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Footwear specialists stand out in Drapers' Hit or Miss

Clarks mens spring 19

Dedicated footwear retailers came out on top of Drapers’ Hit or Miss review of Intu Watford’s spring 19 offer, despite some strong product in fashion stores.

Spring has very much sprung in retailers’ windows and product offers, but there’s still a chill in the air as Drapers heads to Watford’s recently extended Intu shopping centre. In the third of Drapers’ seasonal Hit or Miss reviews, the high street’s footwear offer was put under the microscope. 

Stores were tested and ranked on product, presentation, value for money, customer service and the overall shopping experience. Each category was marked out of 5 and added up to give each retailer a total combined score out of 25.

It was the footwear specialists who really shone this season: Clarks and Schuh come out on top, and Office scored highly. The trio combined a varied and dynamic product offer with excellent service, an area it seems that most high street retailers have still not cracked when it comes to footwear. At the bottom of the pack were Primark, Top Shop and Zara, which did well in some areas but fell short in others.

Trainers remain an important part of retailers’ footwear collections, but an array of interesting spring trends means the high street is not as sneaker dominated as it once was. Mules, often in animal print, are in the midst of a major resurgence. Sunny yellow hues – a key colour for spring 19 fashion – have crept into footwear, too. Barely-there sandals and high heels with intricate straps were also popular – an easy way to update outfits with a fashion-forward twist.

Male customers looking for fresh footwear, however, are likely to be left disappointed. All too often, men’s sections felt less dynamic and exciting than their female counterparts, dominated by basic brogues in regulation brown, black or navy. Core product is important, but many retailers are missing an opportunity to delight their male customers with new “must haves”. River Island and Aldo in particular deserve credit for putting some real thought and effort into their men’s offers.

Stores were visited on 22 March.

Scores

Clarks 21/25 

Schuh 20/25

JD Sports 19/25

Kurt Geiger 18/25

Office 18/25

New Look 17/25

River Island 16.5/25

Next 15/25

Aldo 14.5/25

Marks & Spencer 14/25

Primark 14/25

Topshop/Topman 14/25

Zara 14/25

 

 

Clarks 21/25

Good scores for a winning combination of service and style

  • Product: 4
  • Presentation: 4
  • Customer service: 5
  • Value for money: 4
  • Shopping experience: 4

Clarks womens spring 19

Clarks shines as one of the best overall shopping experiences of the day. I am greeted by a smart green store front and a pleasing display of product sitting on whitewashed wooden tables, and am promptly welcomed by a member of staff when I enter the shop.

Service is attentive but unobtrusive. As I browse, staff ask if I need assistance. When I do select a style to try on, I am advised that it comes in both a standard and wide fit. The member of staff serving me is able to see if my size is in stock on an iPad, and brings my selection promptly. She talks about the product knowledgeably, explaining what the retailer’s comfort-focused “Trigenic” fit is and advising me on the correct size. This is an excellent example of engaging customer service.

There is also some strong product on offer here. In women’s, silver metallic trainers with chunky soles (£69) are a take on the “ugly” trainer trend that feel relevant to Clarks’ target customer, and are among the most comfortable styles I try all day. Intricately woven leather sandals (£55) are current without being over the top or intimidatingly trend driven.

Mustard trainers (£79) and rust suede lace-ups (£65) prove that men’s footwear does not have to come exclusively in black, brown or navy. Prices are higher than elsewhere on the high street, but are justified by the quality and comfort of the products.

Plenty of thought has also gone into the overall store design. I am particularly struck by the array of framed portraits of members of the Clarks family hanging over the stairs up to the men’s area. They look modern, but are a way of teaching customers about the brand’s story and history. This gives Clarks a sense of personality that stands out on what can be a faceless high street. 

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Schuh ss19

Schuh

20/25

A fun, varied offer and good service puts Schuh near the top of pack

  • Product: 4
  • Presentation: 4
  • Customer service: 4
  • Value for money: 3
  • Shopping experience: 5

As soon as I walk into this store, I am impressed. It feels fresh, fun and exciting thanks to the sheer variety on offer – it feels like a candy shop for shoe lovers. Eye-catching product in the attractive windows, including tie-dye Vans and sparkly own-brand sliders, help to draw me in to the shop.

