If trends from 2018 are any indication, the month of August will be the most concentrated in terms of back-to-school footwear sales. According to NPD’s Retail Tracking Service, U.S. kids’ footwear* sales from the 2018 back-to-school season peaked during the first week of August in the central, southern and western regions where schools start sooner. Meanwhile, sales in the northeast—where schools traditionally start in early September—peaked during the last two weeks of August .
“Spending on kids’ footwear during the back-to-school shopping season is very much in-line with what we’re seeing in the footwear industry as a whole. Consumers are following a ‘buy now, wear now’ pattern, indicating they are making their shoe purchases very close to the need, not before,” says Beth Goldstein, executive director and fashion footwear and accessories analyst of The NPD Group.
Heading into the 2019–2020 U.S. school year, athleisure brands still comprise the top footwear pick for kids. The NPD Group anticipates this wave of popularity—driven by sport leisure footwear (+6 percent year-to-date)—to continue. The sport leisure category accounted for 60% of the kids’ footwear market year-to-date, and has driven market gains for the past three years.
While reliance on online shopping continues to grow in the footwear market, NPD research suggests that the in-store experience is still important when purchasing back-to-school footwear. According to NPD, 80% of 2018 back-to-school kids’ footwear sales during August were done in-store, reaching a peak that was higher than the seven months prior and four months post-back-to-school shopping . The NPD Group expects in-store penetration to again be highest during the back-to-school shopping season this year, but website sales will grow as well.
Another factor to consider regarding back-to-school footwear sales for kids this year is where former Payless shoppers will fulfill their back-to-school needs. According to NPD’s Consumer Tracking Service, in 2018, Payless comprised 4% of kids’ footwear dollar sales, and 7% of unit sales, compared to 1% and 3%, respectively, for adults. NPD’s Checkout E-commerce Tracking data shows that almost half of consumers that bought kids’ footwear at Payless also bought at Walmart, almost one-quarter bought at Target, and 10% bought at Kohl’s. These are the retailers most likely to pick up the lost Payless sales this back-to-school season.
“While in-store shopping increases in importance during the back-to-school season, retailers of all types will boost their omnichannel efforts to capture both store and website sales during this critical selling period,” says Goldstein. “Athletic footwear specialty, sporting goods stores, and mass merchants will grab the bulk of sales, but based on year-to-date momentum, branded shoe stores, shoe chains, and off-price retailers will likely grab a bigger piece of the pie this year.”
*Kids’ Footwear includes footwear sized for children, does not include adult-sized footwear that may be worn by older kids/teens.