Over the past two years, a dozen different U.S. sporting goods retailers have filed for bankruptcy, including Sports Authority, MC Sports, and most recently Gander Mountain, which had 162 stores in 27 states. At the same time, Americans are increasingly embracing an active lifestyle, as “the outdoors” becomes less of an activity or more of a way of life for many individuals.

So how do we reconcile this apparent contradiction? Many commentators bemoan the closure of so many brick-and-mortar sporting goods stores around the country, warning that Americans are becoming more sedentary and losing interest in the outdoors. But the latest trends prove that bleak outlook false, as Americans are arguably more active than they have been in decades.

The assertion that fewer sporting goods stores equals fewer active people does not hold up to scrutiny. Even Gander Mountain has rejected it in an official statement, citing “challenging traffic patterns and shifts in consumer demand resulting from increased direct-to-customer sales by key vendors and accelerated growth of e-commerce” as the primary cause for their bankruptcy. The reality is that the dozen sporting goods retail chains that have declared bankruptcy in the last two years are simply those that have failed to compete in a new market reality.

The Numbers (2016)eCommerce data for Amazon sporting goods and outdoor gear sales

The conventional wisdom about outdoor and sporting goods is that a major sales driver is experiential retail, i.e. consumers want to touch and try out these things before they buy. But the fact that Amazon alone claims nearly 5% of the market share of this product group (well above the average among other product groups) suggests otherwise. Although the growth of U.S. Outdoor & Sporting Goods is consistent with other industries at 5%, Amazon’s growth in this product group is four times the rate of the overall market. Experiential retail can be a competitive advantage against other brick-and-mortar stores, but it does not seem to be enough to prevent people from shopping online.

Top Growth CategoriesAmazon athletic apparel ecommerce sales data

Sporting Goods Outdoor  Equipment Athletic Apparel
Licensed Products: 50% Coolers: 100% Underwear: 145%
Fishing Equipment: 30% Electric Scooters: 90% Baseball: 100%
Boating Equipment: 40% Freeze Dried Food: 90% Swimwear: 90%
Exercise Equipment: 35% Backpacks: 50% Fitness: 85%
Team Sports: 30% Bikes: 50% Bags: 70%
Golf Equipment: 25% Camp Kitchen/Stoves: 35% Hats/Caps/Visors/Beanie: 70%
Hunting Equipment: 15% Sleeping Bags: 30% Hunting Apparel: 65%

Key Trends

Health

Americans are more conscious than ever of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Whether sports, exercise or  any outdoor hobbies, Americans are finding ways to be active. Fitness and Swimwear are major Amazon growth drivers in Apparel, behind Athletic Underwear, while Cycling is on the rise, with a 50% growth in Amazon’s bicycle sales. Consumers are also making exercise and outdoor activity a year-round activity, with indoor Exercise Equipment growing by 35% and winter Athletic Apparel by 30%.Amazon ecommerce sporting goods sales data

Top Growth Exercise Equipment Sub-Categories:

  • Exercise Bikes: 30%
  • Weights: 45%
  • Treadmills: 40%
  • Rowers: 115%
  • Ellipticals: 70%

OutdoorsmanshipOutdoor gear ecommerce sales data on Amazon.com

Americans are increasingly seeking to disconnect from the pressures of a technology-infused lifestyle and are turning to the outdoors to do so. Along with the growth in bicycle sales, Amazon has also experienced a 30% rise in Bike Racks sales, revealing that the growth in cycling is connected to the growth in outdoorsmanship as many consumers take their bikes with them when they leave town. And when Americans do reach their outdoor destination, they need some coverage: the bulk of the Outdoor Equipment category growth is being driven by camping gear, with tent sales up by 30%. There has also been significant growth in hunting-related subcategories such as Hunting Apparel (65%), Knives (20%) and Hunting Equipment (15%).

Team Sports

One of Amazon’s biggest growth drivers in Outdoor & Sporting Goods in 2016 was Team Sports. Young adults have busier lifestyles than ever and seek out team sports as a hobby to disconnect from stressful jobs while still maintaining an active social life. Team Sports drove sales in both Apparel and Sporting Goods in Amazon sales: Hockey equipment doubled in 2016 and both Baseball and Soccer are growing in popularity, with Baseball apparel growing by 100% and equipment by 35%; and Soccer apparel growing by 30% and equipment by 20%.

Top Growth Team Sports Sub-Categories:

  • Hockey: 100%
  • Baseball: 35%
  • Softball: 30%
  • Tennis: 25%
  • Basketball: 20%
  • Football: 20%
  • Soccer: 20%Sporting goods top revenue growth categories on Amazon.com

Direct-to-Consumer Sales

Finally, a major factor in the bankruptcy of so many sporting goods stores is that eCommerce has given rise to a sharp increase in direct-to-consumer sales. Brand loyalty is on the rise across all industries, but in Outdoor & Sporting Goods it is deeply ingrained, particularly in Team Sports. Many consumers choose to buy directly from their favorite brands or franchises out of loyalty, and this is supported by the growth of 1st party sales of licensed products on Amazon.

Top Growth Licensed Products Sub-Categories:

  • MLS: 200%
  • NBA: 150%
  • NFL: 60%
  • NHL: 60%
  • NCAA: 40%
  • MLB: 15%
  • NCAA: 40%

American consumers are still shaken up from the economic instability over the last decade. Most households are putting in long work weeks and working multiple jobs. Many of these people are adopting more active lifestyles both to remain fit for their demanding careers and to seek escape and relaxation. Similarly, for the first time many new parents have grown up in the eCommerce age and are turning to Amazon to purchase the camping gear they need to disconnect from the digital economy and introduce their children to a more “unplugged” way of life.

The success of Outdoor & Sporting Goods retailers both online (Amazon) and in-store (Bass Pro Shops – at no risk of bankruptcy) shows that the industry itself is not in trouble. Consumers are embracing sport, fitness and outdoorsmanship at a rapid rate. What has changed, instead, is consumer habits, and the successful retailers are the ones that are changing with them.

“The Amazon Effect” series breaks down specific product groups, compares Amazon’s performance in that category to total retail sales (online and offline) and considers the effect Amazon has on that specific industry as a whole.

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