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High street hit or miss: footwear autumn 16

Dune autumn 16

Which footwear retailers delighted, and which disappointed, when Drapers went mystery shopping at Meadowhall in Sheffield?

For the third and final instalment of Drapers’ Hit or Miss secret shopper reviews, the team browsed the footwear stores of Sheffield’s Meadowhall.

At the minute, the women’s suede boot prevails as the key trend. From Primark to Clarks, the sensible shoe makes an appearance, in varying colours and price points, at almost every store on the map. Trainers take centre court on the men’s shelves, followed by the classic brogue.

In-store, some footwear specialists, including Size? and Footasylum, are showing a response to a competitive footwear market by upping their offer on clothing. Social media hashtags, displays encouraging ordering online, and iPads are a few of the more modern multichannel touches in this centre, which is currently under refurbishment.

Visited on 10-11 October, the stores reviewed are split into footwear specialists and clothing multiples. Scores are based on an assessment of the offer, quality and value, as well as the overall in-store experience and customer service.

 

 

Store rankings

Footwear specialists

Size? 9/10

Dune 7/10

Schuh 7/10

Clarks 6/10

Kurt Geiger 6/10

Office 6/10

Aldo 5/10

Footasylum 3/10

 

Clothing multiples

LK Bennett 8/10

Next 8/10

New Look 7/10

Topshop/Topman 7/10

Dorothy Perkins 6/10

Marks & Spencer 6/10

Burton 5/10

H&M 5/10

River Island 5/10

Primark 4/10

Zara 4/10

 

Size? 

A great in-store experience and neat interior are a welcome change

Score: 9/10

Pros

The presence of two racks of Sale trainers at the entrance of Size? makes it clear that while this store sells clothing, footwear is the focus. The bright, neatly organised, subway-tiled shoe space is separated from the clothing by open shelving that contains the season’s new trainers. Stacked clear plexiglass boxes leading into the space showcase new styles to come with the release date clearly marked. Size? offers men’s trainers in a good selection of brands including Converse (Chuck Taylors, £60, similarly priced to other stores), Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and Reebok as well as Timberland boots (£170, good value for the hefty waterproof boot) and a smaller selection of women’s trainers. The sales assistants are helpful and look for my size online when it is not in stock.

Cons

A good mix of R&B music was playing when I walked in, but stopped after a few minutes and wasn’t turned back on, which left the store feeling a bit empty.

 

Dune autumn 16

Dune autumn 16

Dune

An interesting front display and a wide range draws customers into the small store

Score: 7/10

Pros

 Dune is instantly set apart from the rest of Meadowhall’s footwear retailers because of its lack of front shop windows. The fully open access into the small but bright store is inviting. A small display shows off women’s loafers (£75) and suede boots (£90), both well made and on trend, while panelled screens on left and right sides of the front walls show a video of Dune photoshoots.

“Click, collect, online, mobile” signage is strategically placed on the store’s side shelving to make the customer aware of the various ways they can complete their purchase.

Overall, the store has a big selection of styles, some of which are available in wide fit, which

is good to see. As pop music plays at a good volume, sales assistants are chatting among themselves, but are attentive when I show interest in a soft leather knee-high black boot (£145).

Cons

The ceilings are low and some shelves are crammed with lots of shoes, which makes the store feel smaller than it is. Dune does not offer half sizes, and the selection of men’s footwear is much smaller than the women’s range.

 

 

Schuh

Schuh

Schuh

The amount of options available is fantastic, but slightly overwhelming

Score: 7/10

Pros

Schuh campaign films show on monitors in the windows – they are eye-catching, and two men stand watching them while the women they are with go in. The store is buzzing with customers and the reggae music that is playing adds to the vibrant atmosphere.

Signage is clear, declaring that during October there is 15% off everything for students, advertising a 365-day return policy, and promoting the “We fit kids’ shoes” initiative.

The selection is very wide: women’s brands range from Uggs to Lacoste and Dr Martens to Blowfish, while the men’s offer includes Ted Baker, Base London and Peter Werth. Attractive Missguided pumps are affordable at £20.

I don’t buy them, but ask for a men’s size 13 Converse and the shop assistant immediately checks on an in-store iPad – they are available in store and online with free delivery.

