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What Will It Take to Forge a Footwear Sales Turnaround? These Execs Know.

2020 has been a challenging year for the fashion industry, and footwear has been particularly hard hit.

As consumers hunkered down to stop the spread of Covid, they began dressing from the waist up. And with nowhere to go, they had had less motivation to add new shoes to their wardrobes. As a result, footwear sales fell 22 percent year-over-year in the six months ended in August, according to NPD data.

Some segments of the category that catered to the new quarantine lifestyle—including slippers and styles for outdoor and athletic activities—outperformed amid the decline. Per NPD, cold weather and hiking boot sales climbed year-over-year in August, by 49 percent, and September by 24 percent. Meanwhile, slipper sales grew 50 percent over 2019 in the six months ended in August.

There are signs of recovery, with footwear retail group Genesco returning to profitability in the third quarter ended Oct. 31, Foot Locker seeing a 9 percent increase in total sales during the same period and Shoe Carnival reporting a record net income in its own Q3 results.

Boding well for the business in 2021, NPD projects a mid-single digit decline in the fourth quarter, followed by a rebound for footwear next year. However, 2021 sales are still expected to come in below 2019 figures.

Sourcing Journal asked footwear industry insiders what it will take for footwear sales to bounce back. They say it will require a mix of values, design, lifestyle appeal, authentic connection and digitization.

Jim Fox, CEO of Dansko

Jim Fox Dansko“Confidence that an end to the pandemic is in sight will be the biggest boost to the economy, in general, and footwear sales specifically. Under the current conditions, consumers have become more intentional about their purchases and are focused on what they immediately need. Brands that understand consumers and build products to meet their needs will continue to thrive. We also expect consumers to be more receptive to newness and innovation once we are through the pandemic. Dansko will be introducing new innovations that address our consumers’ specific needs, including performance walking shoes and molded clogs with the comfort, support and style expected from Dansko.”

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Ann Williams-Schwartz, director of design and product at Schwilliamz Creative Consultants

Ann Williams Schwilliamz“Consumers are shopping less and expecting more, with an increased focus on value, purpose and sustainability. Designers will need to be smarter and more nimble in order to successfully react to evolving consumer demands and shopping habits. A greater emphasis on well thought through design, from initial sketch through final prototype, will reduce sampling costs and streamline the development process, yielding the high quality, high value and more sustainable footwear the consumer wants, needs and will buy.”

Deborah Cianciotta, principal and partner at Modern Pulse Consulting Group

Deborah Cianciotta“For those who thought brick-and-mortar retail would always be more important than online and web sales, that is changing and it’s going to continue to change. We are retraining consumer habits as we speak daily. It will still be a while before everyone feels safe enough to come out to shop as they once did. More than ever, people have gotten used to buying online. Where before it was mostly a younger audience, older age groups have become more familiar and comfortable with purchasing online. It is extremely important to know your audience, who you’re speaking to. No matter the age group, they are very savvy and know when you’re telling them the truth or trying to sell them something. Being authentic is one of the most important things I can tell people when you’re dealing with social media and advertising in general today. Speaking to your audience as if they are your friends and letting them know you appreciate them is key.

“As far as product, no matter what you’re selling—casuals or something a bit dressier—the word comfort is no longer aging your product. With many working at home, and even for those who aren’t, people want to look and feel good on their feet.”

Frank Cammarata, CEO of The Enjoiya Group

Frank Cammarata“Clearly, the elimination of the virus will be the key for the footwear industry to get back to a sense of normalcy. Ramping up direct-to-consumer, e-commerce business will be critical. Although many retail doors will unfortunately shutter as a result, this will open up opportunities for new brick-and-mortar retail entrepreneurs.

“A move to indoor/outdoor lifestyle products will cater to the needs of the new normal. A reduction of SKU offerings will also be necessary to create better efficiencies.”

