Online Competition and Tariff Uncertainty Loom for Retailers at FFANY

A more competitive retail landscape — from pricing to shopping destinations — were once again top of mind for retailers shopping this week’s Fashion Footwear of New York’s Shoe Expo.

In a move to better position itself against growing price wars on the internet, longtime New York retailer Vamps decided to shutter its doors last year and took its business online. “We find we’re [now] in a better position,” said Melina Ragnetti, buyer for the new Vampsnyc.com, when it comes to playing the pricing game,

Product, however, still takes center stage, even for online retailers. Moving into fall ’19, Ragnetti said she would again be putting the emphasis on athleisure. “We did well with it [in the past],” she said, especially styles that could be dressed up or down. “[Consumers] get their money’s worth with a Birkenstock sandal. It’s a versatile piece that can be dressed up or down, worn with a dress or leggings.”

Like Vamps, Isack Fadlon, owner of Sportie LA in Los Angeles, has had to rethink his strategy as online retail gains momentum. “I’m always challenged with online sales,” said the veteran retialer. “It’s a challenge for all independents.”

To distinguish his store, Fadlon said he was keeping an eye out for new, smaller brands that have not yet been discovered. “It’s the same big players,” he said. “These [niche] brands allow us to be different. [Consumers] come to us to find gems.”

According to Fadlon, for fall ’19, he is looking for more fashion sneakers and boots for both men and women. “These [styles] are killing it [now],” he said, noting going forward, he will be looking for hybrid sneakerboots.

In a case of role reversal, Kelly Rausch, associate buyer for e-tailer Rue Gilt Groupe in New York, which operates both Ruelala and Gilt, has been keeping an eye on prices at brick-and-mortar stores.”It’s [overall] a more competitive landscape,” she said. “We’re all trying to be the lowest price. It forces us to look at pricing, which we don’t like to do.”

Rausch is hoping to excite consumers this fall with elevated touches such as fur and silhouettes that include wedges and platforms. “I also love waterproof. It’s both fashion and function,” she said. Booties, she added, would continue to be a strong category, as well as over-the-knee styles.

Pricing could also be affected by tariffs on goods from China. And while talks are still taking place, the industry is getting ready with backup plans should additional tariffs take affect in 2019.

Danny Wasserman, owner of Tip Top Shoes in New York, said his store, which offers product from Europe, would not be as affected by tariff increases as retailers offering lower-priced goods. In fact, he noted, countries such as Spain and Portugal might benefit from Chinese tariffs as their footwear becomes more competitive.

Like Wasserman, Nick Keenan, owner of Tani, two stores in New York, said he can fall back on his product from Europe. “We luckily have a decent assortment of brands from Spain, Portugal and Brazil,” he said. However, he noted, retailers might be seeing tariffs in affect by the next round of shows in February.

Tariffs on Chinese footwear could, however, prove positive for African countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia. According to Jordan Saliman, footwear exports adviser to the USAID East Africa Trade and Investment Hub, a shipping destination for businesses seeking to take advantage of the United States’ African Growth and Opportunity Act, created to enhance market access for qualifying sub-Saharan African countries.

“Over the last 18 months, there’s been an increased interest in Africa since all [goods] are duty-free,” said Saliman, about ongoing uncertainties when it comes to tariffs. “[Companies] have no idea when they buy product [from the Far East] and it hits the U.S., what price it’s going to land as.”

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