Shoes: this year’s sound investment for retailers

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Shoes are in this year; for those who don’t speak the language of fashion, this means they are this year’s moneymakers in Canada’s fashion retail industry.

According to market research company NPD Canada, footwear sales rose one per cent to $4.9 billion last year, compared to apparel sales, which fell two per cent to $22.9 billion. Sales for women’s footwear in particular went up five per cent last year to $2.8 billion after only two per cent increases in the few years prior. Women’s apparel sales dropped four per cent to $13 billion after little increase in the previous years.

Local businesses in Victoria have seen evidence of the booming market this year.

“Shoe sales have definitely grown,” says Kerstin Greiner, owner of downtown Victoria shoe store Footloose. “There are dips and rises, but 2012 is a good year.”

Greiner couldn’t offer a percentage on the spot, but says sales have increased since 2011.

While Footloose carries “stylish but comfortable” shoes, She She Shoes, another Victoria footwear store, is more about being fashion-forward than comfort-driven. The two stores differ in style, but both have similar wide price ranges, from approximately $100–$400. Shelagh Macartney, owner of She She Shoes, has also noticed an improvement in sales. She attributes the rising sales to new styles and colours.

“There are so many great styles out there now. I think there’s more options out there for colours,” says Macartney. “Manufacturers and designers don’t have to play it quite as safe anymore because people are embracing the colours.” 

For retailers who deal in multiple fashion products, profit margins for footwear are higher than those for apparel, especially if they are quickly sold at full price. Footwear prices, unlike apparel, have a lesser chance of being marked down because shoes often cross over into different seasons. 

Greiner acknowledges that women even wear boots during the summer now.

“In the evening, women can pair ankle boots with a skirt,” says Greiner.

As Canadians wait for the economy to strengthen, women are looking for ways to be fashionable without overspending, and the increased demand for shoes shows they’ve found one way. Macartney says women are discovering it’s cheaper to buy a pair of shoes than a new dress or pair of jeans.

“A good pair of shoes can completely change your outfit,” says Macartney.

The Bay department store in downtown Victoria appears to be responding to the shoe demand as well. This year, the company expanded its women’s footwear department, adding more space and offering more shoes. A Bay representative was not available for comment.

Footwear is also popular for online shoppers. Although American consumers report that they shop more for clothes online than for shoes, shoes are better performers in terms of actual sale percentages. According to NPD, people’s comfort level with shopping for footwear online is low, ranked behind online grocery and furniture shopping. Nevertheless, shoes are one of the top 10 categories of items shopped for and purchased online.

Greiner says she’s considering the idea of starting an online business because it can reach more people.

“There was a woman from Spain who contacted us wanting a pair of shoes that were made in Spain,” says Greiner, admitting the irony. “She saw that we carry the shoe because we have a blog.”

Whether or not shoes will continue to reign over clothes in the retail business, it has always been clear to those in the industry that the shopping woman loves her shoes.

“People have huge crushes on shoes,” says Macartney. “They come to the store and visit [the shoes they want to buy]. It’s like their lost love.” 

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