Under Armour's 'soaring' shoe sales reveal a terrible truth for the business

Under Armour recently realized in order to achieve its ambitious goal of becoming a $10 million, it would need to add footwear to its mix.

According to the brand, that initiative is doing great. Footwear sales in the last quarter of 2016 were up 36%, according to the company's own metrics.

But that number doesn't tell the whole story. According to another number by industry analysts at NPD Group, the sales of Under Armour's footwear actually fell 20% during that same period.


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These numbers are both accurate. How is that possible? Under Armour's number includes sales directly to customers as well as sales to wholesalers, as the FEC requires, while the NPD number measures actual sales to consumers.

The discrepancy is explained by the fact that Under Armour sold a whole lot of shoes to retailers, but those retailers couldn't move them. That means inventory piled up, causing problems for retailers and necessitating discounting, industry analyst Robin Lewis writes on his website The Robin Report.

That's not great news for Under Armour's star-powered footwear business, which has seen sluggish growth in its models endorsed by all-star basketball player Steph Curry. Basketball footwear sales industry-wide were down about 20% in 2016.

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The athletic shoe industry as a whole has shifted to lifestyle and retro styles, of which Under Armour has limited offerings. NPD analyst Matt Powell called retro styles "the strongest player in the athletic footwear market" growing at 29% through October of 2016. Unlike Adidas and Nike, Under Armour does not have decades of footwear styles to draw inspiration from and has virtually nothing to offer in this category.

Under Armour as a whole is shifting strategy after a disappointing quarter, admitting that it missed the athleisure trend.

"We need to become more fashion," Plank said during a call with analysts after the last quarterly earnings report.

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