When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.
But shopping doesn’t exactly mean the same thing as it did prior to the recession. Women today are shopping for deals, as well as quality product, to justify shoe purchases. That’s not to say women are shopping less, but they are shopping smarter.
Those are just a few of the buying habits gleaned from an in-depth conversation held with shoppers in late January.
Footwear News invited six savvy and stylish New Yorkers to its offices for a roundtable discussion. The women touched on a variety of hot topics as they dished on how the recession has turned them into more clever shoppers, how they use social media sites and why footwear is a wardrobe staple worth spending money on.
“Consumers are being more [inventive], and I’ve noticed a lot of women embracing high and low fashion,” said image and personal brand consultant Chris Oh, one of the panel participants. “I’ve seen a lot of bloggers show women that you can look fashionable by shopping at Kmart [for a basic T-shirt] but pairing it with an Elizabeth & James blazer.”
Panelists included Kristine Adelante, Keira Chatman, Gillian Deutch, Tajuana Nelson, Chris Oh and Tandi Tuakli (see sidebar on the next page for more about them).
FN: How have your shopping habits changed over the past couple of years?
Chris Oh: I’m more selective [about] when and how much I shop. Instead of shopping once a month, it will be every few months, and I’d rather save my money for a really nice purchase as opposed to doing a lot of frivolous shopping.
Tandi Tuakli: I became a lot more of a sample sale person. Before, I would just shop anywhere, and now I’ll wait for a sale. I set up Google alerts and wait for them to go on sale. [For example], I love Hermès boots, but I’m not going to buy them, so I got some other shoes and I had them [altered] to look like the boots that I wanted. [Consumers] have become a lot more creative. Especially with the Internet, you can find a way to buy cheaper product.
Gillian Deutch: I’ve always been bargain-conscious, even before the recession. I never had a Gucci purse or anything, so that never really changed. I might go out of my way to wait for a sale, whereas before I would just buy when I wanted it. You can sometimes find what you want on eBay [too].
Keira Chapman: I definitely shop less now, but I’ve always been bargain-conscious as well. I shop eBay and Etsy and the online shops that are lower-end, and I save my money for bigger purchases. Instead of spending a lot of money on clothes, I spend in one category now. I focus all my money on shoes, for example.
FN: How important are shoes to your look and sense of style?
KC: It’s always been an investment [piece] to me. Shoes do change with the trends, but not as fast as clothes.
GD: You can wear [footwear] from two or three seasons ago and it doesn’t matter if the trend has changed.
CO: [They are] such a statement piece. I will rarely buy inexpensive and poor quality shoes because shoes and handbags are basics in a wardrobe, and it’s something I want to spend my money on because I know it will be in my [closet] for many years. [Shoes] absolutely complete the look. If you have a very inexpensive outfit on and a killer pair of platform pumps, you stand out. The most stylish person has confidence and, when I put on that platform heel, it gives me a boost of confidence.
FN: What rules do you give yourself when you shop for shoes?
Tajuana Nelson: When I was younger, I didn’t spend as much money on shoes as I do now. I have a lot of shoes but [fewer pairs of] shoes than I used to because I spend more money on them. I don’t buy anything that I can’t walk in. [I choose] comfort over beauty. It’s the most awkward thing when you see hot shoes that [a woman] can’t walk in.
Kristine Adelante: [Comfort and price are important], so I’m usually in sneakers [at work]. One of my favorite [pairs of] low-heel, open-toe pumps was from Target, and they were really good shoes. They lasted me [almost] two years. But I definitely still have more than my fair share of shoes than I need for the days that I’m not working.
GD: I won’t buy them unless I find them comfortable and functional. Comfort is big because I’m on my feet running around [at work] and I have to look professional. I’m not going to buy something too over-the-top.
FN: How much are you willing to spend on a pair of shoes?
GD: I’ve gone up to $700, which I spent on a pair of [Manolo Blahnik] heels that I bought about three to four years ago and I wear two to three times a week at work.
KC: A lot of my shoes are worth $700, but I didn’t spend that much. I invest a lot in shoes, but I don’t [necessarily] pay a lot for them. I’ll pay about $150 to $200 [and shop the sales]. I have a lot of shoes that are uncomfortable. I definitely slip them on [for] one hour at a time. If I go to the club, I put on my [heels], and as soon as I’m out, I slip them off.
TT: [I would spend] $300 if they were Fendi or [a brand] I couldn’t live without.
KA: [I’ll spend] $200. I usually look for a sale.
CO: $350 was my max purchase on Christian Louboutins, but the value of the shoes was $800. I shop at a lot of sample sales, but usually I’ll spend around $200.
FN: How important are brand names and designer labels to you?
TT: I am a total mercenary [about finding new brands]. I don’t care what store it’s in or what basement. I will go there, and I will buy it. I’m not going to say, “I’ll only buy it if it’s at Barneys.”
KA: I will go where I can get [stylish looks] the cheapest.
KC: It’s definitely about quality for me. I have a few favorite brands I won’t stray from, but they are quality as well.
FN: How much do your friends and co-workers influence what you buy?
TN: I don’t really follow trends. Some trends just slap you in the face no matter where you go; there are looks out there that you can’t get away from. I won’t shop if I don’t see something that’s unique and original. Then I won’t buy anything.
KC: When I go to stores that I like and I see that [salespeople] are dressed nicely, it gives me inspiration. I shop at LF [on Spring Street in Manhattan] a lot, and they are really cool there.
FN: So what celebrities, TV and/or movies influence your style choices?
