Lifestyle changes and consumer behavior shifts in 2020 due to COVID-19 have driven year-over-year sales declines for the U.S. footwear industry, but trends are expected to stabilize and recover through 2021, according to The NPD Group’s outlined in its Future of Footwear Report. Improved fashion footwear and performance sales are forecasted to lead to increased dollar sales for the overall industry, though sales will remain below 2019 levels.

The fashion category, the hardest hit by the pandemic, is expected to see renewed sales during the coming year as consumers return to some of their pre-COVID-19 behaviors. The women’s slippers category is likely to be a hot holiday item and remain strong in 2021, even outperforming 2020 sales.

“A return to the office and store re-openings will likely reignite some demand for fashion footwear, although the focus will remain on casual and comfort-oriented styles. The pandemic has only amplified the importance of these attributes, as the blending of work-from-home and remote learning has led consumers to favor comfort to wear any time of the day,” said Beth Goldstein, NPD’s fashion footwear and accessories analyst.

Following a similar trajectory, and after declines during the last two years, performance footwear is expected to see growth in 2021, a lift that will be driven by road running shoes.

“Greater attention to health and fitness has been a silver lining in 2020. A number of sports and recreation-related categories have benefitted from this, including performance running. In addition to easier year-over-year comparisons, which may factor into the growth, running shoes are set to outperform the overall market as consumers continue turning to the activity to stay active while socially distant,” said Matt Powell, NPD’s sports industry advisor. “With new participants, brands and retailers should focus on their assortment of more mainstream products and educating new runners on the importance of having this activity-based shoe in their line-up.”

What’s In Store For Q4
Footwear sales are expected to decline in the mid-single-digits during Q420, but this is a significant improvement from year-to-date trends. Alluding to an anticipated rise in outdoor activities this fall/winter, cold weather boots and hiking shoes began selling well in August, with sales up +49 percent and +24 percent respectively, in August and September 2020 combined compared to last year, according to NPD’s Retail Tracking Service.