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WELL HEELED

Americans went on a record buying spree at shoe stores in March

A mother and daughter shop for sneakers in a Dick's Sporting Goods
Reuters/Mark Makela
Americans are getting out and going shopping.
  • Marc Bain
By Marc Bain

Fashion reporter

Published

The weather is warming in the US, and many parts of the country are reopening as Covid-19 infection rates fall. Americans are heading outdoors, and they’re going shoe shopping.

Data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis shows consumer spending at shoe stores and other retailers selling footwear spiked to an all-time high in March as measured at a seasonally adjusted, annualized rate, which allows for easier comparisons across time periods.

While the numbers could fall some once data are released for subsequent months, the March result was still a welcome jump to a higher level of sales than even before the pandemic, said Andy Polk, senior vice president at Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, a large trade group representing the industry. Though the causes aren’t evident from the data alone, it was likely the result of a perfect mixture of desire and ability to buy, he said.

Consumer confidence has been rising, and many shoppers are ready to unleash months of pent-up demand, whether because they just want to shop or need to pick up new shoes for themselves and their families for spring. At the same time, Americans are flush with cash from government stimulus or tax returns, giving them the means to spend.

There could be other factors at play too. Polk said strong, recognizable brands are doing well, while nondescript wholesalers that import a lot of shoes and sell them to retailers at low costs are struggling. Brand names tend to cost more, and right now shoppers aren’t waiting for discounts to buy, helping to increase retailers’ sales (and their margins).

There’s still a lot of uncertainty about how the coming months will play out for shoe sellers. Footwear is one of numerous industries facing rising raw material costs, which could translate to higher prices. For now, though, many retailers get to enjoy a bit of spring sunshine after a long winter.

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