While the market struggles through what looks to be an ugly second quarter at retail, sports and outdoor industry retailers – and eventually vendors – may find some solace in early numbers from a recent survey that reveals that consumers may be keeping their powder dry for back-to-school shopping.

Based on the recent consumer shopping trends survey conducted by The SportsOneSource Group, a clear majority of American consumers expect to spend as much or more for sports and outdoor product for back-to-school this year as compared to last year.  The survey for the SportsOneSource 2009 Back-to-School Report was conducted as part of the broader 2009 Where America Shops study  that will be released by The SportsOneSource Group in September.

The broader Where America Shops study will assess consumer trends and attitudes regarding their current and planned shopping habits for sports and outdoor footwear, apparel and equipment, but the early numbers for back-to-school were released early to provide the market with some direction as retailers plan for this critical shopping period.
“We talk with retailers every day about where the market is going,” said James Hartford, president, CEO and chief market analyst at The SportsOneSource Group.  “There is a great deal of angst about expectations for back-to-school due to the rough May and June business, but these numbers may signal some upside for the retailers in the market.”

Based on the preliminary data from the survey, nearly 53% of adult respondents with kids under the age of 18 said they planned to spend as much as last year for sports or outdoor footwear, apparel or equipment during the back-to-school period.  About 13.5% suggested they would spend less while more than 24% of the respondents in this group said they would spend more.

There were expectations that consumers would continue to pull back from the purchasing habits that were more prevalent before the market downturn last fall.  That does not appear to be the case.                     

The timing of the study is also important, suggested Hartford.  “This time last year the economic impact was still mostly felt by the lower to the middle end of the market, which was far more challenged when it came to higher fuel prices. The broad-based issues really had not been felt prior to mid-September – after the back-to-school season last year.”

Looking deeper into the survey results may offer some hints as to why the numbers may seem more positive than expected.

SportsOneSource asked respondents with children if they have limited — or if they plan to limit — the purchase of sports or outdoor footwear, apparel or equipment for their own personal use to ensure their children would have what they need or want in those categories.  The answer was a resounding “yes.”  Over 63% of the survey respondents with children said they were limiting the purchase of product so their children would have what they need.  That may provide some clue as to why the intent to purchase numbers were as positive as they were in this survey.

The numbers varied greatly by household income group.  While 63% of respondents with household incomes under $40,000 said they would forego personal purchases, only 35% of those with household incomes between $80,000 and $125,000 suggested they would do so — or perhaps needed to.  Both economic groups had similar numbers when asked if they would spend more or less this year for back-to-school, with 28% to 29% suggesting they would spend more this year.
SportsOneSource also found that the teenagers who took the survey expected to spend far less on average than their parents.  While just under 30% of parents said they would spend on average less than $100 for each child on back-to-school purchases of sports or outdoor footwear, apparel or equipment, nearly 37% of the teen aged respondents said they would spend less than $100 for back-to-school on such product.

The brands of choice were very clear as well this back-to-school season as Nike was the leader when it came to brand preferences.  In sport or outdoor footwear, over 48% of the respondents said they would purchase the Nike brand for back-to-school.  New Balance was second at just under 7% of the vote, followed by Adidas with just over 6% of the responses.  In apparel, the Nike brand was again mentioned most often, but was lower than footwear  at just under 35% of the teen survey population.  Adidas was cited by more than 7% of teen respondents while Under Armour got the nod from just under 7% of teen respondents.  When asked about preferred backpack brands for back-to-school, Jansport bested Nike for the top spot, mentioned by over 12% of the teen respondents.  Nike was cited by just under 12% of the teen group.  The brands mentioned in backpacks were broader in nature and featured more outdoor brands such as North Face and LL Bean, but Adidas also garnered about 4% of the responses.

The survey, conducted the week of June 22, 2009, polled 2,112 people aged 13 years of age and older.  The primary qualifier to take the survey was the purchase of sports or outdoor apparel, footwear or equipment over the last 12 months.  The survey has a margin of error of +/- 2.1 percentage points.