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A Heat Wave Sweeping the Western U.S. Has Become a Saving Grace For Sandal Sales

We may be just two short weeks from September, but record-breaking temperatures across many Western U.S. states are encouraging a late-season surge in sandal sales.

The heat wave — which has brought temperatures north of 100 degrees this week from Idaho to California — has kept many shoppers indoors, but it has also boosted sales for certain summer inventory, which many retailers still have plenty of on shelves due to COVID-19 store closures and delivery delays.

In Tempe, Ariz., The Shoe Mill manager Mindy Henderson said the 113-degree high on Tuesday wasn’t unusual for locals. The timing of the heat wave, though — coinciding with the first week of the fall semester at nearby Arizona State University, where many students and faculty are now back on campus — has brought in a much-needed rush of sales.

“Last week was move-in, so we had a pretty busy weekend with lots of Midwestern kids coming in and buying sandals,” she said. “Birkenstock has been driving our business.”

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With in-person classes canceled since mid-March, nearby office workers furloughed, and Arizona hit with a surge in coronavirus cases in July, “We’ve been devastated by COVID more than heat,” said Henderson. “Our little Tempe’s been a bit of a ghost town.”

Neli Intchovska, manager of Sole Desire in Sacramento, Calif., was also dealing with concerns apart from the record-high heat. “The heat is one thing, and the other thing is [customers] don’t want to wear a mask or this or that… It’s a very unique year, let’s put it that way.”

She said the store’s customers mostly come in either early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the blazing mid-afternoon sun, and tend to buy for comfort first.

“Hot weather has a very uneven impact on footwear sales,” says Neil Saunders managing director of GlobalData Retail. “It helps summer products like sandals, flip flops and deck shoes, which soar as people do more activities outside. However, it damages sales of more structured footwear like boots and formal styles.”

According to Planalytics, a business weather intelligence company, the recent heat has given sandals a sales bump in several Western U.S. cities. “This is undoubtedly a welcome development for shoe retailers as they look to clear out summer inventories after such a difficult start to the season,” said David Frieberg, the company’s VP of marketing.

Isolating the impact of the weather alone on demand for sandals, it found that the category got a 17% lift in Sacramento (versus the 9% expected at this time of year).

In San Francisco and Las Vegas, the impact was less significant, though as Saunders notes, “with more people staying at home and with spending disrupted because of the pandemic the usual trends may not be as pronounced this year.”

In Boise, Idaho, shoppers are buying both sandals and boots, said Natalie Durham, owner of Piece Unique Clothing Co.

“Some of our companies, of course, had to ship late considering what’s going on, so a lot of our stuff is new,” she said, referencing summer inventory like Matisse sandals and Tkees flip-flops. “So with a tiny bit of a discount, people are still buying them.”

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