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Some Consumers Will Back-to-School Shoe-Shop Online Because Gas Costs Too Much

More than one-third of consumers plan to spend $200 minimum on back-to-school shoes, according to new research published Thursday.

The Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA) and First Insight surveyed 691 households with school- and college-age children to find that 36 percent said they’ll spend at least $200 on footwear this season when just 17 percent said the same a year ago. What’s more, 78 percent will spend the same or more than they did last year, despite one-third noting up to a $300 increase in their monthly spending on gas, food and other essentials.

Overall shoe sales will likely mirror the previous back-to-school season, FDRA senior vice president Andy Polk told Sourcing Journal, noting a record-setting 2021 for the footwear industry. Price and not volume will likely boost this year’s tally. “Families are going to spend on necessities,” he said. “And because of inflation, they expect to see higher prices.”

Eighty-one percent expect to increase back-to-school spending compared to 2021, according to ICSC‘s July survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers, and 43 percent said they believe goods will be more expensive. Nearly half of U.S. adults (48 percent) plan to spend $911 average on all back-to-school purchases, with footwear and apparel driving spend (88 percent), the shopping center and marketplace trade group said.

Consumers might be cutting back, but Polk outlined why back-to-school shopping remains a priority. On top of fast-growing feet needing new shoes every few months, extracurriculars like sports are returning in line with loosening social restrictions, driving spending on related products.

Nine out of 10 ICSC respondents (91 percent) said they’re interested in promotions to help afford purchases, with 63 percent telling FDRA they plan to spend $75 or less per pair of shoes, compared to 81 percent a year ago. Consumers this year are likely to hunt for lower prices and change the ways they shop. Forty-nine percent said they would shop off-price channels including TJ Maxx or Marshalls to find better deals, while 51 percent plan to more selectively shop their usual stores.

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“I think it will be a mix of buying a branded shoe, and then buying an off-brand shoe” to supplement needs, Polk said.

Retailers such as DSW, Famous Footwear, Shoe Carnival, Rack Room and Shoe Show resonated most with 34 percent of shoppers, while 28 percent said they’ll shop chains such as Walmart, Costco and Target. About one-fifth of respondents said they would go straight to brand-owned stores like Nike, Under Armour and Vans, while only 14 percent said department stores like Nordstrom would get their business.

Slightly more households will do all (21 percent) or the majority (37 percent) of their shopping for shoes online, each up one percentage point from 2021, according to FDRA and First Insight data, which showed 67 percent citing rising gas prices as their reason for favoring e-commerce. Others think they’ll find lower prices through digital channels, Polk said. “I think people think they can get better deals online, because they can shop across different channels much more quickly, but it’s not always true,” he said. Twenty-eight percent of shoppers say they plan to buy most of their back-to-school goods in stores.

This back-to-school year comes with different challenges than in the past. Demand coupled with inventory scarcity supported retail margins in 2021, Polk said.

“Last year there was a lot of price stability,” Polk said. “The question this year becomes, ‘Is it the right product? Is it the right brand? Is it the right style? The pricing is going to be fluctuating a lot, and I can imagine retailers adjusting pricing strategies every week through back-to-school season.” Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) told ICSC they plan to start shopping early to avoid paying prices that could go higher.

Meanwhile, FDRA’s recent survey of 100 top footwear CEOs showed that the biggest concern at the corporate level has evolved from supply chain issues to consumer uncertainty and the behavioral shifts that could come with an economic slowdown. The health of the U.S. economy represents “a vital barometer” in understanding consumers’ intentions during the back-to-school season, Polk said.

“With inflation rates at 40-year highs clearly taking a toll on consumer confidence, it’s more important than ever for brands and retailers to gain and use granular, real-time insight into their customers’ changing needs and willingness to spend,” First Insight CEO Greg Petro added.