 

Cons

The store smells of rubber and the amount of shoes everywhere is overwhelming. The staff are friendly, but I do have to approach them first to get assistance.

 

Clarks

An airy interior and attentive staff are offset by outdated styles and high prices

Score 6/10

Pros

As well as offering free in-store wifi, Clarks also promotes its childrens’ shoe fitting appointments, which can be booked online. The large double windows showcase the children’s offer, along with the autumn 16 collections for men and women, which are surprisingly trendier than I remember Clarks being. Inside, the large space is split evenly between men’s and women’s lines, and there is a slightly smaller children’s offering in the back of the store. Rustic chandeliers and wooden benches and tables keep the vibe low key. At £90, chunky heeled suede boots – a popular style this season – are more expensive than they look and feel but the fit, available in half sizes, is very good. Sturdy, felt-lined, Gore-tex lace-up snow boots are more appropriately priced at £100. Behind the till, leather care products are on offer, which is a good partner for the season’s suede. 

 

Cons

Prices are higher than for similar shoes in other stores. The selection is not quite right, either: women’s brogues are on trend, but round-toe court shoes look outdated. The men’s Victoria & Albert Museum collaboration line is very good quality, but the shoes are nestled into the shelves and poorly signposted. There are a lot of sales assistants on the floor at a quiet time on a Monday morning, and they seem to have nothing to do

 

Kurt geiger autumn 16

Kurt geiger autumn 16

Kurt Geiger

Colourful pumps and soft leather boots are standouts, served by friendly staff

Score: 6/10

Pros

The front of the store’s display of backlit tall shelves of square boxes and shoes is different from the usual window displays and therefore effective in giving customers a first look at the store’s offer. Kurt Geiger’s trendy and fun Miss KG and sophisticated Carvela lines shine in this store, and are sensibly and clearly laid out – Miss KG on one side and Carvela on the other.

Colourful Miss KG pumps are good value at £45 to £75, while Carvela boots in many heights and styles are sturdy. There is also a good selection of hats and bags. Men’s sneakers (£99) and brogues (£89) are good quality and well priced. The shop assistants are friendly and ask if I need help.

 

Cons

Unfortunately, the music within the store is overpowered by the music in the main mall, which makes it hard to concentrate. While the men’s shoes are good quality, the offer is so small that it seems almost unnecessary – it should be expanded.

 

Office

Office

Office

Lots of trendy options and helpful sale assistants bring in the customers, which leaves no room to try things on

Score: 6/10 

Pros

The front of the store is striking and draws customers in. Shoes are on floor-to-ceiling shelves in the windows and you can hardly see inside the store, but one customer comments on a pair of rose gold strappy sandals and walks in. It is a popular colour here, as many customers are huddled around the eveningwear/Christmas party shoe display. There is a huge range of own-brand boots on display, priced from £65 to £85, alongside a branded offer that includes Dr Martens, Uggs, Timberland and Hunter. While women’s shoes dominate, the men’s offer of brogues and boots is solid. Women’s trainers include a flashy Converse x Office exclusive. Staff are eager to help with sizes and to point out additional styles of interest.

 

Cons

The entrance is a draw, but its tall packed shelving is nonetheless rather ugly. There are no prices on some shoes. While enthusiastic, a sales assistant’s advice to me to get a better- fitting boot around my calf is to try a smaller size. It is hard to find a seat to try things on, because the store is so tightly packed with both shoes and people.

 

Aldo

Aldo

Aldo

On trend and affordable, but there is nothing special about this store

Score: 5/10

 

Pros

Women’s styles at Aldo remain on trend and, although they are not the cheapest you will find, they are affordable and good value.

Soft leather stack-heel tall boots are £100, and ankle boots range from £49 for brown Chelsea boots (on Sale from £70) to £110 for a skinny high-heeled suede version. The men’s section of the store is a similar size to the women’s, and offers a wide range of loafers from £75 and brogues from £80.

The music, although a little on the loud side, helps to bring a bit of liveliness to the store. A “50% off” sign in the window draws customers into the otherwise unprepossessing store.

Cons

The usual Aldo white walls coupled with dim greyish lighting lends a sterile atmosphere to the store. There are sales assistants straightening shoes on shelving and at the till, but no one approaches me while I browse. The selection of shoes for both men and women are trendy, but nothing too exciting jumps out.