TT: I don’t look at celebrities, but [I browse] fashion blogs, especially street fashion. It’s really cool to look at people in other parts of the world and get inspired. [Their style] is usually more bold and daring. You can take bits and pieces from what people are wearing, and it looks more real. [While watching] the red carpet I think, “I don’t have that money, and I’m not going to a five-star event every night.”
KA: Some trends I’ll wear, but, for example, a super-mini skirt, I’m not comfortable wearing that. It’s just a give and take of what I’ll follow.
CO: Very rarely will what I’ve seen on celebrities influence me to go buy something, but that’s not to say I don’t love looking at other people’s style.
FN: How do you like to be marketed to? If a brand is trying to up its presence, will you pay attention to online, TV or print?
GD: Not TV. I fast-forward through just about every commercial, so probably online, where I spend most of my time. I follow several brands on Facebook and Twitter to [look for] sample sales or coupons.
CO: Social media marketing, [such as] on Twitter [is best]. [Brands] are doing a phenomenal job of building brand awareness and connecting with consumers.
KC: I’m super-gullible. If someone is talking about [a brand or shop], I’m clicking on it.
FN: How often are you using social media sites, and do you frequently visit a favorite brand’s page?
TN: I actually never follow Twitter. I’m not very tech [savvy], but I sign up to sites like Daily Candy, so I get notifications from them.
GD: I follow several brands on Facebook and Twitter to find coupons or sample sales.
KA: I [also] follow links or dates [online] to see when they are going to have sample sales.
FN: And speaking of a sample sale, how often do you shop online? Are you using sites such as Gilt Groupe and Rue La La?
TT: [The appeal] of Gilt has worn off [for me] because they [send sale info] every day, on weekends and sometimes twice a day. On Rue La La, I bought two designer purses within a month of joining, but I guess the novelty [diminishes]. Gilt [sells] Missoni now. You can tell they are competing against each other because they are really upping the game.
KC: I buy a lot of shoes and clothes online. I’m secretly obsessed. I spend about three hours out of the day online. I have about 10 sites I go to daily, and I’m always browsing to see what’s there.
GD: I prefer to still go to a store and try on, at least when it comes to clothing. [I’m] constantly being [overwhelmed] with e-mails [from flash sales sites]. I have started automatically placing them into my junk folder.
CO: I look at the sites [to do my own price and trend] research.
FN: How much time do you spend shopping and researching online before making a purchase?
TT: If it’s vintage, I’m probably not going to bother browsing, but if I know that it’s something like boots that you can get on multiple sites, then I’ll see if there is a sale or a coupon. I’ll go and see how many sizes are left and how it’s selling. I’m the master of the waiting game.
TN: I now do a lot more research on a particular item if I know it’s available at a number of stores. If I try on a pair of shoes or see an item I absolutely love, I actually buy two. You might wear it to death and then realize it’s gone, so I actually do multiple buys.
KC: I don’t think a lot of people knew before the recession that they [could] wait it out, but now I think consumers have all the power. People are more aware of [finding] sales.
FN: How often do you shop using a mobile device?
KC: When I’m bored I automatically go to my phone and see what’s on sale.
GD: A lot of women out there are probably like me — they want to go to a store and nothing will ever replace that. There is something about going to the store and picking out the [outfit or pair of shoes] you like.
CO: Shopping on your phone is going to be more appealing and attractive. You can now order your Starbucks with the wave of your phone, so we’re moving in that direction.
FN: What would you like to see retailers and brands do differently?
TN: There is a website where you can design your own jeans. I can make my own measurements and design it for me. I want to find a way to get [exactly] what I want.
CO: Brands are doing a better job listening to consumers, embracing them and building relationships, and I want to see brands continue to do that and allow [customers] to help influence some of their designs too. At the end of the day, it’s a relationship, as with any type of business. If you don’t have a [strong rapport] with the consumer, there is no brand loyalty.
1. Tajuana Nelson, 40
Occupation: Business analyst
Favorite footwear brands: Cole Haan, Michael Kors
Best places to shop: A variety of independent boutiques. “I like to shop in areas like Soho and the Lower East Side. I do find myself visiting Tracy Reese Plenty often.”
Last pair of shoes purchased: Betsey Johnson heels from Macy’s
2. Gillian Deutch, 32
Favorite footwear brands: Stuart Weitzman, Manolo Blahnik, Sam and Libby Edelman, Nine West, Reef, Franco Sarto
Best places to shop: Anthropologie, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Karen Millen, Reiss UK, Target, Strawberry, Banana Republic, eBay, Mod Cloth
Last pair of shoes purchased: Skechers flats at DSW
3. Kristine Adelante, 25
Favorite footwear brands: Vince Camuto, Dolce Vita
Best places to shop: Asos.com, eBay, Bloomingdale’s
Last pair of shoes purchased: Sam Edelman suede wedge booties from Bloomingdale’s
4. Tandi Tuakli, 30
Occupation: Assistant Web merchandiser
Favorite footwear brands: Loeffler Randall, Fendi, Miu Miu, Acne
Best places to shop: L’attitude.com, Shopbop.com, Farfetch.com
Last pair of shoes purchased: Osborn and Boxing Kitten flats
5. Chris Oh, 30
Occupation: Image and personal brand consultant
Favorite footwear brands: Jimmy Choo, Joan & David
Best places to shop: Bloomingdale’s, Century 21, designer sample sales
Last pair of shoes purchased: Christian Louboutin wedges and nude pumps at a private sample sale
6. Keira Chatman, 27
Occupation: Co-owner and buyer for Bklynqueens.com
Favorite footwear brands: Jeffrey Campbell, CNC by Costume National
Best places to shop: LF in Soho, eBay, Shopnastygal.com
Last pair of shoes purchased: Jeffrey Campbell boots from LF