Welcome to the winter of 2011/12, where paddlesports outsells wintersports equipment at specialty retail in January.
Sales of outdoor apparel, footwear and equipment came in more or less unchanged for the first month of 2012, but the witner has been anything but stable or predictable for retailers.
Industry data trackers The Leisure Trends Group and the Outdoor Industry Association reported outdoor retail sales down 1 percent, and up 1 percent respectively. Comparatively overall retail sales in the United States grew 4 percent, according to the National Retail Federation.
Outdoor consumers followed this winter's warmer temperatures to fuel better-than-usual paddlesports sales in January, analysts with both groups said. The shift was significant enough for paddlesports to beat out wintersports within the hardgoods category at specialty retail this past month, accounting for 20.3 percent of sales versus 17.9 percent from wintersports equipment, according to OIA data. A season ago, with more cold and snowy conditions, wintersports accounted for 28.9 percent of specialty retail hardgoods sales, versus 18.5 percent from paddlesports.
January sales also didn’t come without discounting — average sales prices dropped 12 percent in January, according to The Leisure Trends Group. That hurt outdoor specialty retail the most, sending the sector’s sales down 9 percent, while online retailers, usually at the front end of discounting, saw sales jump 21 percent in January.
"The high unit sales and low average sales price in January 2012 suggests that retailers are discounting to move seasonal product out of stockrooms,” said Leisure Trends Retail Analyst JJ Rudman. “The good news is that it is working; online sales in January were the highest recorded by LTG thus far. The bad news is that margins are likely taking a hit.”
By region, outdoor sales in the South took the biggest hit — falling 18 percent in January (although that could reverse in February with this week’s winter weather moving across the South) — while the sales in the West saw a more modest drop of 4 percent with some snowstorms finally hitting the Rockies during the latter half of January.
The Outdoor Industry Association data showed footwear sales dropping 5.1 percent in January as “consumers found little reason to purchase boots in a winter that has been lacking snow and cold.” However, the unseasonably warm winter didn’t deter consumer’s appetite for outdoor outerwear, according to the OIA data.
“Outdoor outerwear grew more than 20 percent for the month as the fashion side of the business kept consumers looking for key styles from top-of-the-pyramid brands,” OIA analysts said. “Soft shell jackets, convertible 3-in-1 jackets and full-zip fleece jackets were the biggest gainers during the month.”