People Aren’t Buying Handbags Anymore, and Here’s What That Means for Footwear

Is this the beginning of the end for handbags?

Whether the explanation is market saturation, lack of innovation, consumer shifts or all the above, understanding the demise of what used to be a must-have accessory is becoming increasingly complicated.

What’s worse, experts predict that there’s no end in sight for the category’s sluggishness. And some even expect the sour momentum to impact other accessories.

We believe 2017 will be a tough year for the entire handbag and accessory category as consumers shift spend into beauty, health and wellness, and experiences,” Cowen & Co. analyst Oliver Chen wrote Monday. “Furthermore, distribution rationalization, handbag miniaturization given the rise of mobile phones, and lack of emerging new ‘it-bag’ styles may drive flat sector growth.

For now, the jury is still out on what exactly this means for footwear but a few themes have surfaced.

Some experts have hinted that there could be an inverse relationship between footwear and handbag sales. In other words: As consumers’ level of interest declines in certain fashion categories — in this case, handbags — there is always an opportunity for other fashion categories (perhaps footwear) to come in and swoop up a greater share of consumers’ discretionary spending dollars. So if handbag sales continue to trend downward, footwear could see some residual gains.

And the reverse is also true: When handbag fatigue was at an all-time high in 2015, some analysts believed that a resurgence of strong footwear trends was taking a toll on handbag spending.

Conversely, for years, matching their shoes with their purses was a hot trend for female consumers, and some experts believe that in many ways the two categories still move in tandem. If that is the case, fashion footwear brands could feel the heat from slowing handbag sales as they were key beneficiaries of the footwear-handbag matching trend.

Meanwhile, athletic brands are likely to continue to reap the benefits of ongoing casualization.

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