NEW YORK — Will boots be a boon for department stores this fall?
A number of top retailers think so, citing freshness in the marketplace and cool weather forecasts — two key factors that are expected to drive consumer demand amid a challenging retail environment.
“The biggest opportunity for growth this season is in boots,” said Liz Rodbell, SVP and GMM of women’s footwear at Lord & Taylor. “Our early indications are very positive, and [we] are confident [footwear] will be strong this fall.” She added that Uggs, slouch boots and shoe booties are key looks for the chain.
Boots also are expected to fuel sales at luxury department stores.
“There is a great deal of newness in the boot category across the board,” said Sally Ross, VP and DMM of shoes at Bergdorf Goodman. Ross also said labels such as Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin and Lanvin have been solid performers so far.
At Saks Fifth Avenue, where footwear has performed well despite lagging sales in many other categories, boots are expected to be “a strong driving force,” said Cody Kondo, SVP and GMM of jewelry, shoes, handbags and soft accessories. “[Styles such as] boots, booties and platforms, and colors such as purple and gray will be important,” Kondo said, adding that the retailer is focused on full-price selling across its assortments.
But some analysts believe that despite fresh fashion, promotions will still be central to getting consumers into stores.
“They’re going to have to compete on price; they’re going to have to move merchandise at a faster speed,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group. “Even the high-end [shoe] purchaser is looking for a deal.”
The moderate segment has already begun rolling out the deep discounts.
JCPenney, which has been highly promotional throughout the back-to-school season, launched a two-day, “buy one, get one” sale at the end of August, where consumers could buy a pair of select Arizona and Liz Baker styles at regular price and get a second pair for 88 cents.
Meanwhile, Kohl’s and Sears had their entire footwear stock on sale during the last weeks of August.
While many retailers are relying on promotions to spur sales, they’re also hoping favorable weather will help. “Last [fall] was so enormously hot. That’s not going to happen this year,” said Evan Gold, VP of client services at Planalytics. “A lot of the clients we work with made a plan for an earlier transition than last year, [and] you’re going to see some fall footwear move.”
That’s good news for retailers who are touting cold-weather styles.
“We see an opportunity in the fur-lined boot and slipper arena that we will be maximizing,” said Muriel Gonzalez, SVP of shoes, intimate apparel and accessories for Macy’s.
She added that in addition to Uggs, “there’s a great Coach sneaker that’s fur lined. The Mammoth [shearling-lined] Crocs last year were very successful for us. So it’s now a fashion component.”
Fur-lined boots and flats are expected to be strong sellers at Charlotte, N.C.-based Belk Department Stores, said Teresa Leone, a buyer for the juniors’ and women’s athletic categories.
Belk, like many other retailers, is also betting on a variety of boot styles such as motorcycle, revamped cowboy, fringe and slouch. “There will be a big increase [in boots] because last year was so safe,” said Leone. “[Mainstream department stores] were being safe and stale. They dabbled in the fashion [boot], but more people wanted newness.”
Outside of boots, the fashion-athletic trend has been picking up major speed in Belk’s juniors’ footwear departments, and Leone expects that to continue.
“Right now, the whole Converse, Punk Rose, Fixx, fashion/funky sneakers [trend] is the most explosive,” said Leone.
Juniors’, in general, has proved to be a fairly resilient market to be in, she added. “The good thing in juniors’ is that [the teen customer] is not really affected by the economy,” said Leone.
Gottschalks DMM of shoes Susan Gifford said the “juniors’ business is good” at the Fresno, Calif.-based retail chain, which has been hosting “School Rocks” concerts to help boost buzz among teens. And “the children’s business has been outstanding,” she added.
Overall, the retailer expects total fall footwear sales to be up 2 percent, with women’s brands such as Easy Spirit, B.O.C. by Børn, Bare Traps, Liz Claiborne, Bandolino and Nine West predicted to be among its most popular sales items.
Gifford also said the athleisure classification also continues to perform well, and that detailed dress footwear styles and “anything with shearling trim” will be strong trends.
In the high-end men’s arena, Connecticut-based stores Mitchells of Westport and Richards of Greenwich are continuing to see sales for collections priced at $1,000 and up, as well as more trendy denim-inspired lines. “Everyday loafers and cap toes aren’t selling,” said GMM Dan Farrington. “You have to have something [unique].”
“[Overall], our shoe business is very healthy,” Farrington added. “[Footwear] will fare better than other parts of our business this season.”
Indeed, many retailers and analysts predict the category could be a bright spot in a weak retail environment, particularly when compared with apparel. “Footwear has the potential to do better [than apparel],” said Cohen. “Right now, apparel is kind of hanging in there.”