Over the past fifteen years, the relationship women have with key accessories, namely their shoes and handbags, has changed considerably. Choices in brands and style preferences now connote much more about a woman’s image than in years past. We’ve seen brands once only known by industry insiders and the uber-wealthy (brands like Manolo Blahnik) become recognizable names in average fashionable households around the world. Similarly, prices of footwear seem to have taken an upward turn, and it’s not rare to find designer shoes priced well above the $700 mark. On a recent trip to Nordstrom’s, a moderately upscale retailer with locations across the United States, shoe prices even climbed above $1,000 in one suburban store. On any given day, the Christian Louboutin store in New York City’s meatpacking district has a handful of customers not only browsing, but actually purchasing extravagant items that are more akin to artwork than footwear.
A look under any boardroom table or into a modern woman’s closet would make Imelda Marcos proud. Culturally, we can say with relative certainty, that there has been a shift in women’s preference for designer shoes that spans across more than just wealthy consumers. But what information exists to shed light into a woman’s private quest for her next pair of shoes? More often than not, this quest begins online with a search bar. Acclaimed international agency Digital Luxury Group conducted a recent study looking at exactly this issue. Tamar Koifman, contributor at Fashion’s Collective and Digital Strategist at DLG gets answers to the pressing questions. Responses by Eric Roditi of DLG.
Q: Historically, DLG has done extensive research in the watch industry. What was so interesting about shoes that made it the next topic to study?
A: A watch is often cited as the single most important accessory a man can own and has become a fundamental style element. Likewise, shoes are often considered the most important accessory in a woman’s wardrobe. You can learn a lot about a man by looking at his watch, and a lot about a woman by looking at her shoes.
Watch aficionados are a small but die-hard group. With shoes, there is the same level of passion (borderline obsession?) but with a much wider audience. We knew there would be interesting and relevant insights to be gained by studying this very specific market.
Q: What do you think are some of the key findings?
A: Some of the insights that we found most interesting:
- The importance of the US market
The United States is one of the largest markets for the industry, with more than 48% of global search engine pursuits for luxury shoe brands and keywords originating in the US.
For comparison, the United Kingdom, second largest, represents 17% and that is almost twice as big as the third market on the list, France.
- People have specific brands in mind when searching
Over 90% of Google searches related to luxury shoes are for specific brands and we found that certain brands own a significant piece of market share in those searches.
We broke out brands into three categories and noted that there were stars within in each:
- Maison: Brands for which shoes are just one category. In most instances shoes aren’t even necessarily the biggest piece of their business. The stars: Prada (23.2%), Gucci (22.8%), and Louis Vuitton (11.8%)
- Shoe Heritage: Brands whose original business was dedicated to shoes and for which it still remains the majority of its business. The stars: Christian Louboutin by a landslide (45%), Jimmy Choo (11%), and Salvatore Ferragamo (7%)
- New Players: Brands established after 2000 that have a trendsetter reputation and for who shoes may or may not represent the lion’s share of their revenues. The stars: Alexander Wang (29.5%), Brian Atwood (27%), and Charlotte Olypmia (18%)
- Opportunity for luxury brands to focus on casual styles
Looking at over three million searches focusing on shoe styles in the US, there is a clear winner: sneakers. With over 40% of the total shoe style searches, there marks an opportunity for luxury shoe executives to grab a bigger piece of this market.
Behind sneakers, boots (19%) and pumps (10%) were the most sought-after shoe styles.
Q: What does this tell brand marketers?
A: Often cited statistics say that 80% of consumers search for information online before purchasing a luxury product. It is extremely important to understand the online behavior of this very sophisticated clientele, to connect emotionally with them, and to project a consistent high-end brand image. Knowing what users are typing into search engines gives brand marketers a precise and unbiased look into consumers’ desires and preferences. This unadulterated pipeline into a customer’s brain is exactly the kind of information that should guide brand marketing decisions.
Q: Now that we have a better idea of how people search in this niche, what should brand marketers do about it? Should they change things like their SEM campaigns or how their site is optimized? What about navigational elements? Or the overall site experience?
A: There isn’t one single way to interpret this data, but the findings can be put to work in a myriad of ways. From identifying a previously unknown demand, to having a better idea of what products to promote, to site merchandising, the insights can be applied in different areas. And, undoubtedly, the findings can have a direct impact on search engine optimization priorities and search engine advertising opportunities.
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Photo Credits: Christian Louboutin Spring/Summer 2012 Collection