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Nike and Adidas Are Losing Ground to These Competitors in Women’s Athletic Footwear

Nike and Adidas’ grip on the women’s athletic footwear market appears to have loosened a bit.

Matt Powell, senior sports industry adviser for The NPD Group Inc., revealed on Twitter this morning that Nike and Adidas have ceded share to Skechers, Brooks, Vans and other leading labels in the first half of 2021. Speaking with FN, the industry insider explained that these ascendant brands are winning over women in multiple ways.

“In the case of Brooks, [the brand] is winning with performance running, continuing to take share there. They’ve got great product, great marketing and they have judiciously expanded their distribution in the places where women are buying their shoes,” Powell told FN. “For Skechers, you have a brand that’s coming back into favor after a couple of years of going sideways, and they’ve had a huge share of the women’s business. And Vans, they’ve had some inventory issues but they’ve resolved that, and their women’s business has always been a significant portion of their overall business.”

According to the NPD retail tracking service, women’s sport footwear grew 40% for the first half of 2021 compared with the same period in 2020.

During this time, the market outpaced Nike and Adidas, who had year-over-year sales increases of 30% and 28%, respectively. Meanwhile, the NPD retail tracking service revealed 48% sales increases for Skechers, Brooks and Vans.

Beyond these companies, Powell said two of the standout brands from 2020 — Hoka One One and On — are also doing particularly well with women shopping for athletic footwear.

Vans Twill Sk8-Hi Platform 2.0
Vans Twill Sk8-Hi Platform 2.0.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Vans

The reasons behind the slowdown for Nike and Adidas in women’s athletic footwear are just as varied as the reasons other brands are gaining ground.

For Nike, Powell said it’s where the brand is focused.

“Nike is leaning very hard on really iconic products like 270, Air Force 1, the Max franchises, and that’s worked for them. But she’s looking for a larger variety of products out there, whether it’s a shoe that she is going to run in or simple fashion shoes like Vans or Skechers,” Powell explained.

As for Adidas, the problem lies with delivering footwear that isn’t hitting with the masses.

“Adidas isn’t playing in too many categories to begin with, and the brand is ceding share in men’s as well. It’s more about the product they’re bringing to the United States is not the right product, and you can see in the overall numbers that they continue to trail the market,” Powell said.

The market analyst believes multiple competitors heating up should spark concern for the industry giants.

“Both [Nike and Adidas] have stated publicly that they’re banking on the women’s business to be a growth category for them. And while the business is growing, it’s just not growing nearly as quickly as it is with smaller brands, so they’ve got some ground to make up for sure,” Powell said.

Women of Brooks
A group of Brooks employees for the “Women of Brooks” campaign.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Brooks

For Nike, the brand it should have its eye on is Brooks.

Powell revealed in late-January that Brooks had the potential to pass Nike as the No. 1 women’s performance running shoe brand. The next month, he revealed Brooks had bested Nike for January, claiming the category’s top spot for the month.

In April, the gap between the brands widened. According to the NPD retail tracking service, sales for Brooks — the largest women’s performance running shoe brand for Q1 2021 — increased 88% over the same period in 2019, while Nike experienced a 35% decline for the period.

“This [No. 1 position] has been a traditional position that Nike was very proud of, and I think they’ve got to figure out how to get their performance running side of the business to be as compelling as their lifestyle,” Powell said.

For the first half of 2021, NPD retail tracking service data showed a 29% increase in women’s performance running shoe sales. For the period, Brooks saw a 49% increase, while Nike declined 7%.

If Nike were to gain ground on Brooks, Powell believes the company needs to shift its focus.

“The product is not particularly compelling for her, the marketing has been far too focused on the more elite athlete and less on the beginning athlete, and frankly, we’re seeing rumors out there that Nike is pulling out of a lot of the retailers where women shop,” Powell said.

Meanwhile, Brooks appears to firing on all cylinders.

“Brooks is winning with product. What they’re making for her is spot on,” Powell said. “And they’re winning with marketing. Their ‘Run Happy’ approach — be comfortable, work out at your own pace — it resonates, particularly with the new runner. And they’ve very judiciously expanded their distribution into retailers where women are buying the shoes.”

Despite Nike’s grip slipping slightly among female athletes, the athletic giant had major product wins for the period. Most notably, Powell stated via Twitter the Air Max 270 was the top-selling sneaker for the first half of the year.

“Nike is certainly capturing a significant portion of the fashion consumer. The 270 is considered a lifestyle shoe, not a performance shoe, and that’s where Nike has put its emphasis — on lifestyle running,” Powell said. “But the products that are intended for performance need to be elevated. That’s really where the energy needs to happen.”

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