Exploring sneakerheads and sneaker culture: Consumer attitudes and buying habits

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Posted Sep 06, 2023
Jessica Glace

Sneakers have transcended mere footwear to become a reflection of personal style. And with that shift in consumer sentiment, we were curious what other changes have taken place when it comes to sneaker shopping. To gain deeper insights into the world of sneaker enthusiasts, we conducted a 3-minute online survey to 1,000 American shoppers.

Consumer insights on sneaker shopping

To kick off this blog, we want to go ahead and share some of the biggest takeaways from our study, so here they are: 

  • 66% of consumers purchase sneakers 2 times a year or less.
  • When making a purchase, consumers look for comfort (85%) and function (50%) above aesthetics (32%) and brand (27%).
  • While 40% of respondents are aware of the term, only about 8% identify as a sneakerhead.
  • 95% of sneakerheads see their sneakers as part of their identity compared to 30% of the general public

In the rest of this article, we’ll unbox our findings on sneaker purchase behavior—what motivates a sneaker purchase? How brand-loyal are sneaker shoppers? What exactly is a sneakerhead, and how do they  differ from the broader market of shoppers? We’ll explore all of the above and leave you with a comprehensive picture of consumer preferences and tendencies. 

The purchase journey

Let’s start by broadly examining the purchase journey for sneaker shoppers. Turns out, most shoppers take a rather calculated purchase approach—buying sneakers only when needed, and with the intent of wearing them through. To that end, we found that approximately 41.9% of shoppers purchase sneakers less than once or twice a year, and that most (63.8%) own less than five pairs of sneakers at any given time. With that, we can surmise that sneaker shoppers are quite pragmatic—a conclusion only bolstered by the fact that 89% of them have spent $500 or less on sneakers within the past 12 months.

When it comes time for a sneaker purchase, we found that most visit established outlets—with about 53% of purchases coming from major retailers. Most prefer in-person shopping (68.0%), though over half also shop online (52.9%). 

Choosing the right pair

So what factors play into the final purchase decision? We found that an overwhelming 83% of consumers prioritize comfort when selecting their sneaker choices. This emphasizes the relevance of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. But close behind comfort came functionality and performance, which shapes the preferences of 50.5% of respondents. 

It's evident that consumers approach sneaker shopping with comfort at the forefront of their minds. Still, it’s not all about function—aesthetics contribute significantly to sneaker purchases, with 31.9% selecting sneakers based on visual appeal. Brand reputation also holds sway, influencing the choices of over one-quarter (26.9%). Ultimately, a balance of substance and style will drive sneaker shoppers to purchase.

Navigating brand preferences

As shoppers seek their perfect fit, brand preferences come into play. The spectrum of brand loyalty among sneaker shoppers varies. We saw that a modest 12.9% of respondents exclusively look for their favorite brand when making purchases, showcasing a willingness to explore beyond familiar territory. Meanwhile, 48.5% prefer one or two brands, striking a balance between loyalty and exploration. On the other hand, a significant 38.6% opt for variety, embracing different brands in their sneaker journeys. So if brands can deliver the desired qualities of comfort, functionality, and performance, then they’ll have an opportunity to become a shopper’s preferred brand. 

The competitive landscape 

Each brand paints a distinct picture in the eyes of consumers, though certain brands emerge as category frontrunners.

Consumer insights infographic on sneaker brand awareness and loyalty

Nike stands tall with an impressive 93.5% awareness, and leads the past purchase category as well, with 70.9% of respondents having purchased this iconic brand in the past year. But it's not just about sales—it's about brand perception and resonance: 65.1% view Nike positively and 45.3% recommend it. Though it feels less affordable than other brands, Nike is perceived as offering a great selection and stylish options. 

Following closely is adidas, maintaining a strong presence with 90.4% awareness and a respectable past purchase rate of 52.1%. adidas also has positive brand perceptions (62.9%) and a relatively high level of brand evangelism (38.5%). New Balance also makes its mark with notable levels of brand recognition (84.3%) and past purchasing activity (49.8%). Most (69.2%) view New Balance positively and 43.0% recommend it. Its sneakers are seen as high-quality and affordable, though less stylish than competitors like Nike and adidas. 

As we move down the list, brands like Reebok and Converse fall in the middle of the pack, while ASICS and Fila lag behind and are seen as less stylish and having a lesser selection. 

With these insights, the intricate competitive landscape takes shape. Whether it's the widespread recognition of established giants, the passionate evangelism of loyal supporters, or the nuanced perceptions of each brand, sneaker shoppers’ choices reflect individual tastes and aspirations.

A deep dive into the mind of sneakerheads

At the heart of the sneaker landscape lies a diverse community, where identities and passions intersect.  Enter the realm of "sneakerheads," those whose passion for sneakers goes beyond mere functionality. Sneakerheads are individuals who have a strong interest in sneaker culture, often collecting, trading, and staying updated on the latest releases from various sneaker brands. While 39.8% are familiar with the term, only 8.1% identify as sneakerheads.

Sneakerheads stand out. Consumer insights on sneakerhead identity, purchase motivators, and shopping frequency

Sneakerheads, fueled by their distinct motivations and enthusiasm, represent a passionate subset of the sneaker consumer base.  For 95.1% of sneakerheads, their kicks are more than footwear—they're an integral part of their identity, compared to 29.8% of the general population. 

Delving deeper, we unearthed that their purchase behavior differs as well. Over one-third (33.3%) of sneakerheads shop for sneakers monthly or more frequently and 35.8% indulge every 2-3 months. This frequent shopping behavior aligns with sneakerheads’ desire to stay attuned to trends and limited releases. In contrast, the general population tends to shop less frequently, with only 23.5% shopping monthly and 30.2% shopping every 2–3 months.

While regular shoppers seek comfortable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing sneakers, sneakerheads invest in statements that echo their personality. Their motivations are diverse, with aesthetics (56.8%), collecting (53.1%), brand reputation (45.7%), limited editions (45.7%), and fashion trends (44.4%) driving their purchases. This diversity underscores the complexity of their relationship with sneakers. 

Lacing it all together

Sneakers are more than just shoes; they're vehicles of self-expression, statements of individuality, and pieces of cultural significance, particularly for sneakerheads. Our journey into the hearts and minds of sneaker shoppers unveils a dynamic landscape where comfort and aesthetics intertwine with brand loyalty. As brands strive to keep pace with the shifting sneaker market, understanding these consumer insights will be the key to walking the path to success.

Dive deeper into this study

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