The first big weekend of the holiday shopping season has wrapped up, pushing both our inboxes and stomachs to the brink of their storage limits. But as Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, Black Friday sales have been extended and Cyber Monday started early (spoiler alert: it will also be extended). It’s important to recognize that Thanksgiving weekend is only the beginning of the core holiday shopping season and, particularly this year, the last-minute push will be vital to the overall season’s sales results.  

My in-store and online observations this past weekend reinforced my footwear and accessories expectations for the season. The priorities that consumers have been exhibiting throughout the year due to various macro challenges and their emphasis on experiences will put pressure on retail spending. Therefore, year over year growth is unlikely for either the footwear or accessories businesses in the fourth quarter. 

The brands and retailers that will succeed this season will be those that maximize the sales cadence, leverage online channels, and focus on value, not only price. While promotions will be prominent, they won’t tell the whole story.

Cadence is key

With retailer events beginning in October and Christmas landing in December week 5, giving people an extra full weekend to shop, the impact of any one event or weekend has diminished.  For the footwear and accessories industries, we’ll see the first real spike in holiday sales during November week 4 and into December week 1, but the impact will be less than it has been historically. Instead, the biggest push will come weeks later, during the last two weeks of December. This is when the more gift-oriented categories such as sneakers, winter boots, slippers, and handbags will likely peak in sales, so brands and retailers should take advantage of these category-specific late merchandising opportunities.  

Online outperforms

Over 80% of U.S. consumers plan to do some of their holiday shopping online, and over three-quarters plan to shop at online-only sites this season, according to Circana’s 2023 U.S. Holiday Purchase Intentions study. . Consumers have embraced the ease, convenience, and selection that online affords. While stores will still make up most of the sales this season, online channels will perform better, aided further by the late holiday. Based on my firsthand experience, I found Black Friday footwear and accessories promotions to be clearer, and in some cases deeper, online compared to in stores. While some stores I visited during Black Friday were busier than others (mostly based on the desirability of the product regardless of promotions), most left something to be desired in terms of experience and presentation.    

Prevalent promotions

Speaking of promotions, it was a mixed bag during Thanksgiving weekend. Some footwear and accessories brands and retailers offered deeper discounts than I’ve seen in years, including up to 50% off, the return of “buy-one-get-one” events, and some that haven’t typically offered promotions did so this year. Others sat this sales event out entirely. I also noticed some inconsistency between online and in-store deals, which creates a frustrating experience for customers. 

All in all, I expect promotional activity to remain higher than last year throughout the season, as brands and retailers look to compensate for the softer-than-expected results they’ve experienced so far in 2023.  

The value of versatility

Value comes in many forms, and it’s rarely just about price. Many of the strongest footwear and accessories brands and products in the fashion and athletic space this year have been the least promotional, and we’ve seen consumers’ willingness to trade up, despite the overall pressures on their wallets. In addition to aesthetics and brand popularity, a major factor here is versatility. Shoppers gravitate to hybrid products that can be worn or used every day. In the footwear market this trend has translated to more seasonless styles such as sneakers and shoes gaining share at the expense of seasonal categories such as sandals and boots. In the accessories market, this behavior has manifested in hands-free styles and convenient features for travel. If my own Black Friday observations are any indication, these aisles were the busiest across the stores I visited. 

As consumers prioritize their spending, both for themselves and for gifting, these versatile factors will remain important. Cozy items are evergreen holiday favorites and, while seasonal, offer both functional and emotional value, so these products will be standouts, as well.  

Brands and retailers will not only be competing with each other this holiday season; they’ll be up against a cautious consumer who is prioritizing their spending in the face of macro-economic challenges and post-pandemic lifestyles. This prudent attitude will make the last-minute sales push especially important for the footwear and accessories businesses this year. 

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