Fashion footwear sales in the US fell 3.5% last year to US$32.3bn – but the future looks promising, according to a new report from market research company NPD Group.

The decline was less than for some other fashion markets, the report says, and fashion footwear sales increased 1.8% in the last quarter of 2009.

“This is the third year in a row that we have seen growth in this market during the last quarter of the year,” said NPD chief industry analyst Marshal Cohen.

“Holiday has proven to be a huge opportunity for footwear and primarily the outdoor boot business. This industry doesn’t typically think of itself as a holiday business, but the holiday results this year have again proven differently.”

As with apparel, the last quarter of 2009 witnessed the return of women purchasers, with women’s fashion footwear sales down only 0.6% in the year as a whole.

Outdoor and all weather boots, as well as casual styles, contributed to growth in the last quarter, NPD said.

Online sales led channel growth with a growth rate of 18.1%, ahead of the sporting goods channel.

“Overall fashion footwear showed growth this past year,” said Cohen, “and I do see some promising signs for the future.”