Magazine article Marketing

Specialists Lose Their Footing

Magazine article Marketing

Specialists Lose Their Footing

Article excerpt

Sales among specialist footwear retailers are increasing, but general clothing stores are gaining share in a highly complex market, writes Jane Bainbridge.

From Louboutins to Red or Dead and Hush Puppies to Havaianas, the shoes you wear are as much a fashion statement as any other item of apparel So it is not surprising that, like the rest of the fashion world, shoe brands are keen to have their wares photographed being worn by a celebrity, as this tends to have an immediate impact on sales.

Designer shoe retailer Kurt Geiger recently attributed a 17% increase in sales, in part, to the public's obsession with celebrities. As a result, the company plans to open another 40 UK stores, and further overseas expansion is in the pipeline.

According to Mintel, footwear specialists sold an estimated pounds 3.6bn-worth of shoes last year, representing more than half of the total consumer spend on footwear (pounds 6.8bn). Between 2005 and 2009, spending on footwear increased by 3.2%. That said, the increase in all footwear sales between 2008 and 2009 was much smaller than that of previous periods, suggesting that the recession has had an effect.

Consumers, meanwhile, are changing the way they buy footwear. Clarks, traditionally seen as the safe option for older shoppers and children, and Marks & Spencer, the default choice of Middle England, have suffered a decline in shoe sales, according to research from BMRB. The retailers gaining share in the shoe market are the budget fashion chains, such as Primark and New Look.

What's more, specialist footwear retailers are losing out to the general clothes retailers, which have recognised the value of adding shoe lines to their fashion ranges.

There is an argument that specialist footwear retailers have failed to dominate the market in the way that they should. Specialists account for about 57% of the footwear market, which pales in comparison with the clothing market, where specialist retailers account for 70% of sales.

While bunion-inducing high heels are lauded as 'must-buys' in the style magazines and are seemingly the favoured option of red-carpet-trotting women, fashion tends to lose out to comfort among the general consumer. Almost two-thirds of consumers rate comfort as the most important factor in their choice of footwear, with older people being the most likely to seek out sensible shoes, according to Mintel.

Perhaps that is why Clarks continues to dominate the market - its share is bigger than that of its three biggest rivals, Shoe Zone, Dune and Schuh, combined. Favoured by parents for its foot-measuring service, Clarks appeals to older shoppers, too, for its focus on comfort. As a consequence, however, and despite attempts at more fashionable designs, Clarks is not generally the first choice for younger shoppers.

The recession, meanwhile, has taken its toll on some shoe sellers. Barratts has emerged as a streamlined business after entering administration in 2009, and in April this year Faith Shoes also called in the administrators.

Elsewhere, vendors have joined forces in an attempt to gain a stronger positioning. In 2008, Shoe Zone snapped up the struggling Stead & Simpson chain, and last year, Dune - which also owns footwear brands Pied a Terre, Bertie and Chelsea Cobbler - bought Shoe Studio Group following the decline of its major investor, Baugur.

Meanwhile, sports-goods retailers such as JD Sports and Sports Direct have made gains in the footwear market as trainers become a 'must-have' item for many, be they as a fashion statement or part of a sports kit. …

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