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In-person shopping scores high with consumers in this category

Consumers still favor department stores when it comes to shopping for shoes — and the majority like doing it in-store.

Fifty-nine percent of U.S. consumers said they will mostly shop in-store for footwear once the pandemic ends, according to a new survey by global consulting firm AlixPartners. Since March 2020, 51% of Americans have been shopping for their footwear online. But the survey found that while the online channel will likely retain a degree of “stickiness” in footwear as it will in many other products, online shopping may be less sticky when it comes to shoes than other sectors, with essentially six in 10 consumers saying they will mostly shop in-store for their footwear.

Thirty-seven percent of survey respondents said they have bought shoes on a department store retailer’s website since the start of the pandemic, while 33% said they recently purchased footwear in a brick-and-mortar department store. Specialty footwear stores came in second (20%), followed by outlet and discount stores (15%) and branded stores (8%).

Macy’s was the top brick-and-mortar destination for shopping for non-athletic footwear, chosen by 29% of consumers; followed by Kohl’s (chosen by 27%). Walmart was the top mass store (chosen by 29%).

The main reason consumers prefer to shop for shoes in-store is the desire to try on shoes before purchasing them. When asked to choose their top three reasons for shopping for shoes in physical stores instead of online, a whopping 76% said “I like to try on shoes before buying” as one the primary reasons. The next-highest reasons garnered just 39% (“The best deals are found in-store”) and 32% (“I don’t have to deal with returning shoes”), respectively.

“The omnichannel equation is just different for footwear than for other categories, and that’s an especially big challenge for retailers,” said Bryan Eshelman, a managing director in the retail practice at AlixPartners. “On the one hand, retailers need to have enough product in stock in their physical stores to satisfy the customer’s desire to try on shoes before buying, while on the other hand they also need find a profitable way to satisfy the demand of those consumers who purchase shoes online, which can be very costly given high levels of returns. Solving that puzzle is going to be key for retailers in this category going forward.”

Survey results suggest that consumers both now and post-pandemic are not likely to be brand-loyal or necessarily big-spenders. In order to take advantage of a sale six in 10 Americans said they are likely or very likely to switch shoe brands, and seven in 10 said they are likely or very likely to switch stores.

Only 39% of women surveyed said they are likely or very likely to pay full price for non-athletic shoes—long a staple of volume and profitability for shoemakers and retailers alike—with that number rising to just 46% for athletic shoes. 

On the flip side, 53% of men said they’re likely or very likely to pay full price for non-athletic footwear, and that rises to 60% for athletic shoes.

Other findings from the survey are below:

• 72% of consumers said free shipping is one of their top-three reasons for shopping online for shoes, and 56% rank free standard shipping (shipping within three to seven days) as their top delivery preference.

• When how likely they are today to switch shoe brands because a similar style or look was on-sale, for non-athletic shoes 61% of consumers say they are likely or very likely to switch; for athletic shoes, that number rises to 63%.  

• When consumers were asked how likely they are to switch retailers if a preferred shoe-style is on sale someplace else, for non-athletic shoes 76% said they’d switch, and for athletic shoes, 77% said they would.

The AlixPartners U.S. Consumer Footwear Survey was conducted February 1-March 2, 2021 and polled 1,001 consumers ages 18 and above across the United States. Its demographics were balanced across the countries by gender, age, income, education, and location (city/rural/suburban).

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