Amid COVID, Shoppers Are Still Buying Shoes in Stores — Here’s Where They’re Going

Even amid the persistent COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are still heading to department stores to do their shoe shopping.

That’s according to AlixPartners, which analyzed the purchasing behaviors of more than 1,000 adult consumers across the United States in a new study. The consulting firm found that 59% of respondents said that they would predominantly shop in stores for footwear post-pandemic.

“While not completely different from other consumer sectors whose online quotients have skyrocketed due to the pandemic, footwear is unique in that many if not most people simply want to try on their shoes,” said Raj Konanahalli, a managing director in the company’s consumer products practice.

As for their preferred destinations, 33% of people shared that they have shopped for shoes at department stores since the start of the pandemic. Comparatively, two-fifths of consumers went to specialty footwear stores, while 16% visited outlets or discounters, 9% went to local shops and 8% made their shoe purchases at branded stores.

Specifically, for non-athletic footwear, 29% of shoppers chose Macy’s and Walmart, while 27% picked Kohl’s. Target and DSW rounded out consumers’ top five at a respective 23% and 22%, followed by Nordstrom Rack, which was selected by 10% of respondents.

The findings could mean a sigh of relief for department stores, which had already been challenged by digital disruption and the shift toward experiential shopping before the coronavirus outbreak struck the country. Struggling with mounting debt and prolonged closures, a number of nationwide chains — including boldface names like JCPenney and Neiman Marcus — filed for bankruptcy protection last year in hopes of salvaging their businesses. Now, experts point out that stimulus checks and COVID-19 vaccines could provide shoppers with more spending power and make them less reluctant to head back to stores.

That said, the study suggested that Americans are unlikely to be loyal to a brand or spend big on their footwear purchases: More than three-fifths of shoppers said they were either likely or very likely to switch shoe labels because a similar style was on sale elsewhere. (For athletic footwear, that number rose to 63%.) What’s more, just 39% of women surveyed said they were either likely or very likely to pay full price for non-athletic shoes, compared with 53% of men who indicated they would do the same.

“Footwear is not unique, however, in terms of being fully exposed to the same economic pressures as are other products today, nor being exposed to increasingly fickle consumers,” Konanahalli added. “Clearly, footwear companies have more work to do in defining their brand promises, in driving consistency of fit, in controlling costs and in fine-tuning their direct-to-consumer offerings.”

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