Cowen’s fourth annual Gen Z and Millennial survey found that Nike, Air Jordan and Lululemon have solid traction by preference in the active lifestyle space among the younger demographic. The North Face and Amazon also ranked high by preference, and the overall survey suggested ESG and social commerce gained greater momentum in 2021.

The findings came from a survey taken in July 2021 of 1,200 U.S. consumers between the ages of 18-to-34 and 1,500 consumers between the ages of 35-to-55. Cowen contrasted the results with past surveys it conducted in June 2020, June 2019 and December 2017.

Nike And Adidas Dominate Preferences For Athletic Performance Apparel 
In athletic performance apparel, Nike lead in share preference among Gen Z respondents ages 18-to-24 at 51 percent in 2021, roughly in line with the pre-pandemic preference share of 52 percent in 2019 and up from last year’s 49 percent. Among Millennials ages 25-to-34, Nike commanded a 41 percent share, down from 45 percent pre-pandemic but above the 39 percent level it had in 2020. Adidas was the second most preferred athletic performance apparel brand among 18-to-24 and 25-to-34-year-olds. Among Gen Z, Adidas’ preference share decreased to 17 percent in 2021 versus 23 percent in 2020 and 19 percent pre-pandemic. Among Millennials, Adidas’ athletic apparel preference share rose to 21 percent in 2021 from 17 percent pre-pandemic and 16 percent in 2020. Lululemon and Champion saw a modest preference share in athletic performance apparel increase over 2020 and pre-pandemic levels for 18-to-24 and 25-to-34-year-olds to 5 percent and 6 percent, respectively. Under Armour was among the brands that suffered a contraction from pre-pandemic levels in athletic performance apparel preference, decreasing to 6 percent from 10 percent among 18-to-24-year-olds and 11 percent from 15 percent among 25-to-34-year-olds.

Lululemon Sees Major Gains In Casual Lifestyle Apparel Preference
In casual lifestyle apparel, Nike leads in preference choice at 42 percent among 18-to-24-year-olds in 2021, in line with the pre-pandemic level and up slightly from 2020 at 41 percent. Among 25-to-34-year-olds, Nike’s share rates are at 38 percent in 2021, down slightly from 39 percent in 2019 but up from 37 percent in 2020. Adidas is the next favored choice for casual lifestyle apparel among 18-to-24-year-olds at 23 percent in 2021, up from a pre-pandemic level of 19 percent but down from 26 percent in 2020. Among 25-to-34-year-olds in 2021, casual lifestyle apparel preference for Adidas is at 22 percent, up from a pre-pandemic level of 20 percent and 18 percent in 2020. Lululemon demonstrated an exponential gain in 2021 among 18-to-24- year-olds versus pre-pandemic levels, increasing to 9 percent in 2021 from 4 percent in 2019. Among 25-to-34-year-olds, Lululemon sustained its pre-pandemic brand preference share at 6 percent. Under Armour‘s casual lifestyle apparel brand preference share declined both year-over-year and versus pre-pandemic levels for 18-to-24 and 25-to-34-year-olds. Under Armour’s casual apparel preference share was 8 percent among 18-to-24-year-olds in 2021 versus 13 percent pre-pandemic and 9 percent last year. Among 25-to-34-year-olds, Under Armour’s casual lifestyle apparel preference contracted to 14 percent in 2021 from 17 percent pre-pandemic and 19 percent last year.

Nike Tops Athletic Footwear Preferences
When shopping for athletic footwear, the brand preference among 18-to-24-year-olds leads with Nike at 41 percent in 2021, down from a pre-pandemic share of 47 percent. Adidas is the second most favored athletic footwear brand among 18-to-24-year-olds at 18 percent in 2021, in line with its pre-pandemic level but down from 21 percent last year. Jordan Brand has been on a multi-year rising trend among 18-to-24-year-olds, increasing to 11 percent in 2021 from 9 percent pre-pandemic and last year. Among 25-to-34-year-olds, athletic footwear brand preference was led by Nike at 37 percent in 2021, but the trajectory has been on a downswing since 45 percent in 2017. The beneficiary of this share preference appears to have been captured by Adidas, which rose to 20 percent in 2021, up from 10 percent in 2017. Hoka One One has a small but growing athletic footwear preference share, increasing to 3 percent in 2021 from one percent in 2020 among 18-to-24-year-olds, its first year of inclusion in Cowen’s survey. Among 24-to-35-year-olds, Hoka’a preference share was 2 percent in 2021, down from 3 percent in 2020. Under Armour’s preference in athletic footwear was relatively unchanged at 7 percent among 18-to-24-year- olds across the four years of Cowen’s survey.

