Footwear Buoys Comps for Retailers

NEW YORK — December same-store sales at department stores saw gains across the board, thanks to strong performances in footwear.

“Everybody called out footwear as a strong category. The momentum is still there and consumers are still looking for newness,” said Sterne Agee analyst Sam Poser.

“While people are still not going to buy a new car or fridge, they are treating themselves to smaller things, which are handbags, jewelry and footwear,” added Paul Swinand, analyst at Morningstar Inc. “They have some money in their pockets but are not trying to set themselves back.”

For the five-week December fiscal month at Kohl’s Corp., footwear recorded the strongest growth with a high-single-digit comp, led by dress shoes in men’s and women’s, as well as children’s shoes. The group said its comparable-store sales increased 3.9 percent for the month.

Sales of shoes at Dillard’s Inc. were significantly above trend during the five weeks ended Jan 1, 2011, the company said. Its comparable store sales advanced 7 percent for the period.

At J.C. Penney Co., Internet sales through Jcpenney.com increased 5.4 percent for the month, led by fine jewelry, shoes and accessories.

Although The Bon-Ton Stores Inc.’s comps were relatively flat at 0.1 percent, the company also singled out shoes as one of its best-performing businesses, after fine jewelry, home and accessories.

“While value remains important to customers in this uncertain economic environment, fashion, newness and unique gift items were drivers of our business throughout this holiday season,” said Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and CEO of Macy’s Inc., which reported a same-store sales increase of 3.9 percent in December.

And while the strength in footwear has been seen across the board, it’s been stronger in the higher end, with upscale department stores reporting comps in the high single digits and low teens.

“That’s a trend that started last fall and is accelerating now,” observed Swinand.

Saks Inc.’s same-store sales for December jumped 11.8 percent, while total sales hit $432.2 million, and the company cited women’s and men’s apparel, shoes, handbags and cosmetics as the strongest categories at Saks Fifth Avenue stores.

Nordstrom Inc. reported an 8.4 percent increase in same-store sales for the month, led by its strongest performing categories of dresses, jewelry and women’s shoes.

But will the strong footwear cycle continue?

“We can be pretty confident of the first half,” said Poser. “But we have to look to the shows coming up, which will give us more insight to what’s going on into the fall.”

Swinand predicted fashion will continue to do well.

“People that offer value will see good [inventory] turns because people are trying to freshen up a little with new things,” he said.

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