Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sneakers cheap chic

Is it necessary to spend $100-$150 for sneakrs? A great many parents (including this one) have tried hard to convince their teenagers that "expensive = cool" is not a wise attitude. Now it appears we might be getting some help from a few retailers, according to the Wall Street Journal:

Sneaker shoppers accustomed to ever-escalating prices may be facing another kind of sticker shock this fall, with the launch of some inexpensive sneakers that make controversial claims to rival expensive shoes in quality.

Payless ShoeSource Inc. last month unveiled a running shoe called "The Amp" that sells for about $35. Payless says that the shoe performs like running shoes that cost nearly three times as much, and that it can even be used to run a marathon -- a rare claim for an under-$40 shoe.

Another company trying to challenge the dominance of $100-plus sneakers is Steve & Barry's University Sportswear, a retailer of low-price shoes and apparel that recently released a shoe under the name of NBA star Stephon Marbury that it says integrates "the same performance attributes found in sneakers sold for $100 or more." The price: $14.98, a fraction of the $125 Nike Zoom LeBron III.

As the quote implies, these shoes are being marketed as being not only stylish, but equal in performance quality to the high-priced brands. Nike seems to be trying to match the upstarts, using its Starter brand:
Nike itself has a foot in the low-price game: Two years ago, it created a unit devoted to selling low-price footwear and apparel under the Starter brand it had acquired. The first line of sneakers, endorsed by Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, started selling in 400 Wal-Mart stores last year for under $40, though they aren't pitched as rivals to its higher-price lines.
On a trip to Wal-Mart today, I checked their shoe section, having just read this article, and saw that they have several Starter SKUs in the $18-$25 price point.

Athletes, however, don't seem to be buying into the low-price gambit:
Competitive runners, in particular, are finicky about their shoes and often swear by the fit, cushioning and special features of more-expensive brands. Chris Demetra, a 26-year-old Nashville, Tenn.-based financial analyst who runs about 70 miles a week, says that while he might consider a $35 shoe, he would be concerned about injuring himself. Runners, he says, are "always looking for the perfect running shoe. Once they have a shoe they're comfortable with, they're not that concerned with price."
Those of us who run significantly less than 70 miles a week might look at things differently, however.

The under-$50 category makes up over half the sneaker market, while over-$90 is only 8%, according to NPD. What NPD doesn't tell us is how much of the shoe companies' margins are delivered by the high-priced shoes.

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