Nike is still dominating consumer choices this back-to-school season, but other brands are gaining ground with consumers.
According to Stifel’s 16th annual Back-to-School 2023 athletic footwear survey, which analyzes brand and style preferences across 110 U.S. wholesale doors, Nike styles—including Nike and Jordan—were the most popular choice in 88 percent of BTS checks. This strong majority was led by the popularity of the brand’s retro basketball shoes, such as the Air Force 1, Jordan 1 and Dunks.
However, Nike’s popularity slipped this year compared to the BTS period in 2022, when the brand garnered 92 percent of consumer favor. At the same time, Nike lifestyle running silhouettes, like the retro Air Max 90 and 97, also declined in popularity. According to the report, led by analyst Jim Duffy, silhouettes from New Balance, Hoka and On, which are largely resonating with female consumers, are largely to blame for the Swoosh’s decline.
Since the pandemic, On and Hoka have established an important niche in the burgeoning running category and have consistently grabbed share from the Swoosh and other established shoe brands in that lane. As these brands become more popular, their threat towards industry giants persists.
This month, On Holding delivered another round of record results—and its sixth consecutive record quarter of top line growth—in Q2. And in July, Deckers raised its full-year guidance after reporting another quarter of gains driven by its Hoka brand, which saw net sales up 27.4 percent to $420.5 million.
According to the survey, while Nike is still the most popular brand in the wholesale doors that carry it, its “prioritization of DTC and strategic shift from wholesale channel has created opportunity for other brands to take shelf space and gain mind share.” For example, while Foot Locker maintains a strong partnership with Nike, the retailer is gradually moving to a more diverse product mix and decreasing the percentage of Nike sales overall. Sales of non-Nike brands increased to 36 percent in Q2, up from 31 percent in the same quarter last year.
When it comes to On and Hoka, the report noted that these running shoe brands are also transcending their origins in performance footwear and winning over fashion-forward consumers who regard the brands as on-trend.
“Increased popularity references during these back-to-school checks demonstrate that On and Hoka are expanding beyond the performance running heritage and gaining credibility with younger, lifestyle-oriented consumers,” the report stated, adding that both brands appear to be expanding in specific channels like malls and Foot Locker stores.
The report also noted that wholesale channels appear well-stocked with inventory to support demand throughout the BTS season.
In general, BTS forecasts predicted that shoppers would likely spend more this year, but would still look for ways to save where they can. As such, retailers have leaned into value offerings to win over inflation-stricken consumers this year.