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Footwear Had a Record-Setting Year. What Comes Next?

Shoe sales skyrocketed to a new record of $100 billion in the U.S. during 2021, but there’s little clarity on what the year ahead will bring.

The Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America’s (FDRA) analysis of U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data found that 2021 shoe sales topped the previous revenue record set in 2019 by more than $17 billion.

In December alone, shoppers spent over 20 percent more on footwear than they did during the same period a year prior. The month’s sales jump pushed full-year footwear spending upward by an unprecedented 29.8 percent, FDRA said. “Despite major supply chain disruptions, higher tariffs and Covid, our companies blew past previous record sales and surpassed $100 billion in consumer demand for the first time ever,” FDRA president and CEO Matt Priest said.

“Whether you look at the year’s increased spending in nominal or inflation-adjusted terms, they both increased sharply in 2021 to this record year,” FDRA chief economist Gary Raines told Sourcing Journal. Even taking into account the increased cost of footwear in 2021, “we still saw the volume of footwear sales increase by 25 percent,” he said.

Over the long term, and pre-pandemic, footwear sales accelerated on “a fairly consistent slope until 2020, when everything fell off a cliff,” Raines said, adding that in 2021, the footwear sector was “on track not only to recoup those lost sales, but to come in head and shoulders above the previous record in 2019 and well above trend.”

FDRA’s findings contrast with data documenting the decline of athletic footwear in recent months. NPD data shows that while performance styles like trail runners and hiking boots saw consistently elevated demand throughout the pandemic, sales growth fell into the mid-single-digits during Q4 of 2021—a marked decrease even from the 15 percent rise seen in the previous quarter. Nike and Jordan both dipped about 10 percent and Adidas posted only a low single-digit increase during the last quarter of the year, versus the first half of 2021 when athletic footwear styles were up 33 percent across the board.

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While BEA data does not break down footwear sales by category, FDRA analyzed import data for shoes coming into the country, and examined different types of styles. “We too are seeing that the athletic market is in a bit of retrenchment, but that’s contrary to the rest of footwear that’s still seeing double-digit, year-over-year increases in both supply and demand,” Raines said.

“We do know casual and lifestyle continues to dominate over the last several years from conversations with industry executives, especially well established brands,” FDRA senior vice president Andy Polk said. Dress styles and occasion wear imports remained muted, while casual styles grew, the trade group reported.

The recent numbers spell good news for U.S. footwear brands, but Polk said that continued supply chain hurdles, like production slowdowns and logistical delays leading to inventory constraints, remain causes for concern in 2022. Brands raised prices on products to make up for the new costs they incurred last year, and while shoppers drove strong back-to-school and the holiday sales, that isn’t guaranteed to last.

“So far, the price increases at retail haven’t been met with much resistance by consumer, but we do worry that may shift in Q1 of 2022 with new headwinds,” Polk said. Stimulus dollars are drying up, while rising oil prices impact shipping prices and shoppers’ wallets, he added. “I personally don’t think people are paying too close attention to that key commodity.”

FDRA is optimistic about overall spending for the year, Polk said, “but the challenges are not fading away like people may have assumed, and we don’t know how consumers will socialize to these current economic realities.”

For his part, Raines doesn’t believe this strong footwear spending will last.

“I don’t think we’re seeing some new trajectory of faster annual growth for footwear demand that will continue on and on,” he added. “I think we will progress back to that that long-term trend line.” Raines believes spending will dip to “a substantially slower rate than what we witnessed this past year.”