As Spring weather finally hit many of the mountain states in May, sales of footwear and apparel began to pick up at retail. However, consumers still continue to shy away from big-ticket hardgoods purchases, pushing sales in the category down.

In spite of these slow hardgoods sales, the outdoor market out-paced the overall market. Total retail sales in April were down 1.2% according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, Outdoor Equipment, Apparel and Footwear sales through the sporting goods, mall, department store, and discount/mass channels were up in the low-single digits, according to retail point-of-sale data compiled by SportScanInfo.

Overall Outdoor Equipment sales were down in the high-single digits with the heaviest declines coming from the Travel market. Luggage and Travel Equipment sales were down dramatically for the month.

Certain types of Backpacking Equipment showed strong sales for the month. Internal Frame Pack sales were up in the low-single digits, while down and synthetic mummy bags were both up considerably for the month. Headlamps and Three-Person Backpacking Tents were also strong categories. 

High ticket Family Camping Equipment, like larger tents and rectangular sleeping bags saw declining sales in May. However, some categories showed solid increases. Two-Burner Stoves and Electric Coolers both enjoyed double-digit increases in May. Commodity items, like stove fuel, were up for the month implying that people are still getting outside and camping, but they are not spending as much on new gear.

The momentum behind water bottle sales has clearly evaporated. May marks the second month in a row of declines and the downturn is accelerating. After two years of double-digit growth, water bottle sales are now shrinking as fast as they were growing at the same time last year.

The Paddle Sports market appears to be immune from consumer fears of high-ticket shopping. The category is clearly shifting toward higher-end and higher price-point merchandise. Cheap sit-on-top kayaks and general purpose canoes saw sales decline considerably during the month.


Paddle Sports Gains Drive Hardgoods Sales…

However, higher end categories saw double-digit increases in May. Accessories like Spray Skirts and Canoe Seats also sold well for the month.

Apparel sales were quite strong in May with a mid-30% increase driven by outerwear and spring/summer apparel. Even though seasonal Spring weather swept through much of the country in May, Outerwear sales still outpaced Spring/Summer Apparel sales. Outerwear sales were primarily driven by Windshirts and more technical waterproof breathable Jackets. Rainwear also witnessed solid growth, but primarily from bottoms.

Spring/Summer Outdoor Apparel was driven by sales of short sleeve active tops for men and sleeveless/tanks for women.  Outdoor Skirts and Skorts were by far the highest growth category in apparel. Men’s outdoor casual apparel was relatively flat during the month, but the women’s product showed strong growth.

Outdoor Footwear sales were particularly robust in May with mid-30% increases in sales driven by higher units sold as well as higher average selling prices. The largest increase in average selling prices came from the Family Footwear channel, as merchandisers realize that their customers are looking for higher-end brands and will spend $100 or more on Outdoor footwear.

Sandals saw a nice boost from the shift in weather, but it is clear that consumers are not in the summer shopping mentality just yet. Closed-toe Outdoor Footwear delivered stronger growth rates than sandals in May.

Hybrid/Water Shoes garnered the strongest growth rate during the month, with big sales increases from brands like Keen and Vibram Fivefingers. Water Sandals and Trail Sandals both saw double-digit increases in May. Water Sandals did so with a considerably higher average selling price, while trail sandals are seeing considerable price erosion.

Approach/Multisport, Light Hiking, and Outdoor Casual footwear all showed double-digit gains for the month with steady average selling prices. There is a clear shift in fashion trends towards brown footwear and the outdoor category is benefitting immensely.  Technical Hiking footwear showed mid-single digit growth for the month entirely due to higher average selling prices. Units-sold in the category showed a slight decline.

After a slow winter season for sales, Performance Trail Running footwear is showing some life again. Sales were up in the mid-teens. However, the real story in running this month were the lightweight and hybrid running categories, both of which more than doubled in volume in May.

In spite of considerable weakness in the Hardgoods categories, the outdoor is still out-pacing the rest of the U.S. retail market by a considerable pace. Many chain retailers are looking for more premium product from outdoor vendors as consumers make it clear that they are willing to pay higher prices for higher quality. Add these trends to the shift in footwear buying patterns toward brown footwear, and it is clear that the outdoor market should be positioned to deliver considerable gains for the remainder of 2010 retail calendar.

Data from the outdoor specialty channel will go live in July and includes a mix of independent outdoor specialty shops and larger national and regional chains that specialize in outdoor products.