Laranda Williams, 39, used to buy clothing, tools and electronics as presents. This year, though, she looked at their feet and got inspired. She bought Vans sneakers for one of her sons, two pairs of stilettos for a girlfriend of another son, and Nike running shoes for her husband.
“Electronics and clothing get redundant,” said Williams, who lives in Clarksville, Tenn. “Shoes are just the wow. I know they’re going to use it, and I know they’re going to love it.”
The change is part of a larger trend of shoppers buying loved ones gifts that they not only like, but also can use. It’s this habit of practicality that Americans have been clinging to throughout the economic downturn.
This holiday season, it’s meant mom might not buy her daughter an extravagant evening gown she’ll maybe wear once. But she might splurge on $600 Jimmy Choo pumps if her daughter needs work shoes, or $150 Nike sneakers if she’s an avid runner.
“It’s about practicality and splurging at the same time,” said Marshal Cohen, the chief research analyst at NPD Inc., a market research firm. “There’s a sense of, ‘I know what you need but you haven’t gotten it for yourself.’”
Footwear was the fifth most popular gift on shoppers’ lists on the day after Thanksgiving, according to NPD. A year ago, shoes didn’t even make it into the top 10 gifts for the season.
Overall, sales of cross training shoes rose 16 percent to $197.8 million, and sales of basketball shoes rose 18.7 percent to $353.5 million for the three months ending in November. During that same period, sales of women’s fashion footwear grew 3.2 percent to $6.12 billion.
Chelsey Gates, the manager of Chuckies New York, a designer shoe store in Manhattan, said she’s seen more men buying shoes for the women in their lives. One of the most popular gifts: Chelsea Paris gold trim ankle-high boots for $695.
“Men come in with cards with perfect instructions: style numbers, sizes and prices,” she said.
Smaller chains are trying to cash in on the trend. Fleet Feet Sports-Chicago, a two-store chain of running and fitness apparel, launched a gift registry this year that allows people to record their preferred brand, style, color, size, width and model of shoe from hundreds of options.
Catherine Moloznik, Fleet Feet’s product manager, said so far in December, shoe sales are up about 20 percent compared with a year ago, in part because of the registry.
“Shoes have turned the corner in the gift category,” said Robert Burke, a New York-based fashion consultant. “They’ve become the new handbag.”
Owen Badillo, 35, certainly never thought of buying shoes as gifts for others in the past. But this season he bought two pairs of $30 Asics running shoes for his 28-year-old sister, who’s a mother of two small children and a runner.
“Her shoes are all torn up. So I am focusing on what she really needs,” he said.