Inside, it is a riot of different trends and styles, but does not feel cluttered or overwhelming. The space is divided up into different brands and is therefore easy to shop.

Footwear is a competitive market, particularly when it comes to the dog-eat-dog world of branded trainers, and retailers need exclusive product to help them stand out from the crowd. Schuh, along with competitors Office and JD Sports, shines in this area. My eye is caught by a sugary pastel version of seasonal must-have the Fila Disruptor (£85) and tie-dye Vans (£55) – the ones from the window, plus more shades. Exclusives are complemented by popular styles from the big brands, including women’s chunky Nike Air Force trainers in yellow and bright pink (both £85).

Pricing for the big brands is in line with the rest of the high street – Fila Disruptors are the same price as they are at competitor Office. Branded trainers are more expensive than their high street own-brand counterparts, but customers are paying for big names and stand-out styles. Given the distinctive product, value for money is fair.

As I enter the store, I am greeted by attentive and switched-on staff. No sooner than I have clocked a tissue and discarded packaging on the floor they are cleaned up. Shoes are fetched promptly, and the shop assistant takes my chosen style out of the box, unlaces them for me and waits to find out my opinion. She suggests similar styles and gives fit advice in a friendly, warm manner.

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JD Sports

19/25

Good levels of service and value for money help JD Sports put its best foot forward

  • Product: 3
  • Presentation: 4
  • Customer service: 4
  • Value for money: 4
  • Shopping experience: 4

JD calls itself the “King of Trainers” – no mean feat on today’s sneaker-obsessed high street – and there is an impressive array in the windows of the Watford store. There is plenty of branding for sportswear giant Nike’s Air Max 270 and VaporMax styles – it is eye-catching and should make the sneaker geeks feel well catered for. A rainbow display of women’s trainers from various labels further adds to the engaging store front.

Inside, the store is a good example of an urban, industrial store fit. Loud music, neon signage and relatively dim lighting might not be to all shoppers’ tastes, but is perfectly suited to the JD customer.

All the key sneaker brands are here – Fila, Puma, Nike, Adidas, among others – so shoppers should be able to find something to suit them. The offer here is more sports-focused than at Office and Schuh, and comes in more muted, less fashion-forward colourways. This makes it feel slightly less exciting than the offer at JD’s rivals, but should suit the target customer.

There are also discounted deals to be had here for the savvy shopper. In the Sale, a pair of women’s Puma trainers with neon detailing are reduced from £80 to £50, and men’s Timberlands are down from £90 to £50. The quality of both styles is high, and they are from big-name brands – this is good value for money.

The store is large and, during Drapers’ visit, very busy, so it is good to see an abundance of staff. I am acknowledged as soon as I enter the store and, despite the steady stream of customers, service is effective. Shoppers are not left hanging around for help for long, which is to the team’s credit.

A senior member of staff is talking to the team about how to merchandise a display of trainers, but is alert enough to notice when I pick up a style, and directs someone to help me almost immediately.

A shop assistant brings me my styles promptly and compliments me on my choice, asking how they fit and pointing me in the direction of full-length mirrors, so I can get a proper view. I also see staff directing customers to a digital kiosk where they can order sizes that are not in stock in store.

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Kurt geiger ss19

Kurt geiger ss19

Kurt Geiger

18/25

A premium store fit, and good service are let down by a disappointing men’s offer

  • Product: 3
  • Presentation: 4
  • Customer service: 4
  • Value for money: 3
  • Shopping experience: 4

I am immediately struck by how premium this store front looks. Geometric silver shelving in the windows shows off product effectively and I am impressed by a neon light that discreetly spells out “Sale.” It is an effective way of letting customers know about discounts without plastering the entire windows with large, ugly posters – other retailers should take note.

Inside, the premium feel continues, and the store is clean and tidy.

