It’s no surprise that back-to-school product landed in stores not with a bang, but a whimper this fall. Amid uncertainties about whether students would actually return to classes, parents have pulled back on spending on new duds for their mostly homebound kids.
Shopper ambivalence has led brands to become desperate, with footwear prices for boys’ and girls’ styles falling throughout the month of August at the fastest pace seen in two decades, the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA) found in a new report.
The U.S. government’s most recent read on consumer prices shows that after hitting a peak in February, retail pricing for footwear took a precipitous dive. The same is true for kids’ styles, which plummeted over the course of the following six months, capped by a fall of more than 7 percent during the month of August. The decline is the most dire seen since 2000.
Prices for women’s and men’s styles didn’t fare well, either, sinking year-over-year in August by nearly 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
“The weakness in these prices comes as retail demand remains weak and tens of thousands of footwear workers remain jobless,” FDRA said. With coronavirus infections surpassing seven million, the group expects to see prices “remain soft well into the fourth quarter.”
This downward trend—which is expected to persist into the holiday season—will likely result in full-year prices shrinking at the highest rate in about 18 years, they added. Throughout the first eight months of 2020, children’s footwear prices contracted by an average of more than 2 percent from the same period in 2019.
What’s more, average landed costs for kids’ shoes are set to jump this year due to the Trump administration’s imposition of increased duties. “With the landed cost of children’s footwear jumping but children’s retail footwear prices retreating this year, the industry is caught between a rock and a hard place as the costs of goods sold rise while selling prices fall,” FDRA said. It’s an inconvenient time for such complications, it added, as demand is weakening while margins become even more constrained.
New data from Edited reveals that the adult footwear market isn’t faring much better. Retailers have reined in their fall season assortments, with new arrivals decreasing by more than one-third (34 percent) in the U.S. and U.K. markets.
Predictably, deliveries on boots and booties—normally an essential part of the fall wardrobe—have fallen by 7 percent to less than one-third (30 percent) of the season’s footwear drops, compared to the same period in 2019.
Notably, though, sell-through on sandal styles remains strong into September as temperatures across the country remain mild. According to Edited analysts, shoppers have shifted to a “see now, buy now” mindset during the pandemic, and instead of prepping for fall, they’re continuing to purchase products that fit their current daily lifestyles.
As a seasonless staple, sneakers have enjoyed similarly accelerated sell-through, while continuing to hold their place as the top category. Both athletic and comfort styles have enjoyed tremendous attention in recent months, as shoppers live in their loungewear and athleisure apparel.
The average sneaker sell-through speed has increased dramatically this year, with styles from Nike selling in an average of 70 days—down from 151 days in 2019, Edited said. Prada’s collab with Adidas earlier in the year heightened hype around the luxury brand’s sneaker offerings, with styles selling in an average of 23 days in 2020, compared with 95 days the year prior.
Heeled styles have taken a predictable nose dive during Covid times, though the trend toward less formal dressing was already well underway before the pandemic struck. With offices and most social occasions both trending toward no-fuss styling, retailers have struggled to promote heels, which have been declining since 2019. According to Edited data, there are 44 percent fewer heeled footwear styles hitting the shelves this fall, compared with the same period last year.
Pumps have taken the biggest margin hit, analysts said, as they don’t exactly complement the consumer’s current wardrobe of sweats. While these styles saw a year-over-year price increase in both the luxury and mass market, 66 percent of pumps available now have been discounted by an average of 50 percent.
In addition to doubling down on ever-dependable sneaker styles, retailers should look to easy-wearing silhouettes like mules and loafers this fall, Edited said. The mule’s slip-on convenience, which imitates a classic house slipper, has earned the style a 9 percent increase in year-over-year sellouts since July.
Athletic styles will also continue to hold steady, Edited said, due to the increasing trend toward at-home fitness and exploring nature that has gripped consumers during this societal lockdown. Running and hiking have become important pastimes for stir-crazy shoppers, and sneakers and outdoor styles are expected to remain essential as the weather turns.