While department stores traditionally hold sales as the holiday season approaches, their discounts are deeper than ever right now as many of them work to sustain their balance sheets in COVID-19 times.
An already challenging retail landscape for department stores was only made worse by the pandemic, resulting in continued declines in foot traffic and sales as well as the added issue of backlogged seasonal inventory as doors remained closed for months due to government safety protocols. The situation has become so dire for a number of chains, with some already seeking Chapter 11 protection.
Macy’s, which felt the effects of the pandemic early on, is one department store currently offering significant markdowns in hopes of clearing backed up inventory. Some of its largest discounts are on footwear and apparel, two of the hardest-hit categories in retail during COVID-19. When I visited the Macy’s Herald Square location last week, the store was teeming with fashion deals. Notably, I spotted Coach’s Parker bag for 50% off — an unexpected find, as this classic designer style rarely ever goes on sale. And the shoe deals were even better.
The second floor, which is dedicated entirely to footwear and measures a whopping 63,000 square feet, was littered with flashy red signs declaring “Last Act!” and markdowns as high as 80% . Unsurprisingly, some of the best deals applied to summer silhouettes as the retailer aims to make way for new fall items. I spotted warm-weather slides from Lucky Brand for 75% off and Sanctuary wedges starting at $20 (originally $109). But perhaps my favorite find was a pair of wicker mules from Macy’s brand Inc. International Concepts that I purchased for just $4.
Following consumer trends, dress shoes were also majorly discounted. (While comfortable options like sneakers and slide sandals endure, dress shoe sales have significantly suffered as people continue to work from home and have fewer occasions to dress up. According to research firm NPD Group, dress shoe sales were down more than 70% in the second quarter compared with last year). I found caged snakeskin heels from Guess for 74% off, as well as designer pumps from Kate Spade and Zac Posen for up to 82% off. Jewel by Badgley Mischka’s party-ready pairs were also all marked down by 50% to 70%.
Despite the allure of its glittering styles, Jewel by Badgley Mischka’s display appeared relatively full during my visit. I nearly bought a pair of tulle-embellished sandals from the brand, but ultimately refrained after contemplating the lack of formal events on my calendar for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, Macy’s section of assorted discounted styles from brands like Calvin Klein, Cole Haan and Frye showed obvious signs of being picked over by frenzied shoppers. Entire floor-to-ceiling racks were cleared of inventory, while solo shoes (seemingly tried on in a haste and abandoned) were haphazardly strewn on the floor.
A Macy’s sales associate confirmed that shoppers have been flocking to the Herald Square location to take advantage of the store’s massive shoe discounts. He advised me to the visit footwear floor before 6 p.m. to avoid an influx of after-work shoppers. He also informed me that while deals are available online, many of the ones I encountered are exclusive to Macy’s brick-and-mortar locations.
To ensure the safety of its customers, the company requires all customers to wear a facial covering before entering any of its stores. Floor stickers are placed six feet apart in checkout lines to encourage social distancing and hand sanitizer stations can be found throughout, among other protective measures.
Although data has yet to reveal how these sales have directly impacted the company’s financial standing, things appear to be looking up for Macy’s. Foot traffic is still down for the retailer in states that were hit hard by the pandemic, like New York, Florida and Illinois, however a new report from data tracking firm Placer.ai confirms that store traffic is increasing as COVID-19 cases decline and states loosen business restrictions. Macy’s also posted better-than-expected second-quarter earnings and sales, while shares for the company advanced in the mid-to-high single digits on the heels of the report.