apparel and retail

Consumers Spending Less On Outdoor Pursuits

New trail running shoes from Arc’teryx Equipment

Fancy a Saturday hike, an afternoon in the garden or a camping vacation? Probably not as much as you did last year. America’s interest in spending time outside is declining, at least as measured by their willingness to buy apparel and gear meant for the great outdoors. The Outdoor Industry Association’s annual report reveals that sales in the category fell 3% in 2023, with total outdoor retail sales falling to $27.5 billion. Sales decreased in all three retail channels.

Athletic specialty/sporting goods, the largest channel, fared best, with sales slipping 1% to $20.4 billion. Independent specialty retailers took the most brutal hit, with revenue averaging a 9.7% decline to $4.2 billion, with many posting double-digit losses. Retail ecommerce posted a 7.5% dip to $2.9 billion.



Of the four primary product categories, only accessories gained, with apparel, footwear, and equipment declining. Bag sales powered accessories' growth. Hydration mania also helped, with the thirst for insulated cups, mugs, and tumblers bringing in $630 million, up 84.3% year over year.

The widespread declines follow several years of rapid growth, as the pandemic turned millions of Americans into fresh-air fiends. Many of those behaviors have stuck:

The retail market has gained over $5.3 billion in sales and 15 million new participants since 2020. Despite the surge in participation, 2023 sales declined. 

The OIA says a noticeable change is the increase in casual participants, which is causing a shift in product mix. While these newcomers are happily snapping up running shoes, insulated mugs, casual pants, and non-technical bags, they’re not spending on the big-ticket items that keep so many retailers afloat, including skis, camping equipment, sleeping bags, and climbing gear.

The OIA says some losses are due to consumers turning to other channels. It notes that the relative newbies, who account for 70% of the 168 million participating in outdoor recreation, are also less interested in specialty stores, exploring their options at Amazon, Walmart, Target and direct-to-consumer brands.

One trend that shows little sign of slowing? The ongoing running boom, with trail-running shoes remaining a bright spot.

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association reports that trail running notched its fifth consecutive year of growth, with 13.3 million total trail running participants, up 6% from the prior year. Over the last three years, it’s seen a 21% jump.

While mainstream running brands, including Nike, Adidas, Brooks, and Hoka, all feature prominently in the category, outdoor brands have a strong presence. Those include Merrell, Salomon and Columbia.

Based in Boulder, Colorado, OIA conducted the study with Circana, the market research company.

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