When the coronavirus health crisis took hold in the United States in March, it almost immediately altered consumers’ attitudes, behaviors and habits — and some of those change could persist post-pandemic.
Although many shoppers are tightening their wallets and budgeting for discretionary goods on fears of an impending recession, industry leaders and players have seen a spurt in spending on certain categories of footwear as lockdowns keep people sheltered in place. In particular, the trends have centered around athletic sneakers, casual shoes and seasonally appropriate sandals — all of which have one attribute in common: comfort.
“In this new world, where remote working will likely be part of the new way to work, people are going to want footwear that is always comfortable and practical and can be appropriate regardless of their workplace or workspace,” said Kenneth Cole, founder and CEO of his namesake label.
As many Americans settle into work-from-home arrangements that could extend well past the pandemic, Aetrex Worldwide VP of footwear design Amy Egeljia predicted that shoe brands and retailers that sell casual silhouettes will have a clear advantage.
“This moment in time is solidifying trends that have been happening for a while,” she said. “The slow return to normal will keep many of us telecommuting or reducing our office hours for social distancing, so cute supportive slippers could see an increased share of sales.”
And when they do return to their respective offices — perhaps with decreased frequency and other changes — workers might not necessarily want to whip out their dress shoes just yet. According to Natelle Baddeley, SVP of design, merchandising and product development strategy at Caleres, shoppers will likely gravitate toward transition pieces like lightweight sneakers that either stretch or slip on, as well as loafers and slides.
“What’s interesting is these were the silhouettes we predicted for the season long before this pandemic arrived,” she said of the company — parent to brands such as Naturalizer, Dr. Scholl’s and Rykä. “It’s a reassuring indicator for the post-COVID-19 sales to follow.”
Along with comfort comes safety: A recent study showed that the coronavirus can travel on the soles of shoes — which, if made of fabrics like mesh or canvas, can be thrown into the washing machine. If made of rubber or leather, certain footwear can be cleaned using simple household cleaners These styles, suggested French Sole owner Randy Ochart, could get a boost in the era of coronavirus.
“Attention will be paid to styles which are regarded as ‘safe’ — meaning easier to sanitize and less likely to carry any cooties,” he told FN. “There has been much talk about cleaning one’s shoes after being outdoors, and that the virus can survive on footwear and even some clothing.”
A subset of the comfort category, athletic shoes are also expected to see a bump as consumers hunker down at home. While The NPD Group reported that athletic footwear sales were down 65% the week ending March 21, some experts believeemphasis on fitness could surge after the health crisis is over, leading brands with solid athletic offerings and strong consumer loyalty with an advantage.
“Good health has become the focus for many consumers that maybe weren’t prioritizing that in the past,” added Megan Gold, design director at Alegria. “On the fashion-forward side of the pendulum, trendy athletics have never been hotter in the past couple of years, and that’s where I see impulse buys getting the most play — in funky sneakers and sporty looks.”
At the same time, consumers who fall into certain demographics (mostly younger aged shoppers) and have been cooped up during prolonged shutdowns, may give other footwear categories a boost as they reach for expressive or “outrageous” styles when the all-clear is given to head outside and socialize again.
“We are in the age of social media, and I never doubt the ability of designers to innovate as well as the consumer’s demand for what is fresh and new,” said Nolan Walsh, CEO and cofounder of Thursday Boot Company. “When life goes back to normal, I would expect people to be wearing and purchasing fun footwear — shoes with pops of color and some elements of uniqueness and optimism. After all, the Plague was followed by the Renaissance.”