Retailers Concerned After Lackluster Holiday Leaves Seasonal Inventory High

Now that holiday has wrapped, retailers are looking back at a lackluster selling season and predicting a challenging spring as many stores sit heavier with holiday and seasonal inventory.

Analyst Jeff Van Sinderen said that despite a dip in in-store traffic and the growing importance of online sales, he expected stores to continue to aggressively discount winter items. “Deeper markdowns started earlier and earlier this year. It started with back-to-school and the weather didn’t cool off. Then you got into Black Friday and those discounts really started Nov. 1,” he said.

And despite a drop in temperatures across the Midwest and Northeast in the past few days which could help move seasonal product, deep discounts are already eating away at margins.

Shoe retailers across the country told FN that they’re bracing for continued sluggishness, thanks in part to El Niño, which is expected to linger well into the spring, and the generally tough post-holiday months.

At Benjamin Lovell Shoes in Philadelphia, COO John Holden said that while Ugg and Hunter boots remained the top gift items, the store is trying to keep its seasonal inventory lean and is offering promotions in-store and online.

“I’m keeping a few winter items up our sleeve, as it will be a long January and February,” said Holden. “We did more promotions this year, since everything seemed to start two weeks early. There’s no such thing as Black Friday anymore. It was such a bloodbath out there that we had to do something to get our share of foot traffic.”

At Stout’s Shoes in Indianapolis, coowner Stephanie Stout said holiday sales were as expected, with socks by Smart Wool as well as men’s and women’s Sorel boots selling well — but only the styles with a fashion, multi-season look.

“The trend is away from [purely] functional snow boots — people are looking for a more dual-use type of shoe,” said Stout, noting that she invested more in marketing and promotions this year, with a large holiday mailer and more media activity. Stout hopes that will boost traffic for her January sales as she looks to sell through remaining seasonal product.

Nicole Panettieri, owner of New York women’s boutique Brass Owl, reported a good holiday, thanks to stronger sales of jewelry and accessories and more traffic in the last two days ahead of Christmas.

Shoe sales, however, were flat, and her few seasonal styles did not sell well. “Business was great overall in November and December, but shoes were tougher this year,” she said. “The weather [hurt] us, and business in [seasonal boots] is delayed. It’s definitely going to have an impact on us come spring.”

While holiday sales were steady for Midwest chain Brown’s Shoe Fit Co., President Steve Ruzek pointed out that there were no must-have items generating excitement, as in past holiday seasons. “The shoe industry is a little stale [for] new product — we didn’t have a single brand or product stand out this holiday,” he said, adding that it was also a disappointing season for Ugg, typically a hot holiday item for the store.

At Karavel Shoes in Austin, Texas, the boot business had been doubling for the past few years, said President Rick Ravel, prompting him to boost his fall ’15 inventory by nearly 150 percent. That left him with an abundance of boots as customers were coming in looking for sandals, a category he was in short supply of.

To spark traffic, Ravel moved up his holiday 30 percent-off sale from right before Christmas to Dec. 7. “That did help bring in people looking for deals,” he said.

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