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Performance Footwear Sales Climbed 32% to Start the Year — the Big Winners Were Hiking and Running Shoes

Performance footwear is having a moment.

According to just-released data provided by the NPD retail tracking service, total performance footwear sales increased 32% year-over-year for Q1 2021. From January to March 2021, NPD said sales hit $1.8 billion compared to $1.3 billion for the same period last year.

Breaking down the sales further, NPD revealed men’s sales hit $886.3 million for Q1 2021, which is a 34% increase over the $662.9 million from the year prior. As for women, sales increased 32% year-over-year, climbing from $446.1 million in Q1 2020 to $590.1 million for Q1 2021. And children performance footwear sales hit $281.6 million in Q1 2021, up 26% from last year’s $224.2 million.

It should come as no surprise that the hiking and running shoe categories, which have experienced booms since COVID-19 hit stateside, fueled this growth.

Matt Powell, senior sports industry adviser with The NPD Group Inc., told FN that hiking was the big winner, with sales increasing 60% for the quarter. The next biggest increase came from run, which saw 32% growth.

“We are seeing consumers who are focused on living healthy lifestyles, and at the same time wanting to remain socially distant. Any activity that allows both of those things to happen seems to be getting a lot of interest,” Powell said. “Running and hiking are activities you can do outside and  feel safer [than being indoors].”

According to Powell, the brands that led the way in hike were Timberland, Columbia, Keen and Salomon. As for run, the category was given a boost from Brooks, Hoka One One and On.

Hoka One One Carbon X 2
Hoka One One Carbon X 2.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Hoka One One

Looking ahead, the industry insider is bullish that hike and run will continue to lead the way. “I think these categories are going to outperform the market,” Powell said.

However, Powell doesn’t believe the second quarter will fare as well as the first did. He explained that Q1 had several one-offs that gave an artificial lift to the period, including a surge in COVID-19 vaccines, the third stimulus, an earlier Easter and more.

What’s more, sales from Q1 2021 were compared to unusual circumstances from the same time last year.

“We probably won’t be able to get this kind of number. April, we will [beat]. June will be a challenge. It’s a real rollercoaster,” Powell said. “April was the worst month of the pandemic last year, so that number [this year] is a layup. June was the best month of the pandemic last year so it’s going to be a tough one to offset.”

Beyond hike and run, Powell said walking experienced noteworthy growth for the quarter, with an increase of 30%. And the biggest jump — albeit from a small category that doesn’t represent much in terms of dollars — was football footwear, which increased 174%.

“It’s typically not a category you think about in the spring, but many school districts didn’t play football last fall and they’re playing football now, so the football shoe business was up,” Powell said. “But it’s not like this is going to change anybody’s fortunes. I wouldn’t recommend anybody go out in football shoes right now.”

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