Millennials and Gen Z consumers may be the driving force behind some of the hottest footwear trends in 2019.
In remarks kicking off the FN Platform trade show that opened in Las Vegas Tuesday, Beth Goldstein, NPD executive director and industry analyst for accessories and footwear, said sustainability, personalization and practicality will be the factors driving purchasing decisions for this growing and influential consumer group.
Reflecting on industry growth in 2018, Goldstein called it “a peak year for footwear,” with the $72.6 billion industry up 6 percent from 2017.
“Every category is more positive than it was the year before,” she said, especially women’s. While active apparel remains a mainstay in the marketplace, performance footwear has actually declined, making way for an influx of more casual, everyday sneaker styles built for running errands rather than, well, running. The same is true for men, with men’s fashion footwear up 6 percent from 2017—and non-performance casual sneakers accounting for most of that growth.
Looking at the year ahead, Goldstein touched on footwear industry trends impacting everything from design to marketing and manufacturing.
Goldstein predicts that comfortable, practical styles will again prevail. But now, she said, “It’s about more than comfort.”
Consumers are looking for shoes that are easy on their arches and fulfill a multitude of needs. “It’s about the lightweight, packable, waterproof” styles that display true versatility, she says, both from a functional and aesthetic standpoint. She points to Rothy’s and Cole Haan as leaders in the trend, with easy slip-ons and sleek sneakers that can be worn with both leggings and jeans.
Giving shoppers the ability to choose colors, patterns and embellishments may not drive significant volume, “but it drives brand engagement” and interest, said Goldstein.
Vans offers customers the ability to customize its shoes’ canvas uppers with anything from prints to digital photos, while Nike’s NIKEiD line gives the consumer creative license over many of the brand’s iconic silhouettes.
Loyalty gets sophisticated
Companies are also taking extensive measures to keep customers engaged outside of the store or after a purchase.
By offering wide-ranging and sometimes complex loyalty programs, brands are hoping to incentivize repeat purchases. Steady engagement across multiple platforms can earn consumers access to early sales, special events, free shipping options and other rewards.
“Loyalty is getting much more complex and sophisticated,” Goldstein said. “It’s beyond dollars off. It’s about exclusivity.”
It’s “a hot topic that’s only going to get bigger,” Goldstein said of sustainability. It’s also an issue that brands are seeking to define for themselves.
Brands are looking to reduce waste while finding or developing high quality, renewable resources with which to build their products. For direct-to-consumer brands and online retailers, rethinking packaging will also be an important step in reducing their carbon footprint, according to Goldstein.
With 25 percent of shoes being bought online, the issue of double-boxing “needs to be re-thought,” Goldstein insisted. Brands like Allbirds are leading the charge by developing shoe boxes that double as shippers, and others may soon follow suit.
“Gen Z and millennials are very conscious of social and environmental issues,” Goldstein said, and that focus is driving brands to examine their impact.
Stores aren’t going away
Even with the e-commerce boom of recent years, “Millennials still like shopping in stores,” Goldstein said.
“We’re seeing business models changing and revamping,” she said, but consumers are still seeking “to touch, to feel, to try on” before they buy. Augmenting the in-store experience through creative marketing and personalized customer service will continue to drive shoppers through the doors.
“It’s not about in-store versus online,” she added. “Both are growing.”