For anyone not living under a pandemic, NPD Group confirms that lifestyle changes and consumer behavior shifts this year have driven significant year-over-year sales declines for the U.S footwear industry. But trends are expected to stabilize and recover through 2021, according to the retail sales tracking agency’s Future of Footwear report. Improved fashion footwear and performance sales are forecasted to lead increased dollar sales for the overall industry, though sales will remain below 2019 levels.
“A return to the office and store re-openings will likely reignite some demand for fashion footwear, although the focus will remain on casual and comfort-oriented styles,” states Beth Goldstein, NPD’s fashion footwear and accessories analyst. “The pandemic has only amplified the importance of these attributes, as the blending of work-from-home and remote learning has led consumers to favor comfort to wear any time of the day.”
Following a similar trajectory and after declines during the last two years, performance footwear is expected to see growth in 2021—a lift that will be driven by road running shoes. “Greater attention to health and fitness has been a silver lining in 2020,” says Matt Powell, NPD’s sports industry advisor. “A number of sports and recreation-related categories have benefitted from this, including performance running. In addition to easier year-over-year comparisons, which may factor into the growth, running shoes are poised to outperform the overall market as consumers continue turning to the activity to stay active yet socially distant.” Powell adds, “With new participants, brands and retailers should focus on their assortment of more mainstream product and educating new runners on the importance of having this activity-based shoe in their line-up.”
As for the near term, NPD expects fourth quarter sales to decline in the mid-single digits, but this is a significant improvement from year-to-date trends. The women’s slippers category—one of the few bright spots in fashion footwear this year—is likely to be a hot holiday item, and is expected to remain strong in 2021—even outperforming 2020 sales. Alluding to an anticipated rise in outdoor activities this fall/winter, cold weather boots and hiking shoes began selling notably well in August, with sales up 49 percent and 24 percent, respectively, in August and September 2020 combined compared to last year, according to NPD’s Retail Tracking Service.