The Outdoor Market Is Missing Out on Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Worth of Business With Women: Here’s Why

The outdoor industry benefited from a hiking boom last year brought on by COVID-19. However, there still is plenty of room to grow, especially in the women’s market.

“[There is] a massive opportunity for our industry — to figure out how to get after of the women’s hiking business,” Matt Powell, senior sports industry adviser with The NPD Group Inc., said during yesterday’s U.S. Sports Market Performance Review presentation.

Citing data from its January 2021 NPD Trend Tracker survey, which was conducted in conjunction with Civic Science, 49% of women polled said they plan on doing more hiking or walking in 2021, a greater percentage than men, with 46% stating they would engage in the activities.

Despite this, NPD data revealed men’s hiking boots account for 70% of the category’s sales volume for the first half of 2021, up 18% from the mark for the same period in 2019.

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Women’s hiking footwear sales for the first half of 2021, according to NPD data, accounted for just 26% of the market. Although a much smaller number, women’s hiking footwear sales is outpacing men’s, with an increase of 37% for the first half of 2021 from the same period in 2019.

“The women’s hiking business grew twice as fast as the men’s hiking business, so it’s clear that she has a high level of interest around the products and around this activity,” Powell told FN. “There’s really no reason that the women’s piece shouldn’t be equal to the men’s piece, at worst.”

He continued, “There are hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business being left on the table by the industry.”

For Powell, the answer to securing more women outdoor footwear consumers is simple.

“Make women’s-specific shoes and make them cute. Those are the two keys,” Powell said, noting the emergence of Oboz in the past few years, due in large part to the strength of the women’s line.

He continued, “A woman’s foot is shaped differently than a man’s foot, and if she’s going to do performance activities, she needs a shoe that’s going to fit properly — but it also has to be trend-right. Too often the outdoor industry is making dumb basic shoes that do not really have elements of fashion over color.”

Citing NPD Retail Tracking Service data, Powell said the top four women’s hiking footwear brands that performed better than the market trend versus 2019 are Columbia, Salomon, Skechers and Danner. The top-selling styles for each company are the Newton Ridge Plus, the Outline Mid, the Trego Rocky Mountain and the Mountain 600, respectively.

Merrell is No. 1 in terms of share.

Some specialty retailers have found the key to winning with women when it comes to hiking footwear.

Jon Zalinski, owner of Treadz Shoes in Colorado, told FN that his outdoor footwear business favors females, with women’s styles accounting for 60% of the category’s sales.

“Whoever’s not appealing that customer base is missing a huge opportunity,” he said. “You have to have enough product for her, and you can take calculated risk [in what you carry]. If you’re going to take a risk, it would be in the women’s side of purchasing.”

Zalinski further broke down how Treadz has been effective in catering to women shoppers.

“The brown [Merrell] Jungle Moc is still selling for guys because it never changes, and so is the Merrell Moab. There are guys that come in here that don’t even try product on because they’ve been buying the same shoe every two years for the last 15 years,” Zalinski said. “But women, they want a different color, they want a different look, they just want something different.”

Historically, Zalinski said women shoppers at Treadz are buying Oboz more than any other brand, specifically its Sawtooth and Firebrand looks. Also, female consumers have favored styles from Merrell.

However, because of the industry-wide problem of getting product to retailers due to port congestion, his female shoppers have recently shifted to looks from La Sportiva and Salomon.

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