Despite the big signs, there are not actually very many items available at 50% off.

 

Footasylum

Dark, loud, and unkempt, with a selection that is large but found elsewhere in Meadowhall

Score: 3/10

Pros

Sales are well pointed out at Footasylum and are likely to draw customers in. The main display on the front windows is a “Students get 10% off during October” sign, adjacent to a rack of “while stock lasts” trainers. There is an attempt to contribute to social media with a #showusyoursneaks hashtag lined up next to three male mannequins in streetwear. The range is large and prices are fair. For example, men’s Converse at £59.99 are priced similarly to other stores, and the brand is also available in women’s, junior, infant, and nursery styles and sizes.

Cons

There is a family with a pram waiting to get into Footasylum, but they decide against it when they realise the racks are too close together and the store is hard to navigate. Clothing hung high up on the walls makes the space feel suffocating, and the clothing and hat racks are out of place within the shoe section. The store is messy – there was an empty Coke can sticking out of a trainer – the rap music is loud and the lighting is too dim.

Sales assistants make no attempt to ask customers if they need help. When I ask for Vans in a size 4.5, the sales assistant says only whole sizes are available as he walks away. He brings back a five, which is too big, but has not returned to find that out by the time I leave.

Clothing multiples

 

LK Bennett

Pretty and sleek, the store echoes the same upscale nature of the product

Score: 8/10

Pros

In the newly refurbished end of Meadowhall, LK Bennett instantly feels upscale – its bright windows looking into its creamy-coloured interior give a sense of class. The shoe section is a short, direct walk to the back of the store. The selection is full of what the retailer is known for: sleek pumps for the office or for special occasions, flats and boots. Pretty high heels with dotted edging (£225) catch my eye, as do shiny patent leather loafers (£195). New-in over-the-knee dark grey suede boots (£495) are the best yet, in terms of quality and fit. The helpful sales assistant walks me through how to care for suede in the winter while I look at other pairs. The music playing was a little new age, but calming.

 

Cons

A small, packed couple of shelves of Sale shoes are tucked into a corner of the store, in between racks of clothes. When I ask for a pair of shoes I would like to try on, my size is not available and I am told to visit another branch, without any offer to check availability with other stores or indication of where they even are.

 

 

 

Next

Neat space, helpful staff and a good selection of high-quality footwear

Score: 8/10

 

Pros

The Shoeroom, Next’s women’s footwear space, is separated from the rest of the store with a wall of hanging flats (fun black sparkly ones are good value at £32). The Signature collection of well-made brogues (£45) hangs close by, and they feel comfortable when I slip them on. There are ample spaces to sit and, although the store is busy, the sales assistant is doing well juggling multiple customers. Wide fits are available and additional sizes can be ordered online within the store

The men’s section is neatly organised in a glass-encased space, while a display outside showcases the handsome, quality Italia brogue collection, which is nicely priced at £68-£78.

A wall of new arrivals inside is clearly marked, and sneakers are fairly priced at £28.

 

Cons

Fake succulents, used as decoration on the shelves, are tacky. Staff have attempted to hide blue plastic boxes full of shoe hangers and clips under shelving, but they look messy. Not all sales assistants are helpful – I go unacknowledged in the men’s section.

 

New Look

New Look

New Look

A nice airy space for women’s footwear, Shoe Heaven offers every type of shoe you never knew you needed

Score: 7/10

Pros

The “shoes” sign is big and clear upon entering New Look and there is a selection of shoes on all the mannequins in the windows. On the clothing floor, scattered among the clothing are patent leather brogues (£24.99) and the ubiquitous suede leopard boots – these, at £29.99, are fake, but wearable for the season. Up the escalator, a bright “Shoe Heaven” space houses only women’s shoes, and is equal in size to the whole menswear section. It hosts a huge selection of shoes on racks, tables, and shelves: trainers, brogues, tall and short boots, ballet flats, and party shoes. There are a good amount of tall mirrors to see what you’re trying on. Bags and jewellery are also mixed into the shoe selection and I see customers thumbing through them. Outside of Shoe Heaven is a relatively small three racks of unremarkable but inexpensive men’s boat shoes (£19.99), smart shoes (£19.99), and sneakers (£7.99).

