Shoe Sales on the Mend in 2021, Exceeding Pre-pandemic Figures

The footwear industry is on the rebound, according to a new study by the NPD Group, which said that in many cases U.S. sales in the first quarter of 2021 outpaced pre-pandemic figures from 2019.

This follows an abysmal report that NPD issued about one year ago at the pandemic’s peak, when shoe sales had essentially fallen off a cliff.

Beth Goldstein, NPD’s executive director and industry analyst for fashion footwear and accessories, said of the rebound: “Footwear sales recovered in the first quarter of 2021, not only increasing compared to 2020 but also to 2019. This was driven by stronger-than-anticipated sales in March, likely driven by the stimulus rollout, spring weather, and an earlier Easter, on top of the easy comparison to last year.”

It isn’t all rosy though, with formal styles continuing to see sluggish response. “While nearly all types of footwear improved compared to 2020 as expected, in the fashion space it was the more casual, comfort, and athleisure-oriented categories that continued to perform best and grew versus 2019. Dressier fashion styles continued to struggle and remained down double-digits compared to 2019, except in kids’, aided by the Easter shift,” Goldstein added.

The general fashion footwear category, including both men’s and women’s styles, grew by 7 percent in the first quarter over the same period last year. While men’s grew 8 percent, and women’s only 3 percent, children’s sales ballooned by 78 percent.

The leisure and performance shoe categories saw stronger rebounds, with 41 and 32 percent year-over-year growth, respectively. In these sectors, men’s, women’s and children’s shoes all showed near-equal gains.

Matt Powell, NPD’s vice president and senior industry adviser for sports, chalked this up to “one-off events: the third stimulus [check], late EITC checks, warm weather, an earlier Easter, and the surge in COVID-19 vaccines. 2021 will be a challenge to predict.”

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