Fashion chains show shoe shops a clean pair of heels

Footwear sales in the UK are gathering pace, but specialist shoe shops are losing out on the benefits.

Footwear sales in the UK are gathering pace, but specialist shoe shops are losing out on the benefits, while high street fashion retailers are cashing in, according to research published last week by Mintel.

The report shows that spending on footwear in the UK has risen by 38 per cent since 2001, to reach just over £6.5bn; the market is expected to see continued growth, with anticipated sales increasing by 17 per cent between 2006 and 2010, to reach £7.6bn. However, while Britons are spending more on footwear, the percentage of the market held by specialists has fallen from almost 70 per cent in 2001 to 54 per cent this year.

Market growth has mainly come from non-specialist stores, such as New Look, Primark and Next, which are offering shoes as part of a complete outfit.

From a design perspective, this could spell a big business opportunity. In order to claw back their market share, specialist shoe shops will have to examine their retail environments, while keeping pace with current trends, says Doug James, managing director at Honey Creative.

James was previously involved with the retail design of shoe store chains Barratts and Shellys at former consultancies 20/20 and Love Branding respectively. He says that a polarisation within the industry means that the mid-market will suffer, unless the key brands in this segment make an effort to update their collections.

‘Specialist shoe shops will have to work harder to become the essential wardrobe partner and harness the editorial style and power of the fashion press to communicate who should wear that “must-have” shoe and how it should be worn,’ says James.

New Look, Topshop and Next are highlighted as brands that have already started to take on specialist mid-market shoe retailers, offering separate shoe sections in their stores. To respond, specialist retailers need to make sure their internal designs are ready to move with the times, according to James.

‘For the design industry, this means great work [opportunities]. However, the work will need to be creative, intelligent and continually informed by customer insights. Interiors need to be more flexible to respond faster to changing directions, and the graphic language will need to reflect the expert, editorial style of fashion magazines to communicate who is wearing that “must-have” shoe and [reinforce the fact] that the customer must buy from [that store],’ he says.

Richard Perks, director of retail research at Mintel, agrees that shoe shops need to do some radical rethinking to pull back their slice of the market. ‘A brand like Dolcis needs to get a much clearer focus and take a leaf out of the non-specialist stores. There are a few new, exciting retailers – and a number at the younger, very fashionable end of the range – but they don’t seem to be doing enough to capitalise. It is down to the specialists to try to claw back their position. The design industry should see a rise in interest and it could make a difference,’ he says.

One step ahead

• One in ten British women own more than 30 pairs of shoes, one for each day of the month

• Fashion retailers have taken on board the need for fast fashion in footwear, as in clothing

• Specialist shoe retailers should emphasise their authority on shoes and high levels of service through advice and fitting

• Growth in shoe sales in France and Italy has faltered, although the countries are synonymous with fashion and style

• Italy, Germany, Sweden, the UK and France make up the largest five footwear markets in Europe

Source/ Britain Falls Head Over Heels in Love With Shoes, published by Mintel, November 2006

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