As I enter, my eye is immediately drawn to a display of blingy trainers – a spin on the maximalist trainer trend that feels relevant to the Kurt Geiger shopper. White sneakers with stud details, gold hardware and leopard print soles (£99) feel impressively detailed and high quality for the price tag, offering good value for money, and the shoes are comparable to branded styles I see elsewhere. Sunshine yellow cage stiletto heels (£69) are more expensive than comparable styles at Zara. They feel high-quality enough to justify the price difference, but for such a trend-driven style that is likely to date quickly, customers might be tempted to purchase the cheaper high street alternative.

It would be nice to see more options for men. There is a very, very small selection of men’s shoes – a few shelves, if that. It feels barely worth having in the store at all, which is a shame. My eye is drawn to a pair of white men’s sneakers with looped laces and distinctive black tongue (£119), which are quirky and stylish, but there is no real reason for male shoppers to visit this store. This pulls down Kurt Geiger’s overall score.

Service is good, and even though I am not greeted as I enter the store, other customers I see during my visit are. There are plenty of staff around. The team member who serves me is friendly and professional, taking styles out of the box for me, telling me she likes my choice and checking the fit. She also offers alternatives when I tell her they are slightly too small.

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Office ss19

Office

18/25

A solid showing from Office, particularly when it comes to presentation and product

  • Product: 4
  • Presentation: 4
  • Customer service: 3
  • Value for money: 3
  • Shopping experience: 4

Pastel stripes decorating the windows of Office are a nice touch for spring and immediately draw my attention. Seasonal trends are also well represented in the windows – animal print, mules and brightly hued trainers are all present and correct. The overall impression is welcoming and inviting.

Presentation is equally impressive inside – this store feels fresh and modern. Cool features, such as geometric block lighting, create a quirky space that should appeal to shoppers. Like Schuh, this store is divided by brand, which makes shopping easy.

Lilac Converse with floral embroidery (£64.99), which are exclusive to Office, catch my eye because of the cheerful colour and delicate detailing. Orange snakeskin mules from Office’s own range (£59) tick off several trends in one and the high quality justifies the price point, offering acceptable value for money. I am impressed by some strappy sandals with toe loops (£49), also from Office’s own brand, which are a detailed take on the barely-there trend. There are also some exciting exclusive styles for men, including mustard yellow Vans with checkerboard soles (£56.99).

In terms of customer service, I am only greeted when I move toward the back of the store, where two members of staff are unloading a delivery. However, I do hear and see other customers being approached as soon as they enter the store.

The member of staff who helps me seems a little bored and disengaged at first but, to his credit, he comes over to check how my chosen style fits and offers alternatives. Service is good, and the basics are all here, but it is not quite as friendly as at Schuh.

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New look ss19 (2)

New Look

17/25

Some nice trend product shines at New Look, but the offer feels repetitive in places

  • Product: 3
  • Presentation: 3
  • Customer service: 3
  • Value for money: 4
  • Shopping experience: 4

The front of this cavernous womenswear branch of New Look feels bright, modern and fresh. Splashes of bright pink and lime green make the windows pop and stand out from surrounding stores. Mannequins in the windows are wearing simple pairs of white sneakers, but there are plenty of more interesting styles on show in the striking visual merchandising behind them, including leopard print heels.

New Look is known for its footwear offer on the high street and the shoe area in this store is huge. It is easily the largest of all the high street retailers I visit, and it is refreshing to see some effort going into footwear outside of the specialists.

The shop’s fittings are simple, but pleasing finishing touches, such as neon signage and glass display tables, help to elevate the space. The store is broadly clean and tidy, although there is one bag of rubbish left out and a couple of pairs of stray shoes dotted around.

Shoppers at New Look are not short of choice and in places, the offer shines. Block heels in sugary lilac (£23.99) tick off two of the season’s key trends – strappy sandals and pastel tones – and feel reassuringly sturdy for the price tag. Mustard snakeskin slingbacks (£25.99) are another fashion-forward product and represent good value of money, given the high quality.

