion footwear, on the other hand, saw a slump across all departments. The sector includes dress, casual and evening shoes, as well as slippers. While men’s slipped 5% to $602.1 million, women’s footwear sales dipped 4% to $2 billion and kids’ decreased 2% to $111.3 million. In total, the category averaged a 4% drop to $2.7 billion in sales.

“While the fashion category continued to contract in Q3 as U.S. consumers gravitated toward the sport-lifestyle footwear options, bright spots in the quarter were weather-appropriate or transitional [looks],” said fashion footwear and accessories analyst Beth Goldstein.

Among the sector’s best sellers were sporty strappy sandals, fashion slides, mules and mid-shaft boots, added Goldstein, who named clog maker Crocs, sandal label Birkenstock and boot brand Dr. Martens as major growth drivers.

Looking ahead to the holiday shopping season, Goldstein expects fashion sneakers as well as slippers and cold- or all-weather boots to contribute to overall sales. In the performance space, which includes basketball, soccer, tennis and golf shoes, as well as those for walking and training — Powell forecasts dampened sales for the athletic footwear market.

NPD compiles its quarterly report using information from its monthly point-of-sale footwear database. It is collected from athletic specialty/sporting goods stores, as well as premium and mid-tier retailers, shoe chains and other channels.

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