A Growing Global Market with Challenges for Brick-and-Mortar Stores

Outdoor apparel, footwear and gear constitute a growing sector that benefits from consumers’ increasing participation in outdoor activities, particularly in large markets such as the US, Europe and China:

  • The US outdoor clothing and footwear market grew by a CAGR of 7.1% between 2011 and 2016, which included growth of 6.0% in 2016, according to our analysis of Euromonitor International’s data. The US market was supported by 2 million more Americans taking part in outdoor activities in 2016 than in 2015, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, a US-based trade association.
  • The European outdoor goods market (including apparel and nonapparel products such as tents, sleeping bags and accessories) was worth €11.5 billion (US$12.7 billion) in 2016, according to a survey by the European Outdoor Group trade association. Sales of outdoor clothing in Europe have grown particularly fast (at 4.2% in 2016), helped by the athleisure trend, according to the. Among large European markets, the UK saw the fastest growth in outdoor goods over the 2011–2016 period, with the market growing at a CAGR of 3.6%.
  • In China, the outdoor clothing and footwear market grew at a CAGR of 18.8% from 2011 through 2016, according to our analysis of Euromonitor International data. Chinese consumers still buy outdoor gear mainly in malls, but e-commerce is growing fast and is expected to account for 31.5% of such sales in China by 2020. Among the factors supporting growth in the outdoor sector are increasing domestic tourism and government-sponsored initiatives to promote winter sports in preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

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Brick-and-mortar outdoor retail specialists face a number of challenges, especially in the US. These include competition from e-tailers and brands that sell directly to consumers and downward pressure on prices.

  • US specialist retailers that have faced difficulties include Academy Sports + Outdoors and Cabela’s, which have seen comparable sales declines. In addition, outdoor retailer Gander Mountain filed for bankruptcy in 2017.
  • Major UK outdoor specialist retailers have tended to perform more strongly than their US counterparts, following a round of consolidation in the UK sector.
  • The Chinese outdoor retail specialist segment is led by monobrand stores, with leading domestic brands such as Anta and Toread gaining share of the market.

Athleisure, sustainability and technical innovation are the three key trends influencing the main international outdoor brands. VF Corporation’s The North Face brand, for example, is collaborating with lifestyle brand Supreme and designer Junya Watanabe to launch trendy outdoor apparel collections. And the company’s flagship Denali Jacket, which was originally produced from oil when it debuted in the 1980s, has been manufactured from recycled plastic bottles since 2014. Several other major brands, including Columbia Sportswear and Anta, use high-tech fabric to produce performance outdoor apparel that protects the wearer from harsh weather while ensuring comfort at the same time.

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