The footwear market slowed in the first quarter of 2023 as demand softened and warmer weather impacted boot sales, according to new data from Circana (formerly IRI and The NPD Group).
Beth Goldstein, footwear and accessories analyst at Circana, told FN in an interview that there was a decline in unit sales in the first quarter, but the steady price increases managed to keep the overall revenue losses in the low single digits.
U.S. footwear industry sales revenue was down 3 percent at $9 billion in the first quarter, versus the same time last year, according to Circana. Goldstein noted this data is for wholesale footwear sales and does not include the direct-to-consumer business.
By category, performance footwear rose 2 percent in the quarter to $1.8 billion, driven by the sports segment. Goldstein said that basketball shoes increased to become the fastest-growing segment in the category. Footwear for baseball, track and field, soccer, American football and lacrosse also saw an increase in the quarter.
“Performance is just getting back into its groove after a rocky couple of years due to the pandemic and everything else that followed it,” Goldstein said. “The wholesale running segment did take a hit in the performance category, though, since it is up against a strong direct-to-consumer business.”
As for the leisure footwear category, wholesale sales slipped 3 percent to $4.3 billion, while fashion footwear fell 4 percent to $2.9 billion in the first quarter.
These declines can be felt mostly in the boot segment, which experienced a challenging season due to the mild winter weather in the U.S. this year.
According to Goldstein, the Pacific region, including California, Oregon and Washington, ranked as the second-best-selling area for cold-weather boot sales in the first quarter, based on revenue — up from its fourth position last year — and it was the only region to show growth in this segment. Tying into the atypical winter weather, the top five (and nine of the top 10) fastest-growing cities for cold-weather boot sales in the period were in California. What’s more, high-shaft boots were the only fashion boot silhouette to experience sales growth in the quarter, versus last year.
More bad news was seen in slippers, where sales dropped in the first quarter. While the segment remains above pre-pandemic 2019 sales levels, slipper sales were down double digits for the quarter, versus the same period last year, Goldstein said.
But there were some bright spots in terms of sales of fashion shoes, which grew 7 percent, led by driver and loafer styles — which have returned to pre-pandemic 2019 sales levels — and pumps. Casual sneaker sales were also up 3 percent, generating over one-third of footwear sales and gaining market share.
As for what’s next, Goldstein said that we should expect to see the leisure and casual categories strengthen this year. “Looking ahead, early reads on the second quarter show signs of continued softness, so it will be important for brands and retailers to focus their merchandising and messaging to promote value and versatility,” Goldstein added.