It is also nice to see a diverse offer when it comes to sizing. Lots of styles are flagged with tags that let me know they are available in wider fits and a good range of sizes – usually up to a women’s eight – are available in most styles on the shop floor. However, in places the offer does feel a little repetitive. There are lots of similar basic heels and it would be nice to see more of the trend-driven product to add interest to the overall offer.

Service here is good, although not quite on a par with the footwear specialists. I am greeted by a friendly member of staff, who gives me the same style in a different colour to try my fit when my chosen size is not available and offers to order online for me. She does not, however, ask about fit while I’m trying styles on.

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River island ss19 (1)

River Island

16.5/25

Excellent store design and some eye-catching product, but average service

  • Product: 3.5
  • Presentation: 4
  • Customer service: 3
  • Value for money: 3
  • Shopping experience: 3

Some serious thought has gone into River Island’s footwear area, which stands head and shoulders above the high street competition. Exposed brick walls and glass tables are complemented by an impressive array of vintage-inspired chandeliers. Neat black seating is comfortable. This space has real personality and a premium quality you would expect from a considerably more expensive retailer.

The upstairs menswear section is also nicely done. Here, neon blue signage and quilted leather armchairs provide a modern feel.

Product across both womenswear and menswear is interesting and stands out from what I find elsewhere, which is impressive. Men’s sneakers embroidered with bees (£28) and a monogrammed version with additional crest detailing (£35) – both good value – are heavily inspired by luxury powerhouse Gucci, but I do not see anything similar elsewhere on the high street. A display of men’s loafers have been nicely merchandised with contrasting jewel-toned socks, giving shoppers a fashion-forward way of wearing a classic style.

There is also plenty of glamorous product to appeal to the female River Island shopper. Diamanté block-heel mules (£55) and lime green faux fur sandals (£40) are both a fun take on seasonal trends. Prices are justified given the level of detail on both products. My chosen style also comes in a leopard print shoe box, which is a nice finishing touch.

Service is average. There is someone in the shoe area when I arrive, but I am not greeted. Styles are fetched reasonably promptly, but there is no fit check and limited interaction. It is refreshing to see staff on the shop floor in a high street retailer’s footwear section, but service is still a step behind footwear specialists.

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Next ss19 (2)

Next

15/25

Better service and more exciting product is needed at Next

  • Product: 3
  • Presentation: 3
  • Customer service: 2
  • Value for money: 4
  • Shopping experience: 3

Spring has sprung in the windows of Next, where mint, pink and white visual merchandising evokes the warmer months. However, the overall effect is somewhat let down by blaring red signs advertising the Sale.

Both the women’s and men’s shoe areas are slightly smaller than Next stores visited on previous editions of Drapers’ Hit or Miss, but are still nicely presented.

In the women’s area, styles are laid out on white marble tables surrounded by greenery, which lends an upmarket feel that would not be out of place at a more expensive retailer. Teal walls and plush leather seating, meanwhile, make for a smart men’s section.

However, sloppy attention to detail detracts from the overall shopping experience. I spot some rubbish on the floor. Bright yellow and black hazard tape on the stairs down to men’s also cheapens the store environment.

Quality of the footwear is top notch, providing good value for money, but the offer feels slightly unexciting in both men’s and women’s. There are some stand-out styles, including women’s leather leopard slingbacks (£45) and men’s grey suede desert boots (£48). Given that they are genuine leather and real suede, they feel like good value.

Elsewhere, the offer is acceptable but basic. There are lots of similar black high heels in the women’s section – they are not the most exciting choice. The men’s range, in particular, feels uninspiring – a sea of black, brown and navy.

What really lets this store down is the lack of staff manning both footwear areas. There is no one on hand to ask for help in the women’s area – not even in the nearby fitting rooms. Men’s is equally deserted.

This is somewhat redeemed by the fact that when I do approach someone in the clothing section for help, she is helpful, seems genuinely apologetic my size is not in stock and offers to order it online.

