Will Prom Season Spark Spring Sales?

NEW YORK — Prom hasn’t always been promising for footwear players. But brands and retailers are banking on a bright season this year, thanks to ramped-up social media efforts and a larger variety of product.

“Prom is a tricky category. The business has been changing and morphing in many different ways, but we are seeing a bit of a resurgence,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group Inc.

At Nina, the company is betting on warmer weather to fuel sales during one of the company’s busiest periods of the year.

“Emotionally, we’re tired of the weather and this is one of the first times you get to dress up and it feels like spring,” said corporate president Alan Johnson. “Prom season is incredibly important for Nina. It is such a great demographic group to bring to the brand.”

Retailers are getting involved by offering a curated selection for the event. Macy’s crafted a “Style Lab” on its website, featuring prom merchandise for both men and women, plus top beauty and style tips.

“We’ve recognized that prom season is a very important time of year for the Macy’s customer,” said Kimberly Hugonnet, VP and fashion director, though she declined to reveal sales expectations.

Lord & Taylor also devoted a section of its site to the special occasion, with a “Pretty in Prom” guide. The section, which includes footwear, dresses and accessories, highlights key trends ranging from lace and pastels to metallics.

These online programs mesh well with teens’ shopping preferences, according to Miranda Selwyn, senior designer for Seychelles.

“Every consumer is so exposed to the Internet and to high fashion the minute an idea gets out,” she said. “The younger girl is savvier than she’s ever been with shopping.”

That same youthful mindset is prompting brands to make a strong social media push. At Nina, for example, the company partnered with bloggers to create video posts featuring virtual closets for prom.

Caché, a mall-based specialty retailer, tapped television personality Louise Roe as a brand ambassador to highlight key trends.

“We’ve been very strong on social, and the prom business has been excellent,” said the chain’s chief marketing officer, Arnold Cohen. “In our case, the consumer seems to be spending more, and we’ve noticed an increase in the average price of the gown going out the door.”

As for trends, the list runs the gamut. Selwyn said she predicts unexpected styles for the season.

“There is a mix of edgy and dressy. Some girls don’t want to look ‘evening’ from head to toe,” said Selwyn, adding that atypical shoes such as oxfords, booties and platform wedges could be on the wish list.

At Nina, the brand is playing up its statement heels.

“[The customer] wants to feel like Cinderella that night and have shine, glitter, some stones. Silver and gold are still big colors,” said Chief Creative Officer Nina Miner.

At California-based Michael Antonio, prom product makes up about 18 percent to 20 percent of the firm’s overall business for spring.

Roy Nakabayashi, EVP of product development and sales, attributes this to a key strategy: “We try to craft our styles so that she has more than one wear out of it.”

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