Macy's has opened the biggest shoe section in the world. Like other New York department stores, Macy's sees shoes as the hook for women shoppers.
Macy's has opened the biggest shoe section in the world. Like other New York department stores, Macy's sees shoes as the hook for women shoppers. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: Retail sales numbers came out this morning. Maybe I should preface that with 'the all important' retail sales numbers. Because you know how economists feel about consumers and what we mean to the American economy, right? We're everything.

Anyway, retail was up eight-tenths percent last month. A better bump than anybody had been guessing. And the stores behind those sales are counting on us. In the extreme.

Macy's, for one. Its flagship store in New York City is promising more than a quarter million pairs of shoes on offer. We sent Marketplace's Mark Garrison shopping to find out why shoes are worth such a retail fuss.

Mark Garrison: To get to the glittering new shoe showcase, you have to plow through a construction zone. Macy's is in the middle of a large scale renovation. Up the escalator, the drilling fades and you’re in a shoe kingdom, the centerpiece of the redesign. It’s filled with dozens of brands and throngs of shoppers, mostly women, though a few men linger, fiddling with their smartphones on benches.

Canadian visitor Julia Dobbie is hunting for boots and is finding a lot more than she does in Toronto.

Julia Dobbie: It’s beautiful! There’s just so many shoes. It’s so much better than anything we have.

She scopes out shoes first in most department stores. But even if she didnt, the shoe section is placed where she and other shoppers can't possibly miss it. Macy’s is just the latest big department store to radically revamp its shoe section. Barneys New York hands over a full floor to footwear.

Harvard Business School professor Nancy Koehn says shoes are increasingly getting top billing. Consumers feel justified spending big money on them, even in a tough economy.

Nancy Koehn: Shoes last. You need them. You can say I’m gonna wear them many times a week.

And happy high heel buyers are likely to strut through the rest of the store to buy more. Consultant Mary Lou Quinlan specializes in marketing to women.

Mary Lou Quinlan: These retailers know that a woman who walks into their shoe department is going to pick up a pair of heels or sandals and the first thing they think of is, I think I better get a new something, a new bag, a new dress.

And even if all those feet marching through don’t wind up in new shoes, Macy’s still could make money when the foot traffic flows through the rest of the store.

In New York, I'm Mark Garrison for Marketplace.

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Follow Mark Garrison at @GarrisonMark