Why DSW Is Back On TV

People can buy shoes almost anywhere -- department stores, mass merchants, or directly from the brands themselves. Because of that fragmentation, DSW’s new fall campaign uses a different approach, with ads from Translation that trace the spiraling thoughts of enthusiastic shoe shoppers. Julie Roy, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, tells Retail Insider what she hopes the new work will accomplish.

Retail Insider: This is the first time DSW has been on TV in a few years. Why now?

Roy: It’s about opportunity, awareness and consideration. Footwear is a highly fragmented market. Once our customers know us, they love us. In the fall, one of our peak periods, we saw the immediate opportunity to be out there across all touchpoints. This is a comprehensive media plan. And we haven’t been on TV in a big way since we were first coming out of COVID, and those spots were about letting people know our doors were open and about safety precautions.

Retail Insider: Last month, Designer Brands announced that sales are down about 8% for the quarter and are expected to fall in the mid-to-high single digits for the full year. And that’s true for many apparel brands, as consumers cut back on discretionary spending. How does that change your approach? Is it a changing audience, as more people focus on better value?

Roy: There’s no doubt this is a challenging macroeconomic environment. So this is a chance to remind customers that DSW is here and that we can meet all of their footwear needs. We have a very wide consumer base. That’s one of the benefits of our broad assortment. But for this campaign, we focus on the female consumer aged 25 to 54, which is our sweet spot.

Retail Insider: Who do you consider your main competitors?

Roy: I think of them in groups, the first being department stores and mass merchandisers. I include Amazon in that batch. On the other side, there are shoe stores that are more niche, like Famous or Shoe Carnival, which tend to be more athletic-focused. What makes us a trusted shoe authority is that we sell all the shoes.

Retail Insider: As you say, the customer can buy shoes in many places. What kind of brand personality are you trying to create?

Roy: Shoes are exciting. They are an emotional product. They are also about confidence -- the right shoes make you feel like you can put your best foot forward. It also fosters that sense of trust and belonging. We want to be inclusive, authentic, and aspirational, yet attainable. That's what we try to convey in all that we do.

Retail Insider: Much has been written lately about aspiration, what’s affordable, and “little treat” splurges. Are your customers treating shoes like splurges? How many buy more than one pair at once?

Roy: The majority. Our mantra is, "We have what you need, but we also have what you didn't know you needed." That’s the beauty of our broad assortment and easy, self-service customer experience. And they’re shopping not just for themselves, but for their families.

Retail Insider: Besides sales, what other metrics matter most?

Roy: Sales are always the end goal. We are also tracking all the traditional advertising metrics: ad recall, brand awareness and brand perception. The big question is whether the ads are delivering on DSW’s value proposition.

Retail Insider:
What’s your take on the brick-and-mortar retail business right now?

Roy: I don't think it will ever be displaced, especially in shoes. People want to touch them and feel them. And yes, the convenience of digital sales has tipped some shoppers, but most still want to try on their shoes before purchasing. That’s not going to change, so that sense of community and connection is essential. We’ll continue to focus on how our physical and digital experiences coexist to build brand loyalty.

Retail Insider: I can’t let you go without asking about Birkenstock. The recent initial public offering is considered something of a bust. But the reason that company got big enough to even attempt an IPO is that the pandemic made the world fall in love with comfortable shoes. How has this love of comfort changed your business?

Roy: Comfort has taken on a new meaning. Five years ago, we thought of comfort as a brand, like Skechers or Clarks. These were shoes with key comfort features. The world is evolving, and people want comfortable shoes, which means all shoes. That's why you've seen block heels versus stilettos. True comfort can manifest in so many different silhouettes, which is great. And that's not going anywhere anytime soon. It is a massive focus for us.

Retail Insider: Will stilettos ever come back in the same way?

Roy: You never know. There’s always a time and place. Look at how popular retro joggers are right now.

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