(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the shoe retailing sector
The shoe retailing sector is dominated by large multiple chain stores. Over the past few years growing numbers of non-specialised retailers, including clothing retailers and the major supermarkets, have also started to sell shoes. Together with out of town superstores, mail order firms and internet retailers, these represent increasing competition for the independent shoe shop, whose numbers have fallen. The economic downturn during the late 2000s and early 2010s made matters worse as shoppers cut back on their spending. Cool, wet summers during the early 2010s didn't help matters either, as consumers decided against buying light footwear and sandals.
Although the economy started to recover in 2013, difficult trading conditions continued for the footwear sector throughout the year. The continuing improvement in the economy during 2014 and 2015 resulted in a more positive outlook for footwear retailers, but pressure on prices carried on. Discounting became widespread at the end of 2015 because of mild autumn and winter weather which put customers off buying winter shoes and boots.
In 2016 annual retail volume growth of footwear was at its lowest rate of growth for several years. 2017 was another tough year for UK retail, and for shoe shops in particular as they declined at a rate second only to that of fashion retailers. The tough trading conditions continued into 2018 and are expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Although the market is forecast to grow by 13.7% from 2017 to 2022, volume sales are predicted to remain subdued with growth dependent on increased prices. Growth in volume sales is not expected to exceed 2% up to 2022. It is likely that difficult times lie ahead for shoe shops due to:
- unpredictable weather - warm winter weather means that sales of boots and other winter shoes decline
- intense price competition, with customers being reluctant to pay the full price
- the growing level of online sales, particularly among young shoppers who like the fresh fashions, quick delivery and cheap prices
- increasing inflation, lack of growth in wages and falling consumer confidence
- a switch in consumer spending from buying footwear to eating out and travel
Costs increased in 2017 after the Brexit vote led to a fall in the value of the pound, increasing the cost of imported goods. The continuing uncertainty caused by the Brexit negotiations has meant that the value of the pound has remained low and is expected to remain low for some time.
There has been a fall in demand for formal work shoes while the popularity of sports footwear has grown. Although initially linked to the growth of athleisure wear, it is likely that the popularity of sports shoes will continue even when the athleisure wear trend comes to an end due to their acceptability in work and social situations. Trainers are particularly popular due to their comfort and their sales are also boosted by the trend towards health and fitness, with consumers buying them for running, walking, cycling and sport in general.
With such a competitive market, you need to find a way to distinguish your shop from its rivals, for example by selling exclusive Italian shoes and boots not available in the High Street chains.
It was thought that a preference for trying before buying would mean that shoe shops were largely protected from the growth in online sales. However, although customers still generally prefer to try on shoes before they buy them, online sales of footwear have become much more popular and the growth in sales made online is predicted to continue. If you plan to specialise in a certain type of footwear you will be able to reach a much wider market if you sell them online. Although demand for cheaper ranges fell during the recent economic downturn, online sales of expensive, designer brands seem to have remained strong. Bear in mind, though, that the cost of returns is high, with nearly a quarter of shoes sold online being returned.
Keeping up to date with the shoe retailing sector
Footwear fashions can change very quickly and it's important to keep up with trends and developments. Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry.
The Independent Footwear Retailers Association (IFRA) represents the interest of shoe retailers in the UK. Contact the IFRA at PO Box 123, Banbury, Oxfordshire OX15 6WB.
The British Footwear Association (BFA) represents the footwear industry as a whole in the UK. You can contact the association at 3 Burystead Place, Wellingborough, Northants NN8 1AH. The Association's website is a good source of information about the footwear industry.
Subscribing to a trade journal is another good way of staying up to date with developments. Footwear Today is supported by the BFA and the IFRA - you can view the latest digital edition on their website. Drapers Weekly is a trade journal for the whole of the fashion industry, including shoe shops.
You can read about worldwide developments in the footwear industry on the World Footwear website.
You will be able to obtain a lot of useful information if you go to a trade fair. You will be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers and plan your future stock buying. The Exhibitions UK website has information on forthcoming events in a wide range of trade sectors.