Adidas, Puma And Ugg Show Increasing Popularity For Casual Lifestyle Footwear
When shopping for casual lifestyle footwear, Gen Z and Millennial respondents preferred Nike at 30 percent in 2021 for 18-to-24-year-olds and 28 percent for 25-to-34-year-olds. Nike’s preference among both age groups was roughly unchanged from pre-pandemic 2019 levels. Adidasdemonstrated rising preference share gains for both age groups with 18-to-24-year-olds at 15 percent in 2021, up from 13 percent in 2017 and 14 percent in 2019, and 17 percent for 25-to-34-year-olds in 2021, up from 11 percent in 2017 and 16 percent in 2019. Puma and UGG both indicated a rising preference in casual lifestyle footwear in 2021, up 5 percent for Puma and 7 percent for UGG among 18-to-24-year-olds, and 9 percent for Puma and 4 percent for UGG among 25-to-34-year-olds. Under Armour‘s casual footwear preference share was up slightly in 2021 to 7 percent from 6 percent pre-pandemic among 18-to-24-year-olds while 25-to-34-year-olds preference share was 7 percent in 2021, down from 8 percent pre-pandemic.

The North Face Wins Preference In Outerwear 
When shopping for outerwear, Gen Z and Millennial respondents preferred The North Face at 44 percent in 2021 for 18-to-24-year-olds and 37 percent for 25-to-34-year-olds. Both cohorts’ preference for The North Face in outerwear decelerated from 2020 and 2019 levels. Preference in outerwear for Columbia among 18-to-24-year-olds increased to 26 percent in 2021 from 20 percent in 2020 and 21 percent in 2019. Patagonia increased to 12 percent for 18-to-24-year-olds in 2021 from 10 percent in 2020 and 9 percent in 2019. Among 25-to-34-year-olds, outerwear preference share indicated gains year-over-year for several brands, including Patagonia, which rose to 11 percent in 2021 from 10 percent in 2020 and 2019; Marmot to 10 percent in 2021 from 7 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2019; Canada Goose to 7 percent in 2021 from 5 percent in 2020 and 6 percent in 2019; and Arc’teryx to 4 percent in 2021 from 2 percent in 2020 and 3 percent in 2019.

Other findings in the survey include:

  • Amazon Leads As Favorite shopping destination. The preference for Amazon is pronounced among the 18-to-24-year-olds and 25-to-34-year-olds as 74 percent and 72 percent respectively cited Amazon as their most preferred shopping channel. Amazon increased its lead as the most likely place for consumers to begin their product search, cited by 34 percent from 33 percent last year. The platform is the most likely place to research a product before an in-store or online purchase and is the most likely place to make a purchase (38 percent in 2021 from 34 percent in 2020). In clothing, footwear and accessories, 38 percent of Gen Z and Millennial respondents were most likely to purchase those categories on Amazon, up from 34 percent in 2020.
  • Amazon Ranks As First Choice For Sports-Related Purchases. In a new question for Cowen’s 2021 survey, participants were asked what their channel/retail banner preference was when shopping for sports-related equipment, apparel and footwear, including both in-store and online. Amazon was the leading choice among 18-to-24-year-olds at 32 percent and 40 percent for 25-to-34-year-olds. Walmart was the second most preferred retailer at 23 percent for 18-to-24-year-olds and 26 percent for 25-to-34-year-olds, followed by Dick’s Sporting Goods at 21 percent and 17 percent, respectively. Dick’s preference in sporting goods at 21 percent for 18-to-24-year-olds far outpaced the next largest sporting goods peer, Academy Sports + Outdoors, at 6 percent.
  • Social Impact/Sustainability Expands As Purchase Drivers. When purchasing apparel, footwear and accessories, social impact/sustainability ranked as either “very important” or “somewhat important” by 80 percent for 18-to-34-year-olds, up from 67 percent in 2017, versus 74 percent for 35-to-54-year-olds and only 47 percent for the 55-plus demographic. Nike, Adidas, Vans, The North Face, and Under Armour all ranked high among Millennials and Gen Z in aligning with their social values around sustainability.
  • Social Commerce Trends Accelerate. The influence scores of each social platform were up 10 percent to 17 percent year-over-year, while more users are following brands on each social platform versus 2020, and over 40 percent of users indicated that they had purchased products from a brand they recently discovered on each platform.
  • Resale Takes Off. Resale concepts show massive gains among 18-to-34-year-olds (up 33 percent year-over-year in use), with 44 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds having purchased something secondhand on a leading marketplace. Poshmarkshowed the highest user base, while StockX and Goat showed solid gains led by the strength of Nike and Air Jordan.
  • Off-Price Retail Gains Market Share. Sixty-one percent of 18-to-24-year-olds and 63 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds purchased at TJX Cos. (TJ Maxx/Marshalls), Burlington Stores or Ross Stores in the past 30 days of the survey versus 48 percent and 52 percent respectively in 2019.

Photo courtesy Luxuo