As Shoe Stores Reopen, Seniors Are Outpacing Younger Shoppers By Flocking to Shops

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Comfort shoe stores are having a senior moment. While older Americans are among the demographic most at risk for COVID-19, comfort footwear retailers report mature customers are eager to head back into stores seeking the expertise of problem-solving shoe fitters.

Since this customer base is the bread-and-butter for sit-and-fit retailers, it’s a welcome sign as independents struggle to resume business. However, noted retailers, these consumers continue to make safety a top priority from wearing masks to making appointments.

At Alec’s Shoes in Nashua, N.H., which reopened with limited services on May 11, older customers were once again shopping. “Surprisingly, the store’s older clientele who shouldn’t be out are those coming in,” said Jack Kerouac, manager. While he noted the store caters to customers of all ages, it typically skews towards an older clientele more likely to shop a full-service store.

Older customers have also been returning at Solely Comfort Footwear in Winchester, Va., according to co-owner Shari Kowasic. “Most of the customers who’ve come in are over 50,” she said. “They‘re quite comfortable [shopping] with their masks on, while we [staff] have ours on. Some want to keep a safe distance, while others act like there’s nothing going on.”

Baby Boomers are outpacing shoppers at Lebo’s, observed Brian Goldsmith, VP of the Charlotte, N.C.-based store. “It seems like they’re coming out and don’t seem to be scared away by COVID-19,” he said. “Our traffic count is off by about 30%, so I’m sure some have not returned, but I’ve been surprised by how may are out.”

According to Goldsmith, he’s instead been surprised by the dip in customers in their 30s and 40s. ”If I had to speculate as to why, childcare comes to mind first,” he said. “I haven’t seen many children in the store, so [parents] are probably spread thin between their own jobs and taking care of their children during this pandemic.”

Older shoppers may be returning to stores, but safety remains a key concern, according to Scott Stewart, manager at Tops Shoes in Benton, Ark.. Stewart says he has seen some hesitancy on the part of more mature customers, particularly when it comes to concerns about bringing the virus home to older family members. To better serve these clients, Stewart has offered private appointments before and after store hours.

While 75% of the store’s customer base is over 50, Stewart said it serves consumers in their 30s who worry about shopping safety. “It’s a concern for family members who live with them,” he said about the possibility of transmitting the disease.

Some older customers, agreed Bert Pearlman, manager at Waxberg’s Walk Shoppe in Niles, Ill., have expressed reluctance about shopping in-store. “They’ve been wanting to do more curbside [pickups],” he said, even though the retailer opened to walk-ins on June. 1. “Everybody’s still a little hesitant, but we try to make them as comfortable as possible,” he said, noting staff is wearing masks and gloves, and the store is taking customers’ temperatures.

With roughly 80% of if his customer base over 60, Rick Ravel, owner of Karavel Shoes in Austin, Texas, has found these shoppers delaying a visit to the store. “We’re getting some in for orthopedic and medical [needs],” he said, concerned about future business due to the recent spike in coronavirus cases in the state.

Since comfort stores are recognized for their offering of functional footwear, Jeff Seidman, owner of Ahh Comfort Shoes in Arlington Heights, Ill., said customers of all ages are once again shopping. “We’re very need based,” he said, about the store’s offering of fashion-comfort looks . “If you’ve worn out your walking shoes or slippers, it doesn’t matter what age you are.”

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