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How Will Gender Neutral, Off-Price & Self-Gifting Shape Footwear in 2016?

Each year brings new challenges and opportunities to footwear retailers and manufacturers. For the first time in years, denim sales are up and yoga pant sales are down. Smart shoe technology and 3-D printing are standard parts of the industry vernacular and the largest generation the U.S. has ever seen would prefer to share and experience than purchase and consume.

The NPD Group Industry Analyst and Executive Director Beth Goldstein outlined the year ahead at MAGIC in Las Vegas.

From luxury consumers shopping off-price to the rise of gender-less footwear, Goldstein revealed that there’s more blurred lines in the industry than a warm winter season.

Less talk, more action.

Complaining about warm winters, declining foot traffic and online competitors will not keep the lights on. Will retailers break that bad habit in 2016? Goldstein said yes, pointing out that footwear retailers are beginning to react to the external challenges that have marred the industry over the last two years with new concepts.

Subscription services, “buy now” buttons, consignment, showrooms, customization, clicks to bricks, shop-in-shops, the return of catalogs and more have created what Goldstein described as a “spider web of options” that are intertwining and crossing over into other categories.

The concepts are distracting to traditional retail, but Goldstein said they offer retailers opportunities to reinvent themselves. Changes are already happening in department stores, she added. For example, Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship in New York City underwent drastic renovations, implementing more reasons for shoppers to stay, sip, nosh and shop.

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It’s time to rethink the holiday season.

In 2015, retailers began holiday promotions as early as October. As a result, sales slowed the closer it got to December 25. In 2016, Goldstein said retailer can react either by starting promotions at a later date or by securing new and tempting product for December.

Goldstein said the industry has an untapped opportunity to push footwear as gifts and for self-gifting. Last year footwear was the third most popular category to buy for self-gifting.

Good design transcends gender boundaries.

Goldstein reported that key items driving footwear sales in 2015 were the L.L. Bean Boot, Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Lo and Timberland work boots—three styles that appealed to both men and women. Timberland, Converse, along with Nike, were also among the top five fashion footwear growth brands for both genders last year.

And for some time now designs pulled from menswear like oxfords and monk straps have had a strong presence on the women’s sales floor. Fall ’16 will be more of the same, but with the addition of hikers which are playing a strong role in women’s fashion. Last year, Goldstein said women’s hikers experienced 15 percent year-over-year growth in urban areas, like Los Angeles, Seattle, New York and Boston.

The takeaway? Gender neutral footwear brands and styles are hot.

Everyone likes the thrill of off-price.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to pin down the off-price customer. According to The NPD Group, 71 percent of luxury consumers say they shop at off-price retailers and 30 percent say they shop at fast fashion retailers.

The trend will continue into 2016, but Goldstein warned that the off-price market is becoming saturated as Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s announce new off-price store openings each quarter.

Online shopping is convenient—to a point.

Almost half of the footwear dollar volume growth was derived from physical stores in 2015, however, online sales increased almost four times as fast. Online retail’s growth rate reiterates the power of convenience, but securing an online sale isn’t that simple.

Goldstein said shipping costs and delivery time are the top two reasons consumers abandoned a filled cart online. She explained that consumers show a higher loyalty toward retailers with lower shipping thresholds. For example, Zappos offers free shipping for every item it sells. The online pure player owns a 68 percent share of online footwear dollars. Bloomingdale’s, however, requires a minimum purchase of $150 for free shipping and holds a 32 percent share of consumers’ online footwear dollars.

Millennials will wear rubber shoes on sunny days.

Millennials are incorporating shoes that serve a designated function into everyday fashion looks, essentially turning them into multi-use footwear. Last year, Goldstein said 70 percent of millennials’ dollars for casual footwear was spent on sneakers, followed by rain boots (49 percent) and hikers (37 percent).

Goldstein attributed part of these styles’ success to millennials’ new idea of the outdoors. Instead of participating in extreme outdoor activities and sports, millennials are content with just being outside in a park.