When it comes to shopping for footwear, American consumers prefer to try before they buy.
Online shopping dominated commerce during the pandemic, but once some normalcy returns, 59 percent of U.S. consumers said they will shop primarily in-store for their footwear purchases, according to a U.S. Consumer Footwear survey from AlixPartners.
The top reason for moving purchases to in-store from online was the ability to try on shoes before buying, according to 76 percent of respondents. The second reason, at 39 percent, was the belief that the best deals are found in stores, while 32 percent said buying in a store meant not needing to deal with returns.
“While not completely different from other consumer sectors whose online quotients have skyrocketed due to the pandemic, footwear is unique in that many if not most people simply want to try on their shoes,” Raj Konanahalli, a managing director at AlixPartners’ consumer products practice, said. “Footwear is not unique, however, in terms of being fully exposed to the same economic pressures as are other products today, nor being exposed to increasingly fickle consumers. Clearly, footwear companies have more work to do in defining their brand promises, in driving consistency of fit, in controlling costs, and in fine-tuning their direct-to-consumer offerings.”
Survey results found that some will continue to buy their shoes online, but that buying footwear from a digital site is less likely to be “sticky” when compared with other shopping categories.
The survey, which polled 1.001 consumers aged 18 years and up from Feb. 1 to March 2, also found that consumers are less brand loyal, and that is likely to continue in a post-pandemic world. One reason could be because they are also more frugal when it comes to their purchases. For non-athletic shoes, 63 percent, or six in ten, said they are likely or very likely to switch shoe brands to take advantage of a sale for a similar style or look. Seventy-six percent, or seven in ten, said they are likely or very likely to switch stores in order to get the deal, while 77 percent said they would do the same for their athletic shoe purchases if a sale was available elsewhere.
In addition, only 39 percent of American women surveyed said they are more likely to pay full price for non-athletic footwear. That percentage rises to 46 percent for athletic shoes. In contrast, 53 percent of men said they’re likely or very likely to pay full price for non-athletic footwear, while 60 percent indicated the same intention for athletic shoes.
In other findings from the survey, consumers in general either purchased fewer or the same amount of shoes during the pandemic. Department stores are the top shopping channel for shoes, either in-store or online. Macy’s, at 29 percent, was the top destination for non-athletic footwear, while Kohl’s, at 27 percent, was the preferred “top physical department store.” Walmart, at 29 percent, was the top mass store for shoe purchases.
Consumers shopping different distribution channels also had differing reasons for switching to non-national brands. For in-store buys, better fit and comfort, at 44 percent and 32 percent, respectively, were key reasons for switching. For online, the attention shifted to price and style, each at 28 percent, according to survey respondents. In addition, 76 percent cited free shipping as the number one reason for buying online.
Bryan Eshelman, a managing director in the global consulting firm’s retail practice, said that the omnichannel equation is different for footwear than it is for other categories, and one that presents a big challenge for retailers.
“On the one hand, retailers need to have enough product in stock in their physical stores to satisfy the customer’s desire to try on shoes before buying, while on the other hand they also need find a profitable way to satisfy the demand of those consumers who purchase shoes online, which can be very costly given high levels of returns. Solving that puzzle is going to be key for retailers in this category going forward,” Eshelman said.