Just before Christmas, I had a bit of fun looking at the popularity of different running shoe brands when searched for in Google and also the search trend for the Hoka One One vs the Vibram Five Fingers. That was nothing more than me being bored and having the look at it for fun. The information can change frequently and is just based on the frequency with which the brand is searched for. Obviously what matters is sales, market share and profit. In the last few days, both SportsOneSource and Leisure Trends have released their summaries of the running shoe market in the USA.
Leisure Trends tracks run specialty sales and reported this for November 2013:
Road running shoes fell 3% in units but grew 2% in dollars this November. Neutral/Cushion styles kept the momentum going with units and dollars growing 6% and 12%, respectively. In units, stability fell 9% and motion control tripped a significant 21%.
Minimalist running shoes dropped 23% in units and 24% in dollars this November and moved from 9% to 7% of all running shoe units sold.
November 2013 OVERVIEW: Dollar Sales
All Products: +2%
All Footwear: +1%
All Road Running Shoes: +2%
Motion Control: -16%
Trail Running Shoes: +11%
Race Shoes: -18%
All Minimalist Running Shoes: -24%
All Apparel: +5%
SportsOneSource track a wider range of retailers than just run specility stores. This is their data for December 2013:
· Running shoes sales grew in the mid singles in December, off the high single digit year to date pace.
· Cushioning Running declined in the low teens, Stability declined in the mid singles and Motion control improved in the low teens
· Minimalist/Barefoot grew about 30%, but that all came from Nike Free and Flex. Nike Minimalist had 92% share and sales grew by about half. All the other brands combined declined by about half. Non-Nike Minimalist shoes were about 2% of all Running shoes sold.
· In overall Running, Nike had 64% share and sales improved in the low teens.
· Asics had 12% share on a high singles sales gain
· Adidas Running sales grew 25% with 3.3% share. Under Armour Running grew in the high singles
· Brooks, Mizuno and Saucony all posted declines for the month of December
Both datasets track different retailers and cover different months, but if you follow the previous releases from both these companies over the last year or so, the data has been showing a consistency: continuing decline in minimalism; the up and down and up and down in motion control during the year; increase in lightweight and cushioned. These trends have been there for over a year now. I previously posted the May comments and data from SportsOneSource.
The data is what it is and I will not comment on much except to note the continued decline in minimalism. The reason I note that is the different spin that I see being spun on this decline in different places. If you recall back a few years, minimalism was going to put some traditional running shoes manufacturers out of business (at least that is what the propaganda coming from the crankosphere blogosphere was saying). Now look at the spin that they are placing on the decline in minimalism and the new trend toward maximalism. “Maximalism” is the antithesis of all the reasons for minimalism, that runners are now turning their backs on and, as I keep saying, voting with their feet.
Why the decline in minimalism if it was supposed the be the greatest thing since sliced bread? It has been widely promoted for years on the web, in running magazines and in books. You would have to have been living on another planet to not have been exposed to all the alleged benefits for it. Why are runners turning away from it? Firstly, the evidence is not stacking up to support all the claims that were being made for it. The most recent evidence shows that it is, in general, not a more economical way to run and the injury rates are probably not lower.
Secondly, some are trying to blame the decline in minimalism on the marketing power of the more traditional running shoe manufacturers and the retailer telling the runners what shoes they should be in. Some points: One, that insults the intelligence of the runner and implies that they are that gullible. Two, this decline is happening at the run specialty level as well as more widely; and surely the specialty running shoe retailer is very well informed about minimalism and the issues – there might just be a reason why they are choosing to not widely recommend it; or are they susceptible to the traditional running shoe marketing and are gullible as well?
Recently on Competitor.com in an article on running shoe trends, this comment really jumped out at me:
One of the biggest differences in recent years, retailers concur, is that is the trends are so much more customer-driven. It used to be that runners would mostly rely on what they learned upon walking into a retail store or via magazine reviews and advertisements. But with a lot more information about footwear, biomechanical studies and other information available on the Internet, customers walk into stores much more informed, says Jon Beck, co-owner of Red Coyote Running and Fitness in Oklahoma City, which was one of the four finalists for the 2013 Running Store of the Year award.
“Customers coming through the door now, they know what they want and know everything about the products they want,” Beck says. “And that comes back on us. Our staff has to know as much as possible about a lot of stuff, so we’re always ahead of the curve of what’s out there. Five to 10 years ago, the shoe brands were driving what people wanted and customers were saying, ‘Yup, I want that.’ But after the ‘Born to Run’ book came out [in 2009] and helped launch the minimalist trend, I think the consumer has kind of turned that around and the vendors are now saying, ‘Here’s what we know the consumer wants, so we need to make that kind of product.’ It’s been a big change over the past few years.”
Runners are better informed than they ever have been and are making more informed choices; but are they still gullible and susceptible to the marketing dollar that many would have us believe or are they making a well informed decisions not to pursue the minimalist route?
Running Warehouse in their prediction for 2014 noted:
The popularity of minimal shoes has waned over the past year, with many runners trading in their near-barefoot shoes in for something that still sports allows for an uninhibited stride but offers more cushioning. And when we say more cushioning, we mean it. We’ve seen the rise of Hoka over the past year, and other shoe manufacturers are taking notice and starting to bring their own super-cushioned models to market as well.
With the hype surrounding the less-is-more philosophy over recent seasons, it’s easy for runners and shoe manufacturers to get caught up with your new low-profile, natural running footwear models. Manufacturers are realizing, though, that a majority of runners are sticking with the traditional models that they know and love. Expect brands to increase their focus on their core, traditional footwear models in the coming year.
I am the first to acknowledge that the above anecdotes are not data and the comments need to be interpreted as such. Another anecdote, I have also picked up on recently in a couple of places and in a couple of conversations with retailers can be paraphrased as “those who brought a minimalist shoe are not buying a second pair when they need new shoes; they are buying what they knew before“.
All I can say is to repeat what I said above: runners are voting with their feet. There are many different ways to spin that and to attempt to rationalize that if the trend is not consistent with your world view.
What a great way to start the year with a rant!
POSTSCRIPT: Memo to the fan boys: Please do not post a comment that I work for a running shoe company. The comment will be deleted. I don’t work for a running shoe company; and even if I did, WTF has that got to do with the sales figures above and the lack of evidence that minimalism is not all it was claimed that it was? If you want to wear a tin foil hat, then go and find somewhere else to play.