Why Shoe Sales Struggled During the Holidays

While footwear has seemed to be an outlier among other retail items struggling to excite experience-seeking consumers, the category may also be hitting hard times.

The latest shoe sales data from market research firm The NPD Group shows total U.S. footwear sales slipping 4 percent year-over-year in December, to $4 billion, despite the retail boost that was expected to come during the holidays.

Specifically, sales for women’s footwear dipped 3 percent during the period, men’s fell 4 percent, and children’s decreased 5 percent.

Although the athletic category has been responsible for much of the momentum in footwear lately, NPD athletic-industry analyst Matt Powell also cited some softness in that area throughout the month.

December was a rather disappointing month for athletic footwear overall, with continued weakness in the athletic specialty [and] sporting goods channel,” Powell said. “Sales in that channel were down in the low single-digits, dragging down the overall market. The soft sales in the athletic specialty [and] sporting goods channel was primarily caused by the absence of The Sports Authority.”

Overall, performance footwear — which includes walking, running, cross training and basketball shoes — suffered the greatest tumble of all categories, falling 15 percent in December, to $926.7 million.

Still, there were gains in some areas.

Beth Goldstein, executive director and industry analyst at The NPD Group, pointed out that leisure footwear remained the story throughout holiday season. It was the only major category to see growth, with sales up 10 percent year-over-year, to $1.5 billion. (Leisure footwear includes work boots, casual athletic, outdoor sandal, sport slide and cold/all-weather boots.)

In December, fashion sneakers were the strongest segment and continued to post double-digit growth — gaining almost $90 million versus December 2015,” Goldstein said.

Despite a bit of unseasonable warmth here and there, Goldstein said weather product picked up some steam in December, with functional snowboot and duck-boot styles from Sorel, Sperry, Ugg and Columbia growing at the expense of dress and casual boots.

Some of the other top-growing silhouettes might be surprising — strappy sandals and thongs for women as well as slides for both men and women, which are not typical for this time of year,” Goldstein added.

Nevertheless, overall fashion footwear sales were down 8 percent, to $1.6 billion, during the month. (Fashion footwear includes dress, casual, and evening shoes and slippers.)


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