A frequently-cited marketing maxim holds that women drive 80 percent of consumer purchases at retail. While finding the original source of that figure has proven to be elusive, most will agree that women are responsible for a significant level of spending in the sports and outdoor lifestyle market.

The 80 percent figure is often cited to emphasize how women are underestimated and under-served as customers. The theory bases the high purchasing power on how much a women will buy for herself and for others (husband, boyfriend, kids, etc.) as well as how much she will influence other purchases. In the sporting goods space, the women’s influence on purchases has grown with increasing participation by girls in team sports and more women overall staying active much later in life. The role women play in making purchases for members of her family represents an opportunity for retailers.

At Finish Line, for example, sales of men’s footwear represent more than half of the purchases at the flagship chain, but women influence a significant amount of these purchases. “Not only is the female consumer weighing in on the purchases of the males in her life, she is often the final decision-maker of teen and kids footwear purchases,” says Sam Sato, EVP and chief merchandise officer.


At full-line sporting goods stores, observers agree that moms have been doing much of the buying for kids’ team sports needs for some time, especially in younger age groups, and even in unexpected categories like paintball.

“They’re the ones who are responsible for running the house and the budget, particularly for single-income households,” says Bob McArthur, president at Johnny Mac’s, the team dealer and retailer.
However, women’s purchases at full-line sporting goods chains overall appear to lag well below the 80 percent rate cited across other retail categories.

One reason, according to observers, is that although women’s participation is increasing across sports, most continue to be dominated by males, including hunting, golf and most team sports. Many men also like to make technical purchases themselves – including not only equipment, but frequently technical apparel and footwear as well.
Ken Meehan, EVP of merchandise at Dunham Sports, concurs, “I don’t think a husband is going to have the wife pick up a driver or a baseball or a football item, especially the serious athlete. You might see the casual person let his wife buy him a set of golf clubs or a baseball glove, but for the mid- to high-level guy, it’s kind of a personal purchase.”

“You also have areas such as hunting, a big business that she often doesn’t want to do any buying in,” he continued.
But the biggest reason full-line sporting goods stores are lagging behind the 80 percent women’s purchasing standard is because they’re not fully capturing what women buy for themselves. It’s generously estimated that about a third of apparel and footwear buys in full-line sporting goods stores come from women for personal use. With equipment buys making up a much smaller amount, women’s personal buys are believed to account for less than 20 percent of sales at full-line sporting goods chains. 


One athletic channel capitalizing on women’s purchasing power has been run specialty. Driven by increasing numbers of women runners as well as grassroots efforts at the store level to better target female customers, women now represent close to 60 percent of all personal purchases in run specialty, according to John Rogers, owner of the Maine Running Company.

“Women, particularly those who are  30+, understand that her fitness, health and well being are critical elements to invest in herself. Running and walking are inexpensive ways to do that,” says Rogers.


“Additionally, a healthy woman usually represents a healthy family and if she has a great in-store experience, she is more than likely to influence her spouse and other family members to purchase at running specialty.”
Although full-line sporting goods chains may face distinct challenges targeting women versus specialty stores, Matt Powell, senior retail analyst for The SportsOneSource Group believes the opportunity is too big to ignore. Attributing the failure to maximize the women’s business on a lingering “male bias” across the industry, Powell says many specialty stores are showing full-line sporting goods chains the way to reach the active women.

“Women are only going to go to places that take care of her needs,” observes Powell. “It’s about really understanding what she wants and then filling those needs. I just don’t think anybody in the sporting goods industry has really made a terrific attempt at getting to the active women. Lots of stores successfully sell to both men and women. A sporting goods store doesn’t only have to be a guy’s store.”