DSW Parent Leans Into Athleisure, Says ‘Normalized’ Profitability Returns at B-T-S 2021


Designer Brands, waiting for a chief digital officer to come onboard and effects from the COVID-19 pandemic to subside, is currently forecasting “a return to normalized customer behavior or profitability” for the Back-To-School 2021 season.

In the meantime, the company’s DSW retail segment will continue to accelerate its focus on athleisure footwear and ask some of its top vendors, given its status as the largest women’s adult branded footwear retailer in the U.S., to sell it exclusive or differentiated styles. The company is forecasting double-digit athleisure comp sales growth during the first half of 2021. Athletic and kids’ shoes combined represented 21 percent of DSW’s assortment in 2017, a figure that grew to 36 percent during the third quarter. For a limited time during the period, DSW offered over 100 SKUs focused on sneakers, realizing $13 million in incremental demand for the period and AURs that were 10x above the normal average.

“In the short-term, we plan to keep pivoting our assortment to align with consumer preferences,” CEO Roger Rawlins told analysts last week. “Long-term, there will be a day that our customers feel comfortable going out to shows, church and social events.”

During 2019, according to the CEO, 52 percent of all U.S. retail footwear sales we generated by men’s and women’s athleisure styles versus 32 percent at DSW.

As for non-athletic offerings, DSW has experienced sales declines of 50-70 percent in key categories since the pandemic began. The retailer’s response to slow-moving pump, dress shoes and the like has been to pack-away slow-moving models until later in 2021.

Digital demand continues to be strong at DBI, which will lean on the yet-to-be-named chief digital officer to elevate its online presence and capabilities. U.S. retail, digital demand comps rose 16 and 22 percent, respectively during the August-September period. The increases might have been larger without the impacts of a ransomware attack for two weeks in September that reduced digital product availability for DSW customers to 1.3 million units from a normal 13 million.

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