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Back-to-School Footwear Sales Bolstered by Child Tax Credit, Improving Wages

The back-to-school season is in full swing. And as kids and young adults head back to the classroom, certain trends are starting to emerge in footwear sales numbers.

Thus far, the back-to-school shopping season has been impacted by a variety of factors, including a tentative return to in-person schooling as well as Child Tax Credit checks, which rolled out to 39 million American households in July.

According to a report from The NPD Group Inc., athletic footwear sales rose 20% in the first six weeks of the back-to-school season (ending Aug. 14), versus 2020. And sales grew in the high single digits versus 2019.

Kids’ footwear sales saw a 40% increase during in this period, while women’s athletic footwear was up almost 30% compared with 2020. Running and walking shoes continued to grow as well and sport lifestyle sneakers increased in the mid-teens compared with 2020.

In terms of brands, Nike and Adidas both saw gains, though Nike ceded share to other brands versus 2020. Jordan sales dropped and Converse sales nearly doubled, driven by women’s. Under Armour, Brooks, Asics, Puma, Reebok and On all saw improvement.

According to a national survey from the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America that surveyed 1,000 parents of school-age children earlier in the summer, 57% of families said they planned to shop at local chains such as DSW, Famous Footwear, Shoe Carnival and Shoe Show. Roughly 31% said they planned to shop at big-box retailers like Target and Walmart.

Matt Powell, NPD’s senior sports industry adviser, noted in the company’s latest report that two factors have propelled spending during the back-to-school season. “In my opinion, there is no doubt that the Child Tax Credit checks and a meaningful growth in wages contributed to strong sales,” he wrote.

In June, footwear retailers welcomed the news of the Child Tax Credit as a potential boost for the industry. Created by the Biden Administration, this form of stimulus offers American families early payments each month for six months that total half of their expected 2022 tax credit.

“Any time money flows to consumers in the form of tax credits, annual tax refunds and additional types of government stimulus, we see increased consumer spending on footwear,” FDRA president and CEO Matt Priest told FN in June. “We already expect the 2021 back-to-school season to be the biggest in our industry’s history for a variety of different reasons, including the expected full return to in-person learning for most school districts in the U.S. and the record levels of disposable income available to American families.”
Higher wages likely prompted strong sales as well. Amid a general worker shortage, many companies, including Lululemon, Walmart and Under Armour have raised wages for hourly employees in recent months.
According to Powell, the second half of the back-to-school season will likely show more positive results, but will not be as strong as the first half. “Last year’s strong September results will temper growth,” he wrote.
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