Cons

Some of the shoes in Shoe Heaven are still in bags. This appears intentional, but also looks lazy. The Converse and Keds look-alikes, which are 25% off, smell strongly of burning rubber, and the £7.99 ballet flats feel disposable. The New Look Premium party shoes look better made, but don’t seem worth £50.

 

 

Topshop snaffle loafer

Topshop snaffle loafer

Topshop/Topman

Cool and upbeat, the store’s own brand knock-offs of luxe are where it’s at

Score: 7/10

Pros

There is a solid, if somewhat unfocused, selection here. The women’s range is clearly marked with a neon sign in a funky black and white corner of the store. Own-brand women’s styles include affordable high-top sneakers for £52, a soft leather half-bootie and a chunkyhigh heel, which are both good value at £49. Additionally, brands such as Gola, Ellesse, and Vans are part of the collection. A small men’s footwear section offers reasonably priced smart shoes (£35), and Adidas and Lacoste sneakers.

All Sale racks are organised by size, and there are helpful US/UK size conversion charts

 

Cons

Some shoes in the clothing sections, such as three-eye Dr Martens (£95, the same price as the brand sells for online), are not also present in the footwear areas, which means shoppers could miss items. When I ask if Topshop carries women’s Dr Martens, I  am told no and advised to go to Office in the town centre – no mention of the branch in Meadowhall.

 

Dorothy Perkins

Dorothy Perkins

Dorothy Perkins

Dorothy Perkins

Footwear selection is moving in the right direction, but in a shabby setting

Score: 6/10

 

Pros

Signage is clear and helpful: signs tell customers that more shoe sizes are available online and can be ordered in store on an iPad. Flats and trainers displayed on the wall cost £15 to £25 and, while the quality is not exceptional, they are good value. The same is true of not-too-tall high-heeled court shoes and laser-cut peep toes, both at £25. There is a large table full of ankle boots for £35, which are decent quality, and come in a good mix of colours and materials – fake suede and leather, velvet, and a glittery variation. The better-quality Head Over Heels collection displays fancier occasion shoes, such as a glittery stack-heel pump for £49. Helpfully, a wide-fit section is set apart from other shoes, making them easier to find.

 

Cons

The store as a whole needs some updating. The lighting is dim, dark wall colours are old-fashioned and rails of clothing are very close together, making the whole store feel cramped. Staff are attentive to one customer who is already in the shoe department, but they do not offer to help me at the same time.

 

 

Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer

Comfort reigns supreme in a wide selection

Score: 6/10

 

Pros

Overall, M&S offers a broad spectrum of styles at various price points. In the women’s section, shelved islands set up by sub-brands Autograph, Footglove, and M&S Collection are packed neatly with sizes marked three to eight. A party feeling is present in patent leather and velvet styles, while trendy chunky slingback court shoes are £30 and decent, if unremarkable, flats are £29 to £35. In the busier men’s section, wide sizes are available in its comfort-focused Airflex brand, in a number of well-priced styles, including fancy lace-ups for £69 and boat shoes for £59. Useful extras such as insoles and shoe polish for purchase are displayed near shoe horns for customers to use.

 

Cons

The store is silent, except for a door alarm that rings for three minutes. Boots on tall wall racks are not in size order, which makes it hard to find a size, and there are no staff members around to help.

A pair of women’s Autograph boots on display have metallic detailing that is starting to rub off, suggesting poor quality. There aren’t very many occasionwear shoes and some styles feel very outdated.

Fabric on the seating in the men’s section is ripped, making the store feel dilapidated.

 

Burton

Burton

Burton

Burton

A lower-quality selection for a younger crowd looking for a deal

Score: 5/10

 

Pros

Burton has clear signage that shows customers can order in store on an iPad. On the shelves in the shoe section, which is a short wall in between the casualwear and formalwear sections, is an informative plaque that tells the customer what the icons for shoe construction and composition mean.

There is a promotion for two pairs of selected shoes for £49, but it includes suede-look or canvas deck shoes, and some sneakers, which feels a bit expensive for what they are. For full price, Ted Baker look-alike tan brogues with teal laces are inexpensive at £48 and other smart shoes are £40.