 

Fabrizio Gamberini, global chief brand officer, president of Vibram Corporation

Fabrizio Gamberini“A laser focus attention to what the end user is looking for, together with a strong innovative leadership. At Vibram, it’s not just about doing more, it’s also about doing things in a better way. Our resources are not unlimited, therefore contingency plans help us stay focused on driving profitable and sustainable growth. This gives us the resources to invest in growth opportunities and deliver amazing products.”

Aliaa Zulkifli, marketing and e-commerce director of Vida Shoes, premium division

Aliaa Zulkifli“Sales will bounce back stronger with the demands for more focus on fashion pieces. Marketing, sales and design teams will work more closely than ever since the shift of consumerism in 2020, only making a brand stronger.

“We’ve seen the shift in e-commerce and social commerce being the main focus and consumers being very mindful in their shopping habits.”

D’Wayne Edwards, founder of Pensole Academy

DWayne Edwards“Some consumers will be enticed by products that resonate with them. But for long-term growth of the relationship, it will take brands having a conversation with their consumers without talking about product. Pre-Covid and the Race Revolution, brands only told their consumers, ‘If you pick up a ball or a mic and wear our products, you will be successful.’ That is no longer acceptable! Brands will have to authentically show their consumers they care about them and provide them opportunities to do more than buy products. This will create brand loyalty. That will turn into sales.”

Richard Leckenwalter, global business leader for Gore consumer footwear, gloves and accessories

 Richard Leckenwalter“As we are all aware, the economic impact of the Covid pandemic has forced many consumers to focus their purchases on ‘necessities.’ This has impacted many industries, including footwear and apparel. However during the pandemic, the outdoor industry did notice more people enjoying outdoor activities such as running, hiking and walking—resulting in some of them seeking new footwear so they could continue to safely enjoy their newfound interest.

“I believe the Covid-19 pandemic has made people reflect on how fragile and volatile our world can be, and that this will influence buying behavior in the future. I believe we will see a gradual recovery as people are already showing they are excited to start shopping again.

“But I also anticipate that consumers will be very thoughtful and ‘aware’ when making a purchase, with a heightened sense of responsibility and consideration of the overall impact of their choice. Sustainability, performance and quality will play a bigger role in consumer buying decisions. Buying footwear and apparel is an important means of self-expression—something many are seeking in this challenging time.”

Mitchell Sayre, director – global footwear for American & Efird

Mitchell Sayre“If the 2009 recession taught us anything, it’s that when market demand returns, it will do so with a vengeance.

“The key to capitalizing will be inventory in the pipeline and a robust supply chain that is able to scale quickly. Stay poised, stay ready and be aggressive on the uptick.”

 

 

Natasha Cazin, consultant at Euromonitor International

Natasha Cazin“Covid-19 is accelerating brand purpose as a business strategy. Consumers today expect authentic and thoughtful messaging, seeking out companies that align with their own values and have a positive impact on the world, rather than focusing exclusively on profit. Fifty-two percent of respondents from Euromonitor’s Lifestyle Survey in 2020 agreed that they only buy from companies and brands that they completely trust. Many smaller, younger brands have been very good at building a cult following around core values that speak to people.”

Len Pesko, principal and partner at Modern Pulse Consulting Group

Len Pesko“While we are all experiencing a current and rapidly changing normal, I am confident that we will all get through this and get to a new normal that will offer success for the brands, factories, retailers and the ultimate consumer.

“What will be important is that we all work together to begin to rebuild. Specifically, this will start with realistic expectations in terms of all involved, working together. We will all need to think of new ways and not focus on what was the normal in the past.

“I believe that there is a near future date where we will all venture out and bring with us a pent-up demand to shop. The footwear designs will need to have laser focus on the trends and how they have shifted. A brand plan and how it fits into the world today—a story—will be needed along with a social media campaign to assist in the execution and drive sales. Without these points being addressed, it will be very hard for a brand to be successful, especially a startup. While price will be important, value is equally important. There are other points that are also critical; this will show an overview that should be considered. Without them, it will take luck to grow a business. Luck should not be your business plan.”