Shoe Buying Behavior: Regional Patterns
By Lindsay Tenenbaum, EMS Marketing
Think about the last pair of shoes you bought. What were some of the most important factors you considered when picking out the pair you ultimately purchased? Of all possibilities, some components rank higher with certain individuals and even vary by consumers in different areas of the world. For example, European consumers looking to purchase shoes traditionally go to a smaller store that specifically sells shoes, or to a cobbler to repair an older pair of shoes that may have more wear left in them. By contrast, Americans tend to frequent larger department stores that sell more than shoes. There, they can choose to look at various types of shoes, as well as clothes, accessories, even electronics and appliances.
According to PwC, European and American consumers have been purchasing a larger percentage of their goods, including shoes, from online platforms. Speaking from personal experience, I have been in stores numerous times and have seen something I like, but was not entirely convinced the store had the best price. Using my smartphone, I looked up the item online to see if I could find a better price, often even before I left the store. After a brief search, I found the desired item online for several dollars less, with free shipping, in the correct size, and in my favorite color. For many, this is a common way to shop, and is increasingly becoming the norm.
In addition to transitioning to online purchasing, Europeans continue to spend more money than Americans, but on fewer clothing and footwear items of higher quality. European consumers view shoes as an investment because of the time and money behind the purchase, and generally hold on to their shoes for a long period of time.
European consumers also tend to favor high-end, brand name fashion – especially brands that place value on corporate social responsibility. This can be seen in ECCO footwear, a company based out of Denmark. The company’s success, especially in Europe, proves that customers are willing to spend more money for a higher quality product produced by a socially responsible company. ECCO, for example, mentions on its web site how they work to reduce their impact on the environment, engage local communities, and hire a diverse workforce.
Americans have long enjoyed having inexpensive options available to them when it comes to purchasing shoes. Large department stores, able to purchase products in large quantities, are able to pass lower prices on to their customers. Shoes are perceived to be more disposable because consumers know they can easily buy a new pair when the inexpensive version wears out or because they feel like buying something new.
With relatively low price points, American consumers tend to purchase many pairs of shoes, in theory wearing each pair less frequently because they have multiple pairs to choose from. This trend is seen in the declining number of cobblers in the U.S.; lower quality shoes cannot be repaired to extend their lifetime the same way a pair of high quality shoes can. There are still many quality shoe manufacturers that will refurbish or recraft such as Allen Edmonds, Johnston & Murphy, Danner and Red Wing.
In other areas of the world, consumption is picking up. According to McKinsey & Co, more Chinese consumers are willing and able to spend increasing amounts of money for luxury items, including shoes. It will be interesting to observe whether shoes will be viewed as an investment, similar to Europe, or more as a disposable item, similar to the United States.
Whether it is tradition, supporting socially responsible brands, being frugal, or keeping up with fashion and culture, there are many different factors that affect shoe buying decisions and trends throughout the world. Happy shopping!