 

 

Cons

Most of the leather feels plasticky and hard. The pop music is too loud and – to me – annoying. The lights are too bright and overall, the store needs an update. Despite the signs stating otherwise, I don’t see any iPads – it suggests they are not readily available.

 

H&M

A lack of space to try on the latest trends may keep customers away

Score: 5/10

 

Pros

David Beckham campaign posters are a good draw – as is the mid-season Sale sign. Prices are low: grey suede pumps are £14.99 and £7.99 flats feel better quality than New Look. Two walls show children’s shoes, costing £6.99 to £14.99, and the small but focused men’s section on the second floor features mostly (somewhat out of season) espadrilles and trainers at £12 to £19.99 – good prices for the quality.

A collection of Sale shoes includes out-of-season summer sandals from the Coachella collection at £12, a better price for the quality than the regular £35.

 

Cons

Prices are only marked on the clothing in the front windows – not the footwear. Shoe pairs are held together with elastic, which makes it difficult to slip them on quickly, and the lack of benches near the shoe sections makes them even more difficult to try on. The displays are disappointing: nothing feels special when it is hanging on hooks, tied together with elastic bands.

 

River island

River island

River Island

Quality is hit or miss in a freezing and too-loud shoe section

Score: 5/10

 

Pros

River Island’s “30% off” sign in the front window and a social media campaign poster for #imwearingri – offering a £1,000 shopping spree prize for a Snapchat promotion – work to draw people in. Suede boots are priced from £45 to £75. It is good to see this price architecture, but quality does vary. Thick-soled sneakers at £35 and a trendy embroidered pump with a chunky heel at £45 are good value, and provide a point of difference. Upstairs, the men’s shoe section is smaller, but neat.

Cons

Although there is a dedicated footwear section, shoes are also dotted around the store, making it hard to be sure you have seen all that is available. The front of the store lacks music, and where it is playing – in the women’s shoe section – it blasts tinnily out of the speakers.

The shoe section is extremely cold, so I don’t want to remove my shoes and socks to try anything on. I ask for a strappy sandal, but the colour is not available in my size. The sales assistant gives me the other colour to try, but even in my size, the fit was still off.

 

Primark

Primark

Primark

Primark

A treasure trove of trends in an appalling mess of a store

Score: 4/10

 

Pros

What a bargain. Of course, Primark is crawling with people, even on a Tuesday morning. “Amazing fashion, amazing prices” is the brand motto, and it describes pretty closely the gigantic selection of  footwear available, which includes fake suede peep-toe boots with tassels for £18, blue glittered boots for £12, “real leather” boots at a low £20 and £3 ballet flats.

Cloth bags and baskets to gather your goods, as well as bottles of water to purchase, are easily available at the front of the store.

 

Cons

What a mess. People wheeling prams knock shoes all over the floor. It’s almost overwhelming. The shoe department itself is hard to find – I have to wander around the first floor before I realise it is on the second.

Not many customers are looking at the limited selection of party shoes, which are marked, unhelpfully, with “Just so you know all items are individually priced”. The store is so busy and cluttered that it is hard to find spaceto sit to try anything on.

Compared with the women’s offer, there is only a little corner dedicated to men’s footwear.

 

Zara

   This messy store takes away from good prices and a trendy selection

Score: 4/10 

Pros

Zara keeps up with the trends, offering ankle boots, peep-toe heels and tall boots with drawstrings, at reasonable prices for the quality: a pair of leather boots costs £29.99 and tall soft fake suede boots are £79. There are many large sizes available and real leather, although stiff, is marked clearly with “It’s leather” tags. Children’s shoes are fairly priced by (European) size: 26 is £12.99 and 36 is £15.95.

Cons

Brown paper covers one side of the front windows. It is likely that the window displays are being changed, but at first I think the store is closed. The shoes are in random places: on the floor under hanging clothes, or next to messy piles of clothing.

It is difficult to find my size, and when I approach the only sales assistant available, I am told that everything is out, and I have to look for them. Some shoes are on Sale but it is hard to see the “Special price” tag. Most men’s shoes only have prices in euros, which is unhelpful. Extremely long till queues put me off, even if I want to make a purchase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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