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Aldo

14.5/25

  • Product: 3.5
  • Presentation: 3
  • Customer service: 2
  • Value for money: 3
  • Shopping experience: 3

The windows of Aldo are attractive and appealing – footwear is set against visual merchandising in shades of burnt orange and red. They also include a display of accessories, including sunglasses and bags, giving customers another reason to go in the store.

This store is relatively simple, but is light, bright and easy to shop. A display of brightly coloured high heels (acceptable value for money at £60) arranged next to each other to resemble a rainbow is a nice touch of visual merchandising, but overall, the design and presentation is not as engaging as at stores such as Clarks and River Island. Although the store is a pleasant enough place to be, more personality in design and visual merchandising would help Aldo to shine.

Service is average. I am not approached when I enter the store, and staff stay clustered at the till point. The member of staff who serves me is not very engaging, and seems like he is just going through the motions. Styles are fetched fairly promptly, and he takes them out of the box for me, but he does not ask about the fit or approach me again. Another member of staff nearby is doing a better job with another customer, chatting to her about fit and how to wear her chosen style.

There is a good range of styles here. Aldo’s snake skin mules (£60) are a high quality take on the trend and I am impressed by the level of detail on rainbow strappy sandals with gold bands (£45), both offering good value for money.

It is also nice to see a well-developed men’s offer, particularly when compared with the men’s section at competitor Kurt Geiger, which is very small. My eye is caught by a pair of all-red trainers with gold hardware (£60), which look and feel like a premium product. Bright blue sliders with embroidered butterflies (£30) are another quirky product, and detailed enough to represent good value for money.

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M&s collection sandal £25

Marks & Spencer

14/25

A shabby store lets down some excellent product

  • Product: 3
  • Presentation: 2
  • Customer service: 3
  • Value for money: 4
  • Shopping experience: 2

Walking across the store to footwear, I cannot help but notice how generally unkempt and messy this branch of Marks & Spencer is.

Footwear is in considerably better shape than womenswear, where tops are sliding off hangers and dresses lie abandoned on the floor.

There are some passable touches of visual merchandising, including plants and posters advertising key styles, although wear and tear is starting to show in places. Bland mushroom grey seating is not particularly exciting and could do with being modernised. The men’s section feels dingy and the seating here is even worse. Battered old stools in need of a refresh detract from an attractive display of shoes perched on vintage wooden tables and surrounded by potted plants.

The shabby store environment is all the more frustrating because there are flashes of great product that represent excellent value for money. Pointed kitten heels in an on-trend colour combination of red and pink (£19.50) are chic and the price point is more than fair for the corresponding quality. Lime green strappy mules (also £19.50) are an affordable way to buy into the trend. They also come in silver, black and coral for a more classic spin.

There is less eye-catching product on offer for men, but I do like a pair of good-quality desert boots (£49.50). The contrasting green lining lends a premium finish. However, this less interesting men’s section brings down M&S’s overall product score.

Service is so-so. I am not initially approached or greeted, but when I go up to a member of staff, she is friendly and helpful. She seems genuinely apologetic that my size is not in stock and warns me they are also sold out online, saving me the frustration of finding that out when I get home.

M&S could learn from footwear specialists when it comes to store design and service to truly shine on the high street.

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Primark ss19

Primark

14/25

A messy men’s section lets down an impressive, affordable offer

  • Product: 3
  • Presentation: 2
  • Customer service: 3
  • Value for money: 4
  • Shopping experience: 2

This is another store where it is impossible not to notice the general mess as I make my way to the footwear area. There are labels and clothing tags on the floor, and piles of clothes lie crumpled and unfolded.

Women’s footwear is better presented, and it is clear Primark has put some thought into its shoe offer. Visual merchandising helps to elevate the area. There is lots of product on the shelves, but they remain tidy and easy to browse. There are plenty of mirrors and seating, although a few hangers have been left abandoned on the chairs.

Men’s footwear fares less well, and the area is very unkempt. Shoes, socks, hangers and old packaging lie in a messy jumble on the floor. I almost trip over one pair of trainers that have slipped from their hangers on to the floor. The amount of mess makes it an unpleasant place to shop.

