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Footwear Retailers Need to Take Omnichannel to the Next Level

If the footwear industry wants a share of consumers’ attention, it will have to innovate to stay relevant.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group, spoke to a group of footwear professionals at a Coffee and Conversation event at FFANY on Wednesday about the need to get customers excited about footwear.

While footwear has enjoyed fairly little of the hype surrounding the “next thing,” which the mobile industry has dominated, it has fared better in comparison to other fashion categories. Footwear experienced a two percent growth last year and has gained more momentum than both the accessory and apparel categories.

An important component to the industry’s growth is omnipresence. Cohen defines omnipresence as an extension of omnichannel. “What omnipresence really is all about is messaging and communicating to the consumer before, during and after the transaction,” he said.

Cohen used the example of shopping for a camping trip, where you have the option of buying the tent and supplies in-store, in-store with home delivery, or online. This is omnichannel.

Omnipresence is the next level, when the store or the site not only helps you with merchandise, but goes on to tell you where’s the right place to go, how you make reservations, and tips for your trip. Then, the brand will continue the conversation even further with ratings and social media to create a continual dialogue.

As merchandise becomes increasingly accessible, retailers also have to adjust the timing of their releases. The retail calendar has never matched the outside weather, with the idea traditionally being that if you are first to market, you can sell product at full price for as long as possible.

Cohen explained, however, that companies who are doing more to match the weather are now experiencing more success. “The consumer buys much more in sync with the weather. More so now than ever before,” he said.

He suggested that retailers focus on “long and strong,” holding over some strong products for long periods, for those who want to buy a winter coat in January or shorts in August.

This is part of retail becoming reactive rather than proactive. People wait to get to get an email about a sale to go out and buy a new pair of shoes. Soon, Cohen suggested, you will be alerted to what you need, and you will simply need to opt in for automatic replenishment. He said this is a model to which footwear will need to adapt.

“The consumer is looking and waiting for our industry to catch up,” Cohen said.