The U.S. footwear industry has not been immune to the drastic retail and consumer shifts as a result of COVID-19. Spending seemed to change overnight as consumers simply did not buy what they did not need, highlighting the extent to which our lifestyles drive our footwear purchases. The pandemic has simultaneously bred new trends and amplified some existing ones. Seasonal fashion took a big hit, while more practical styles including slippers and running shoes have performed better. Consumers have cozied up even more to comfort, and likely to brands that are resonating with their needs and values.
NPD footwear experts Matt Powell and Beth Goldstein have identified the top trends shaping the industry in today’s new world…
Health and Wellness
Matt Powell: A renewed consumer interest in health and wellness, and keeping social distance, are behaviors that bode well for areas of the market – performance running and outdoor footwear, in particular. Stay-at-home orders have encouraged consumers to spend their time in different ways and pursue social distance-friendly activities such as running and biking. With gyms and fitness centers closed, the lockdown has also forced consumers to rethink their exercise routines and invest in equipment for their home, and the footwear and apparel to enable the workouts. Performance running shoe sales have been trending positively for the last few weeks. We should see running continue to benefit throughout the COVID-19 recession as this business has typically performed well during recession. I also believe that the virus itself has motivated many consumers to adopt healthier practices and place a greater emphasis on their physical health and wellbeing.
Goldstein: In fashion, this will manifest itself in consumers’ desire for comfort. This has already been grandfathered in as a key priority for consumers when it comes to their footwear, but after three months of hunkering down in cozy attire and slippers, we aren’t going to want to stuff our feet into uncomfortable shoes. With that being said, sneakers, lower heels (or none at all), and the fusion of fashion and athletic elements will remain important.
Beth Goldstein: Tied to comfort, the pandemic will likely reinforce the shift we have seen away from dress footwear; sales were down by 12% in 2019, according to NPD’s Retail Tracking data, and that decline sharpened since the pandemic began in the U.S., with sales down more than 70% from March through May 2020 compared to last year.
Matt Powell: Entering the pandemic, about 30% of footwear sales were generated online, but the shutdown of physical stores revved up online sales, according to NPD. While the growth hasn’t compensated for in-store losses, almost two-thirds of footwear sales were generated online in April. Though this ratio was reduced in May as stores reopened, many consumers won’t be rushing back to stores, and won’t unlearn any newly adopted online shopping behavior. We can anticipate another acceleration of online purchasing to occur. Some retail stores will not rise from the rubble, and this will drive more business to the Internet. We can expect retailers and brands with seamless e-commerce platforms to thrive, and the opposite outcome for those that don’t have appealing, user-friendly websites.
Goldstein: Footwear will always have seasonal categories, but the store closures timed just as spring product was hitting the floors really emphasized the consumer’s “buy now, wear now” mentality. With nowhere to go, and uncertainty around when we’d go out again (and where), the seasonal footwear demand just wasn’t there. We can expect to see brands and retailers take a lesson here and focus on more seasonless, transitional options so that if we again find ourselves in a situation where we essentially miss a season, it won’t have such a negative sales impact or require such heavy promotional activity to move through the inventory
Brand Value and Societal Impact
Matt Powell: Trusted brands, as well as those who have provided aid in some way during today’s challenging times, will benefit and be top-of-mind for consumers moving forward. Broadly speaking, consumers appear to be embracing brands they can trust. According to CivicScience, brand loyalty has gone up during the pandemic. Aggressive discounting to move inventory and additional, non-comp footwear releases are driving much of the positive results right now in the athletic space, and while this is unsustainable, brands will have difficulty getting customers to spend full price. Consumers may, however, be more inclined to spend more on brands with which they have a closer connection, where loyalty and shared values outweigh the monetary cost.
Beth Goldstein: Social responsibility and eco-consciousness have been hot topics in the footwear industry as younger consumers look to engage with brands and retailers that share their values. We’ve moved beyond simply having eco-friendly product to creating sustainable models with lasting societal impact. I’m often asked if sustainability will still be a concern moving forward or if the pandemic pushed that down the priority list. I think the pandemic has driven many consumers to become even more aware of how their actions impact others—and society as a whole—so I believe sustainability and cause-based programs will remain important and brands and retailers should try not to pause their efforts here.