NEW YORK — Slashing prices in the days surrounding Christmas delivered much needed sales to many footwear retailers, but a challenging holiday shopping season and the likelihood of a shaky economy in the early months of 2009 have many storeowners approaching the new year with caution.
Retail overall suffered during the holiday season, falling 5.5 percent in November and 8 percent in December from the previous year, according to data recently released by MasterCard Inc.’s SpendingPlus division. Overall footwear sales fell 13.5 percent compared with the 2007 holiday season.
Though no retail sector posted an increase in sales over 2007, e-commerce fared the best, falling just 2.3 percent from last year.
In fact, Zappos.com reported a successful holiday shopping season, with more than $6 million in gross sales on its peak day of Dec. 15 — a company first, said Steve Hill, VP of merchandising for Zappos.com.
“Overall, with the current retail environment, we’re happy with the season,” Hill said. “2008 has been a record-breaking holiday season for us.”
Zappos did not rely on steep discounting to garner more holiday sales, Hill said, and the company expected to round out December with a double-digit sales increase over 2007, with Ugg, Frye, New Balance, Clarks, Nike and Stuart Weitzman among its top brands.
Other retail channels found the season more challenging. Luxury boutiques and department stores chains faced a reluctant consumer. Non-jewelry luxury items saw a 21 percent decline in sales, according to the MasterCard report. The department stores contacted by FN declined to comment on holiday results.
The news was better for a number of athletic and moderately priced footwear retailers.
Hanover, Md.-based Downtown Locker Room recorded its best holiday season, with sales increasing 5 percent over 2007, said Todd Kirssin, DMM of footwear. He expects footwear to be up about 9 percent over last year, due in part to the more than 65,000 pairs of shoes sold during the week of Christmas.
Bestsellers included Nike, New Balance, Creative Recreation, Adidas and Jordan. Going into 2009, Kirssin said DTLR has no plans to cut back. “We’re not buying scared,” he said. “We’re loading the wagon and ready to fight the fight.”
Other independent retailers and chain stores also reported a much-needed sales surge in the last two weeks of December. Many, though, are concerned about sales in the new year.
“I’m not optimistic about 2009 at all; I’m realistic,” said Gary Weiner, president of Richmond, Va.-based Saxon Shoes. “My prediction is that January and February will be pretty quiet, with the anticipation that President Obama will be writing checks to a lot of Americans.”
Weiner’s store did, however, get a boost from the holiday shopping rush. “The first 10 days of December were not so hot, but the last two-and-a-half weeks have been well above last year,” he said. Weiner noted that the store has been running its usual holiday promotions, but he has not heavily discounted any merchandise post-holiday.
For instance, Ugg boots were still selling at full price at Saxon Shoes. Other styles from Clarks, Sperry Top-Sider and Vera Bradley were also strong at Christmas and in the days following.
Meanwhile, Adidas, Timberland and Nike sold well at New York’s Training Camp stores, said owner Udi Avshalom, who noted that traffic has been solid since Christmas.
“We saw pretty much the same [traffic] as last year. In our inner-city stores, sales were up a little bit,” he said. And even though promotions helped drive Christmas sales, Avshalom avoided major price cuts after the Christmas holiday.
“We’re doing a more aggressive job in terms of making sure we have itemized promotional sales for just a special item, rather than putting everything on sale,” he said.
Chuck Gordon, owner of Gordon Shoes in Pittsburgh, said post-Christmas shoppers were buying a mix of regular-price and clearance items. MBT was a top seller at the store during a successful holiday period.
“It’s been better than I anticipated,” said Gordon. “The season started very tenuous, but the last 10 days have picked up in momentum.”
Looking ahead, Gordon said he remains uncertain of how the struggling economy will affect retail next year.
“It’s going to be a difficult year, but maybe not as bad as we thought it would be a few months ago,” he said. “Honestly, I booked very conservatively for spring to play it safe because you just don’t want [too much inventory]. By next fall, things will start to get better.”
Isack Fadlon of Sportie LA in Los Angeles agreed. “After January, I just don’t know how things will be,” said Fadlon, adding that brisk full-price sales for his exclusive Fila Melrose shoe and L.A. Gear styles make him hopeful.
“Looking at the overall picture and given the nature of October and November, December was a real treat, and the season was OK.”