While some retailers held holiday-themed promotional events in October to encourage early shopping, most waited until the parents had the chance to steal their favorite candy from their kids’ Halloween haul. To top it off, the major coffee chains kicked off November by unveiling their seasonal cup designs and holiday drinks, signaling that the holiday season has now officially arrived. 

In the fashion footwear and accessories space, the 2021 holiday season will mirror the blended lifestyles we are still living, more than a year and a half into the pandemic. 

Early(ish) and Late

There has been a clear push to shop earlier this season. Sales results for accessories including bags, luggage, and small personal accessories support this storyline, showing a month-over-month acceleration of growth this year versus 2019. However, I do not expect early shopping to cannibalize sales during the traditional height of the season.

For the past three years, revenues for both the fashion footwear and accessories markets peaked during the third week of December (i.e., Super Saturday week), and for the past two years, the last two weeks of December were the best performing weeks, in terms of year-over-year growth. Even if some sales are pulled forward this year, I expect the bulk of holiday sales will take place in November and December, and the last-minute timeframe will continue to be extremely important. 

Supply chain issues are clearly a factor this year. According to our October omnibus survey, almost half of U.S. consumers told us that they anticipate having supply chain issues over the holidays. One-third said they have started, or will be starting, their shopping earlier as a result. However, over 40% of those anticipating supply challenges said they’ll be prepared to buy alternative products, suggesting that they aren’t as concerned with securing their items early. 

Online Opportunity

Based on online sales levels for the year-to-date, I expect that 35% to 40% of footwear and accessories industry revenues will be generated online over the holidays. Cyber Monday is not the end-all-be-all for online sales during the holiday season. In fact, NPD Checkout data shows that in 2020 Cyber Monday was essentially tied with Black Friday as the “busiest” online shopping day, for both the footwear and accessories markets. Checkout data from NPD also indicates that Thanksgiving Day was the fifth-busiest online shopping day during November and December 2020 for these industries. After a decade of opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day, many major retailers were closed last year, and this will be the case in 2021 as well. Closing on this day is likely to go full circle and become tradition (again), strengthening the case for why Thanksgiving Day represents a significant online opportunity for brands and retailers. 

Comfy and Cozy, with a Twist

Pre-pandemic demand for hot footwear brands and other items intensified over the past year, and this momentum will continue through the holiday season. Athleisure styles and other casual bestsellers, as well as slippers, continue to be popularized on social media and resonate with consumers of all ages, who have proven willing to pay full price for the footwear they want. The desire for comfy-cozy products remains – and has been taken up a notch. These elements have moved beyond winter boots and slippers, and are now being incorporated into fashion shoes, boots, sneakers, and even sandals. Across these categories, footwear that contains visible fur-like features outperformed fur-free styles, from January through September, according to NPD Retail Tracking data. With higher average prices, high demand for these trends, and tight inventory, footwear is forecasted to achieve double-digit growth this holiday season, compared to 2020, and single-digit growth, versus 2019, per our Future of Footwear findings.

Blended Behaviors

While consumers are still prioritizing comfort at home, they will also be gathering with friends and family this holiday season, more so than last year. They are also anticipating a return to more pre-pandemic behaviors in 2022. Younger kids are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, opening up more travel and experiential options for families. This will drive spending, both for ourselves and as gifts. Fashion and dress footwear, handbags, and luggage are the primary categories that will benefit from this increased social visibility.     

My short- and long-term outlook for the fashion footwear and accessories industry continues to be guided by the expectation that the pendulum will not swing all the way back to its pre-pandemic position. Consumers will return to some, but not all, of their pre-pandemic behaviors, and the extent or frequency of certain behaviors will vary. This new blending of behaviors will guide holiday season purchases, as well as consumer spending in 2022 (but that’s a topic for another blog).