In terms of product, Primark ticks the boxes when it comes to both on-trend products and low prices. The women’s footwear area in particular is spacious, and there are lots of different styles on offer. Shoppers here can find everything from boots to summer sandals. Key trends are represented and, as ever, Primark cannot be beaten on price.

Pointed slingbacks and flats with neon straps (both £6) are fun summer styles and feel sturdy enough for shoes you can buy and still have change from a £10 note. Neither will last season after season, but that’s not what the Primark customer is looking for. Red mules (£10) are another affordable spring trend. All these styles offer excellent value for money.

In the men’s area, I notice a pair of navy boat shoes with memory foam soles for £14. The inclusion of memory foam, which makes the soles feel soft and comfortable, is an impressive touch in such a low cost product, offering great value.

Service is acceptable. There are staff around to approach on the shop floor, who are happy to help. But as at Zara, interaction with customers does not go much further than checking which styles are in stock.

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Topshop/Topman

14/25

A limited footwear offer stops Topshop from scoring more highly

  • Product: 3
  • Presentation: 3
  • Customer service: 3
  • Value for money: 3
  • Shopping experience: 2

There’s a very limited footwear offer in this branch of Topshop, although it is not a particularly small store. The cramped space makes it hard to browse easily, but what is here is well executed and relevant to the retailer’s target customer. Ultra-chunky tan trainers (£39) are a relatively affordable take on the trend for a price sensitive shopper who does not want to pay for a branded alternative. Tortoiseshell strappy mules (£29) are a nice example of the trend and feel good quality for the price point, which is more than fair and offers value for money.

However, it would have been nice to give customers more choice to allow them to build an entire outfit from Topshop’s offer. There is nowhere to sit down to try on shoes and a small amount of mirrors – there is an overall impression that footwear is a bit of an afterthought in this store.

Topman fares slightly better. The footwear area is significantly larger, complete with white seating and gunmetal grey marbled shelving, which shows off the product nicely. Woven loafers with tassel detailing (good value at £49) are a nice transitional product as winter moves to spring, but more choice and colour would have been welcome. The menswear product offer in this store does not feel particularly new or fresh either. On the Topman website, there are plenty of more exciting styles, such as leopard print monk-strap shoes (£39), that have not made it in to the shop.

Service varies between the men’s and women’s areas. I am greeted and asked if I need help by a friendly shop assistant when I walk into the Topman footwear area. In Topshop, I have to ask for help at a nearby till, where I am served quickly and efficiently.

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Zara ss19 (3)

Zara

14/25

Leads the way when it comes to trends, but falters on service and presentation

  • Product: 4
  • Presentation: 2
  • Customer service: 2
  • Value for money: 4
  • Shopping experience: 2

Spanish giant Zara is known for the speed at which it can get trend-led product into store. This extends to its footwear offer, which is among the most fashion-forward I see at Watford.

Strappy black heels (£29.99) I spot in the windows are an excellent example of the barely-there shoe trend: the combination of style and low price point offers good value. Mules embroidered with shells (£69.99) and sunshine yellow cage-detail slingbacks (£49.99) both feel good quality and are detailed enough to justify the price tag, which is higher than other high street competitors such as New Look.

The men’s offer is considerably less exciting. Balenciaga-esque sock-style trainers (£59.99) are a relatively affordable way for customers to buy into the trend and patent black plimsolls (£39.99) are quirky, but there is not much else that captures my attention. As with Topman, there are more interesting styles to be found online. Retailers seem wary of giving male footwear shoppers interesting product in store.

Zara chooses to display its shoes under its clothing rails, instead of in a dedicated footwear area. This make it easy for customers to put together outfits if they are looking for shoes, but continually crouching down to look at the product does not make for the most comfortable shopping experience.

There is also no seating to try on shoes, and I have to walk across the store to find a mirror. This combination does not make trying on shoes particularly appealing – shoppers would be better off browsing Zara’s footwear offer online and trying on in the comfort of their own homes.

Staff are helpful when approached, but they are difficult to find on the shop floor and service does not go much further than simply checking whether sizes are in stock.

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