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Industry Apr 9, 2020 7 min read

How home workouts are boosting the activewear market during COVID-19

With sporting events canceled and gyms closed, last week's activewear sell outs shot up by 40% in the US and 97% in the UK as retailers encourage consumers to work out at home.

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Not long after ‘new year, new me’ promotions died down, activewear messaging has bubbled up again. With customers in self-isolation, gyms and retailers alike are promoting at-home workouts, renewing interest in this already-successful category. 

We present the data showing how arrivals, pricing and discounting have been affected across this category, as well as direction for moving forward.

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Have arrivals slowed?

Due to an influx of newness in January, overall arrivals for Q1 are up 9% for men’s activewear and 13% for women’s YoY in the US. Deliveries started to drop off in February as the virus overtakes China causing brands with the capacity (such as Nike with 41 US factories) to rely on local manufacturing. By March, monthly arrivals pick up and level with 2019.

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A similar story to the US, arrivals for Q1 2020 in the UK also exceeded 2019 with the typical spike in January to promote the New Year. Men’s activewear grew by 18% while women’s was up 43%. In contrast, new products didn’t start to drop off until March, which saw total arrivals for the month down 5% from February, yet still outpacing 2019.

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Interest in an active lifestyle has shot up over the past few weeks, proving the continued demand for these products. With consumers confined indoors, daily Google search results for ‘home gym,’ ‘home workout’ and ‘home fitness’ are higher than back in January – typically the peak month for exercise promotions.

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What does the SS20 assortment look like?

For men and women in both regions, tops are the dominant activewear style. Breaking this category down reveals retailers are investing in T-shirts and hoodies for men and T-shirts and singlets for women. Propelled by the current situation and the rise of loungewear, the hoodie has gained share in womenswear assortments. It has accounted for 6% of tops in the US market compared to 4% the year prior, and 8% in the UK compared to 5%.

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On a similar note, sweatpants are also gaining momentum, seeing the most growth for active brands in the UK market. For women, leggings still make up the majority of the bottoms assortment. Yet sweatpants account for 11% compared to 6% a year ago.

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What’s actually selling?

With the cancelation of sporting events and closure of gyms, last week’s activewear sell outs shot up. Spurred on by retailers encouraging consumers to work out at home, the US experienced a 40% increase in majority SKU sell outs, while the UK was up by 97% YoY. For Q1, leggings made up 50% of all bottom sell outs across both markets with customers favoring plain styles over printed. Patterns that saw success included color-blocking, florals and tie-dye.

Sneakers continued to be a top seller, particularly in the UK with overall sell outs increasing 23% YoY. Incorporating loungewear into activewear proved to be a payoff with relaxed items such as joggers ranking as a top performing style. Performance pieces are still important in the COVID-19 era with moisture-wicking and quick-dry fabrics, which are also seeing continued success.

How is pricing impacted?

For men’s activewear in the US, the average advertised price has increased YoY for all major categories except for sneakers which are coming in 2% cheaper. Womenswear is the opposite, with all categories less expensive except for hoodies. Further proving the strength of the loungewear trend. Interestingly, sweatpants are cheaper with price drops noted at New Balance, Sweaty Betty and Under Armour.

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In the UK, prices rose across women’s activewear with hoodies and leggings seeing the most significant discrepancy YoY. For menswear, new hoodies arrived to market at a lower price for adidas and Reebok compared to last year, while Asics reduced its price for T-shirts.

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Has discounting increased?

Discounting became a key trend in March as coronavirus gripped the US market. This resulted in a greater proportion of activewear seeing reductions compared to last year – peaking at 32% of products on sale. Retailers offset this increase by matching the depth of discounts taken with last year to ensure the value of stock doesn’t diminish as much.

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The UK saw a more aggressive discounting strategy in place with both the proportion and percentage of reductions deepening in response to coronavirus. Outerwear bore the brunt of the markdowns as the seasons changed with 41% of styles reduced at the end of March with an average discount of 38%.

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What’s being communicated?

Community, connection and motivation to ‘get through this together’ are key messages in activewear retailers communications, leading to a significant shift by retailers to push training apps and at-home workouts. Last year, Nike’s promotions centered around new season drops. While this year, it challenged customers to make this week the most active from their living room on the Nike Training Club (NTC). Adidas have enlisted athletes and creatives to share skills and advice with the #HOMETEAM community. It is also offering three months full access to its training app with tailored plans and 230+ exercises, aiming to hit one million workout hours before April 19th. Asics opened access to its Studio and Runkeeper app, with the message of ‘in time of uncertainty, exercise helps.’

Additionally, overarching themes around wellness, relaxation and recovery have emerged with yoga and meditation popular activities. Retailers also pushed messages to entertain and joke with customers. To help alleviate boredom, Outdoor Voices rounded up its favorite Internet content of the week to share with customers. To drive the point to self-isolate further, Gymshark has changed its Instagram name to Homeshark ’cause some of you need reminding to stay at home.’ Despite discounts rising, sales and promotional messaging weren’t prominent in customer communications with an exception at New Balance offering 25% off towards the end of March.

Not limited to pure play active brands, mass market retailers are getting involved with similar communications. Curated edits were of note at Joe Fresh and American Eagle Outfitters, while John Lewis combined sportswear and equipment with a healthy eating guide. New Look joined its promotions for sports and loungewear with a 25% offer. Oysho added exercise videos for all fitness levels to its website, as well as a schedule for live training and healthy eating sessions on @oysho_sport.

Looking ahead and direction

Outdoor activities are still top of mind as customers have a newfound appreciation for getting out of the house. Technical pieces are still selling through despite limited exposure to the outdoors. We can expect it to be a focal point post-pandemic. Promote stretch and absorbent fabrics for now and ensure bigger-ticket functional items such as windbreakers and hiking boots are phased in at a later date.

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Arc Teryx UK Email 31 Mar 2020

As the majority of companies across the globe working from home, away from both content studios and the gym, fitness influencers are in a unique position to partner with brands to help create content for social channels. Gymshark is offering an hourly rate to personal trainers struggling for work to host online workouts, while Ciara Madden of @ciaralondon has collaborated with DJ Mercedes Benson to create personalized playlists for her IG Live. Fitness brands who haven’t gotten involved in IG Live content should seriously consider partnering with influencers to keep their current audience engaged and expand their reach.

Sports and athleisure themes remained a mainstay on the FW2020 runways, making items falling under this umbrella low-risk to have in your inventory now and in the future. Since ski season was cut short, retailers may find themselves with more stock than anticipated. However, voluminous silhouettes and padded fabrics were a major theme particularly at womenswear shows, adding longevity to your salopettes and puffer jackets, which can be ranged later this year or early next year.

The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics allows retailers to get involved in the event if they didn’t initially plan on doing so. The addition of sports such as skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing further solidifies the importance of the outdoors, as previously mentioned.

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