Kicks & Crocs: The Shoe Brands College Girls Are Buying to Head Back to School

College students are heading back to class for the new school year, and their return is once again a significant sales moment for footwear retailers.

According to early surveys by the National Retail Federation, families with college-age children are expected to spend an average of $976.78 this year, up from $942.17 in 2018, and clothing and accessories are the second most popular item on their shopping lists (after electronics).

FN spoke with market experts and college-age women to discover the hot items for the season and the preferred buying locations.

What’s Hot & What’s Not

The rise of the athleisure trend continues among young people, as back-to-college footwear sales are expected to reflect the popular sneaker style that has hit both the runways and the classrooms.

According to Piper Jaffray’s latest “Taking Stock with Teens” report, athletic brands will dominate teen preferences this fall, with the list of top five favorite footwear brands consisting of Nike, Vans, Adidas, Converse and Foot Locker. “Young people have been buying a lot of athleisure shoes, especially the chunky sneaker that can be seen on the runways,” said Piper Jaffray’s senior consumer research analyst, Erinn Murphy.

According to college students, the athleisure trend is not going to end any time soon. “I love the dad shoe trend; I really like a good comfort shoe,” said 20-year-old NYU junior Mayu Ranganathan.

Fellow classmate Antonia Miralles-Snow, 19, also prefers athletic footwear and noted that her favorite shoe brands are Converse and Nike.

Beyond sneakers, another company has emerged as a top performer for college shoppers. “Crocs are also selling a lot among young people as a part of the ‘ugly shoe’ trend,” said Piper Jaffray’s Murphy.

However, the brand remains a polarizing one for some fashion watchers: “The chunky Crocs trend is horrific,” said Ranganathan.

As for what’s not in demand among young adults, Murphy pointed to the “preppy” fashion look. “Brands like Sperry, which did well in 2012-13, have not been performing and are not expected to be a big part of back-to-college sales,” she said. At its height in 2012, Sperry was in third place on the Piper Jaffray survey for the most popular brands among young adults, coming in after Nike and Vans. For 2019, though, the brand had fallen off the top 5 list.

But not everyone is jumping on the sneaker wave — some students still like to live by the mantra “beauty is pain,” even in a classroom setting.

Selina Singh, 19, who is entering her third year in college, told FN, “I hate the ‘dad’ shoe trend because I think they are just too clunky and they are all you can focus on. It really distracts from the rest of an outfit rather than enhancing an outfit. I prefer trends like the strappy heeled sandal because they make everything look a bit more pulled together.”

Retail Preferences

When it comes to the question of where college student are spending their money this season (online versus in brick-and-mortar stores), traditional retailers are still winning out.

Deloitte’s 2019 Back to College survey found that most buying will continue to happen in stores, even though the amount of online shopping is expected to rise by 3%.

NRF’s survey, meanwhile, estimated that 45% of college shopping will be done online, followed by department stores (39%), discounters (36%), college bookstores (32%) and office supply chains (29%)

Piper Jaffray’s Murphy noted that there is a rising e-commerce trend among teens, but that in-person shopping will not become extinct at the hands of the youth.

“Online shopping has become very popular among the younger demographic; however, brick and mortar stores are still being used,” she said. “The stores play a role in the validation that teens feel when trying to fit in with friends, and seeing all of the options in a physical location gives them that.”

NYU junior Isabella Jazrawi, 20, told FN she prefers in-person shopping over the Internet.

“I like shopping in stores because then I’m able to try things on,” she said. “A lot of the time, I am not the same size in different types of shoes from different brands. I usually go to Nordstrom to buy my shoes because they have a wide selection of styles and brands.”

Singh agreed that the inability to try on shoes when ordering online keeps her from making purchases through websites.

And Miralles has similar challenges when it comes to buying on the web. “Shopping online is convenient, but I don’t know my sizing well enough to shop online,” she said. “I like to go and try my shoes on before I buy them.”

For Ranganathan, though, her preference is for e-commerce because of the convenience that the Internet provides.

“I mostly shop online, though I occasionally shop in stores because I feel like you get a wider selection,” she said. “If I am really not sure, I’ll go to the store and try it on and then buy online.”

But when it comes to making purchases through popular social apps like Instagram, Ranganathan draws the line: “I don’t use social media to shop. I think its cumbersome and the [user interface] is not developed enough to make it worth it.”

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