Stiletto sales are stumbling because of Covid-19

All dressed up and nowhere to go.
All dressed up and nowhere to go.
Image: Reuters/Stephanie Keith
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Among the spaces Covid-19 has closed around the world are countless offices, nightclubs, and other habitats of formal footwear. Dressy styles such as heels—both high and low—as well as oxfords and loafers were already getting bumped from everyday use by more casual and comfortable options, such as sneakers and flats. Now there are fewer occasions to wear them, and so less reason for shoppers to buy a new pair.

Combined with the widespread store closures and shoppers cutting back on non-essential items, the situation has squeezed sales of dress shoes.

“We’re definitely concerned about the dress shoe business at Jimmy Choo,” John Idol, CEO of Capri Holdings, said on a July 1 earnings call. Capri owns the footwear maker as well as fashion companies Michael Kors and Versace. “Really the dress shoe business, in general, is under pressure,” he added.

Known for styles such as statuesque stilettos, Choo saw sales decline 23% for the quarter through March 28 compared to the same period last year, primarily due to drops in Europe and Asia, where the coronavirus hit earliest. The US hasn’t been exempt either.

From March—when lockdowns shuttered stores around the country—to May, US sales of dress shoes plunged more than 70% compared to last year, according to research firm NPD Group, which tracks sales across most retail chains but doesn’t include purchases consumers make directly from brands. Beth Goldstein, NPD’s industry analyst for accessories and fashion footwear, says men’s and women’s dress footwear declined about the same amount, with men’s footwear falling slightly more. “But women’s accounts for a much bigger portion of the business and therefore accounted for almost three-quarters of the loss,” she said in an email. Pumps and strappy dress sandals were the hardest hit styles.

Dress shoes were already facing challenges before the pandemic. NPD recorded sales falling 12% in the US in 2019. Sneakers, which have the advantages of versatility and comfort, have been encroaching more and more into their territory. The big sports companies such as Nike and Adidas have benefitted, while luxury giants have cashed in as well. Even Jimmy Choo has been pushing athletic-inspired footwear to eager customers.

The pandemic seems likely to add more momentum to that shift as it’s already making comfort more of a priority for shoppers. Goldstein, for one, predicts it will accelerate the move away from dress footwear.

Idol acknowledged Jimmy Choo’s sales growth will be on pause for a time because of the pandemic’s effects on the dress shoe business. “We’re going to have to move a little faster on our casual initiatives at Jimmy Choo,” he said. “We were kind of headed down that path before, but now we’re going to have to go faster.”