19 Feb Executive Retail Insights: Shoebuy.com CEO Mike Sorabella (Feb 2015)
FDRA: Online shoe sales continued to grow in 2014 to the point where it comprises around 20% of all U.S. footwear sales. What do you think we will see in 2015 –will sales continue to grow at record numbers online? What about 2020 – will we see over 30% of total footwear sales taking place online?
Sorabella: Online is certainly an exciting space to be. My expectation is to see continued growth in 2015, and for online growth to continue to outpace more traditional brick and mortar sales. From what we are seeing, growth for online sales will double the rate of growth of brick and mortar sales through 2020.
FDRA: Are there footwear types that do better online? Are consumers more likely to purchase their running shoes, or lifestyle shoes, or high heels online versus in brick and mortar stores? What are you seeing?
Sorabella: While we don’t have the vantage point to compare against brick and mortar store sales, online customers are really shopping across the categories. We have seen really great consumer interest in casual and comfort, but there is certainly growing interest across the board with athletic, fashion and other categories, too. Similar to the entire footwear industry, online is impacted by seasonality as well – right now, we expect shoppers will be getting tired of digging out of the snow and they will start to plan for warmer weather with sandals, canvas shoes and sneakers. That said, as an online retailer, we don’t need to worry about turning over showrooms and aren’t limited by display space, so since there are feet of snow in many parts of the country, we can still show off winter boots, while brick and mortar shops may have already started to display their spring collections.
FDRA: As you know, FDRA is always focused on innovations helping the industry – hence our major footwear innovation summit on May 7 – What do you see as some innovative technologies that are helping improve conversion rates online?
Sorabella: If you’re not innovating online, you’re really not retaining presence or share in the market. Part of the fabric of being an online retailer is constantly innovating and improving the overall user experience for your shoppers. This means everything from site enhancements to customer service to fulfillment – really, there is opportunity across all aspects of the business. We see a real need to continue to push forward with a more personal and relevant experience to our shoppers; by segmenting our customer profiles for example, we can help land them further down the purchase path and closer to a transaction with products that are a fit for them. This is where ShoeBuy is focusing attention this year – with an intuitive website and improved searchability of our catalog among other things with the aim of delivering a truly customer-centric experience.
FDRA: What’s the biggest false assumption or mistake most retailers make when selling shoes online?
Sorabella: I think that it’s misunderstood just how competitive this space is and how costly it can be to manage all of the components – from marketing an online business to the ever-changing technology and fulfillment costs – you really need to understand the entire chain of events in order to profitably grow your business.
FDRA: Tell us about your recent investment in the Boston Boot Company – Do you see this as a new opportunity to enhance your direct-to-consumer business?
Sorabella: ShoeBuy acquired a minority stake in Boston Boot Company – an up and coming Boston “micro-shoery.” This is an exciting move for ShoeBuy into the footwear business and will enable Boston Boot Company to tap into ShoeBuy’s well-established brand to bring awareness to its product line. With Boston Boot’s expertise in making a high-end, craft boot – using the finest materials to make small batches that set the bar high on quality – and our expertise in all things related to the shoe business other than making shoes – it’s the perfect fit. With this investment, ShoeBuy can be innovative and play in the direct-to-consumer space, expand our business into a different side of the footwear industry and to provide a unique value for our customers.
FDRA: We have also heard you are making some new changes to your online business – what can shoppers expect?
Sorabella: Our focus is entirely on delivering a great customer experience for our customers with every online purchase and interaction with ShoeBuy. We’ve made some changes based on a lot of customer feedback and consumer research and we are unveiling a more intuitive website, a refreshed rewards program and a more engaging shopping experience. We’ve redesigned the site to help every shopper to enjoy browsing and buying shoes online – so that they are confident in their purchase and are excited to get their package from us. And all of this is reinforced with the debut of a new logo, homepage, checkout process and improved functionality throughout the shopping path.
FDRA: We always ask – you would be surprised how many people are interested – what shoes you wear in the office and at home?
Sorabella: For our casual office setting, I often wear Rockport, ECCO and Clarks shoes. For life outside the office, some of my favorites are the Boston Boot Commonwealth style, Converse and Vans, as well as ASICS and New Balance sneakers. I wear my UGG work boots for the snow and these have been getting a lot of wear this year, so I’m really looking forward to getting back into spring styles soon from brands like Sperry and Reef – I hope! These days, my footwear collection exceeds that of my wife’s, which I know frustrates her.