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NPD: Fashion Footwear Sales Driven by Convenience and Comfort

Versatility, comfort and simplicity—from design to point of sale—are reshaping the fashion footwear category.

At FN Platform Monday, Beth Goldstein, industry analyst and executive director of NPD Group, outlined the key drivers in footwear sales and how a wide net of consumer trends is influencing footwear buying habits.

Here are four trends to consider before your next buy.

Outside inspiration

“2017 was the year when consumers realized the things they buy and wear can solve problems for them,” Goldstein said.

From the rise of products like Quip, the battery-operated tooth brush company that sends replacement brushes every three months—to stress reducing Gravity blankets, Goldstein said consumers favored products that solved problems they didn’t even know they had.

Consumers also sought products that simplified their lives. Direct-to-consumer linen company Brooklinen, mattress company Casper and wool footwear label Allbirds are all flourishing while offering narrower assortments. Goldstein said Allbirds is essentially just saying to consumers: “Here are your wool sneakers.”

The goal? To buy fewer products that do more. “We like fewer choices. We’re getting overwhelmed,” Goldstein said.

Home away from home

A flood of at-home entertainment systems, pre-made meal subscriptions and investments in their living spaces are turning consumers into homebodies. As a result, Goldstein said the slipper business is solid and revived with a crop of newcomers including indoor/outdoor slipper brand Birdies, a favorite of royal-to-be Meghan Markle.

During the 2017 holiday season, Goldstein even noticed retailers like DSW and The Walking Company offering blankets as gifts with purchase.

However, Goldstein said if consumers aren’t home, they’re traveling. Spending on lodging increased 4.5% in 2016, national park attendance grew 20 percent from 2013 to 2016 and global ocean cruise passengers increased 30 percent from 2010 to 2016. Millennials are even filling up the RV to meet their wanderlust needs, Goldstein said. Deliveries of new RV units to dealers has nearly doubled since 2008.

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The travel goods industry, spurred on by new smart suitcases and lightweight ergonomic backpacks, is reaping the benefits, but Goldstein said the footwear industry has been slow to capitalize on the trend. She said there’s opportunity to do more to captivate this audience with next level comfort and lightweight, washable constructions.

Getting the boot

The boot category simply isn’t pulling its weight. Last year, the NPD reported that women’s boot sales decline 8 percent, men’s 6 percent and children’s dropped 16 percent. And for a second consecutive fall season, Goldstein said women’s sneakers outsold boots.

Cold weather casual footwear—driven by features and innovation—was a bright spot in 2017. However, the enduring ankle boot was a “bigger bleeder” last fall than high shafted boots. The compromise? Mid shaft boots, which Goldstein said seems newer and offers uneasy consumers a simple solution to their boot needs.

Good sport

The sport lifestyle category has a stronghold on the footwear market. Goldstein said non-performance athletic is the only category driving volume.

Not surprisingly, athletic brands with non-performance athletic product lines were among the top growth brands in the fashion footwear category in 2017, including Adidas, Nike, Puma, Under Armour and Skechers.

Meanwhile, athleisure sneakers and sport slides were among the best performing styles for men, women and children in 2017.

It’s a tough hurdle for fashion footwear brands to overcome. Goldstein pointed out that top five athletic footwear brands generate 80 percent of the total athletic footwear business. Meanwhile, in the fashion footwear category, the top five brands account for just 20 percent.

“It’s hard because there are a lot more brands,” she said about the fashion footwear category. “We’re fighting for share.”