Weak winter meets strong spring: February outdoor retail sales mixed

Spring arrived a month early for outdoor retailers this year, as many shops began selling warmer-weather items in February to make up for the weak winter. It worked to some extent, according to the latest sales data from industry analysts.
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Spring arrived a month early for outdoor retailers this year, as many shops began selling warmer-weather items in February to make up for the weak winter.

It worked to some extent, with the latest outdoor sales data showing mixed results for February. Leisure Trends Group reported outdoor sales up 4 percent from a year ago, while the Outdoor Industry Association said sales slipped 0.5 percent during the period.

Leisure Trends officials said sales of sportswear, trail running shoes, casual shoes, sandals, tents, sleeping bags, packs and camp accessories saw dollar growth at outdoor retail.

"Consumers appeared to have a bit of spring shopping fever last month and they shopped outdoor stores, snow or no snow,” Leisure Trends Senior Retail Analyst Elisabeth Stahura said. Specialty outdoor shops benefitted, seeing a 3 percent rise in February sales, while online sales rose 14 percent compared to a year ago.

The Outdoor Industry Association’s data for February showed the weak winter slightly beating the strong spring, with overall outdoor sales dipping 0.5 percent. Officials said February’s results for retailers depended on how much they doubled-down on winter products. Those who didn’t, and brought out their spring product early, likely saw a lift in sales for the month.

Both groups said retailers enticed consumers with discounts on leftover winter outerwear, which saw purchase increases in February, but consumers weren’t biting when it came to winter boots and winter equipment, which saw sales plunge by double digit percentages.

With either group’s figures, overall outdoor sales lagged the general U.S. retail sales, which rose 8.6 percent in February from a year ago, according the National Retail Federation. If the warm-weather trend continues through March, expect to see outdoor sales catch up, as most retailers will be fully shifted to their spring lines.

Officials said they expect to see growth in minimalist, trail and casual shoes, along with a continued rise in the growing paddlesport category.

--David Clucas

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