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High Street Hit or Miss: footwear autumn 17

Crop

Continuing our series of Hit or Miss reports, the Drapers mystery shoppers put the footwear stores at Essex’s Intu Lakeside shopping centre to the test

In total, we visited 20 stores across men’s and women’s footwear – both footwear specialists and clothing retailers – and judged stores on factors including its visual appeal, service, quality, product offer and value for money.

Quality across the Lakeside stores varied hugely but, overwhelmingly, the footwear specialists came out on top. Clearly in evidence were sleek designs, quirky merchandising and clever uses of in-store technology that notably sped up the in-store experience and, in many cases, linked seamlessly to online – Clarks and JD Sports made particularly good use of this.

Attentive shop assistants and well-kept and cared-for stores were also a shining point for the specialists, placing most of them far ahead of the clothing retailers. In addition, the majority of the footwear specialist stores excelled on visual appeal.

At many Lakeside clothing retailers, the footwear offers felt forgotten. Several stores had small, messy and untidy areas – New Look had a hole in one wall, while River Island’s displaced display felt out of place. Although there were exceptions – for example, Topshop’s Instagram haven and Next’s chic “boudoir” – in general, the footwear areas were disappointing.

One aspect in which the clothing retailers performed strongly was trends. As autumn approaches, ankle boots were everywhere for men and women, with the suede desert boot a key menswear look, featuring on the line-up of almost every retailer tested. For women, lurex, red, glitter and leopard catered to the approaching party season, and metal hardware adornments were seen in particularly high numbers. Generally, clothing retailers took a more experimental approach to styles, while the likes of Aldo and Dune referenced trends in a more toned-down manner.

Trainers continued to dominate, as pastel colours and chunky, retro styles made a comeback. However, most retailers seemed to leave this area to the specialists such as JD Sports and Foot Locker, although young fashion retailers such as Topman and Zara produced a small amount of trainer styles.

Read on to find out who was one step ahead and who needs to pull their socks up.

 

Footwear specialists

Clarks 9/10

JD Sports 8/10

Kurt Geiger 8/10

Schuh 8/10

Dune 7.5/10

Aldo 7/10

Foot Locker 7/10

Office 7/10

Skechers 6/10

Footasylum 5/10

Sole Trader 5/10

Clothing retailers

Next 8/10

Topshop 7/10

Marks & Spencer 6.5/10

Topman 6/10

Primark 4.5/10

Zara 4.5/10

River Island 4/10

H&M 3.5/10

New Look 3/10

 

Footwear specialists

Clarks

 

Clarks

Clarks

9/10

Impeccable design, service and tech put Clarks ahead of the pack

Pros

The Lakeside Clarks is a charming store. Everything is smart and sophisticated, with an open-plan feel and easy-to-browse format. Split across distressed wooden tables and brightly lit wall shelving, the details are impeccable: nothing is too low down or too high up to reach, and different styles are displayed in all their available colour options. Rather than being displayed on plain white shelves, shoes are placed on wooden blocks or slate tiles, mirrors are in abundance and there is an array of large, comfortable seating. This store really feels like a showcase and a celebration of the shoes – even the Sale section is neat and well organised.

Styles across men’s and women’s focus on the classic and the practical rather than on trends, and everything feels well made and durable. A pair of women’s brogues at £60 are sleek and of solid quality, while the famous men’s desert boot stands well apart from its numerous competitors – worth the £95 price tag for the superior feel of soft suede and the robust soles.

The store makes the best use of technology out of all those tested. Staff are helpful and friendly and, using hand-held devices, are able to tell me almost instantly which men’s styles are available up to a size 14, point them out and tell me whether they are in stock in store or online. The assistant is able to provide far more detail on the shoes than I could find for myself on the website. Overall, it is an experience that makes a strong case for in-store, rather than online, shopping.

Cons

Inside, the store is beautiful but the outside frontage feels dated and mismatched. Additionally, when it comes to the footwear, there is slightly too much of a focus on comfort, and some styles lack on the design front.

JD Sports

JD Sports

8.5/10

JD Sports deserves its crown as the king of trainers – but a bizarre lack of mirrors was frustrating

Pros

JD Sports looks and feels like a specialist, expert store. The range of brands and styles outstrips competitors, with wide selections of big-name brands – Nike, Adidas, Vans, Converse – and numerous exclusive styles highlighted with a boastful, eye-catching gold tag. In addition to classic styles and performance footwear, JD Sports also has a selection of more trend-led trainers – for example the Nike Air Max 95 (£125), as well as styles similar to those of Acne and Balenciaga – with men’s and women’s styles being showcased in multiple colours. More are available online. The presentation is neat and very tidy, and there are plenty of seats in both the men’s and women’s sections, to facilitate trying on.

Staff are quick and helpful, despite the store being busy, and a hand-held device means the assistant is able to check stock and fetch sizes from the stock room almost instantly. When the colour I request is out of stock, the assistant offers to order it immediately to be delivered to my home or in store free of charge. Very knowledgeable about each of the styles, they can explain the technical properties and their advantages for various sports, as well as highlighting which are more design led rather than performance based.

Cons

There are no obvious mirrors in the shoe section of the store, which is frustrating and, frankly, bizarre.

Kurt Geiger

Kurt geiger dps look 5

8/10

Superb, luxury-feel store and products, but could be more consistent and high tech

Pros

Kurt Geiger excels on multiple fronts, providing a luxurious offer and experience. The store has a quirky, modern and slick design, which showcases the shoes in a creative and eye-catching manner. On entering the store, a series of suspended mirrored platforms show off stand-out trend styles, while a large digital screen plays a campaign video behind. Displays, more interesting than simple tables, are spread across numerous levels and feature a fuzzy fur base. Care and attention to detail shines through, making the store fun to look around. The offer is smartly focused on high-octane, glamorous trends ahead of the party season, with numerous interesting sandals and heels brimming with glitter and feathers. A pair of heeled sandals spelling the word ‘LOVE’ with its straps is a highlight and, at £79, reasonably priced for the quality. Alongside this, the store also features a ‘Boot Obsessed!’ campaign, showcasing its array of winter boots. The men’s section is very small in comparison and focuses on smart shoes, with a solid, good-quality pair of brogue boots costing £129. Staff are attentive and helpful, offering advice on similar styles without being overbearing.

Cons

The store staff don’t use any kind of hand-held inventory device so, while retrieving shoes is fairly swift, I have to go to the tills to order anything from online into the store or check for other sizes. Additionally, the size 6 shoe I try on comes up very small and barely fits, and some of the edges already seem to be wearing – disappointing for a £119 item.

Schuh

Schuh ss17

8/10

Big brands and smart staff, but shelves are a touch crowded

Pros

Schuh showcases an impressive array of brands – big names such as Doc Martens and Birkenstock sit alongside more-unexpected additions, such as Missguided and Irregular Choice. There is a strong selection of heritage sports brands, with Fila, Ellesse and Diadora displayed prominently. The layout of the store is appealing and spacious, with bright lights and bright colours, making for a vibrant, playful space. There are also a high number of places to sit.

Glitter is a key trend, and a good-quality pair of £60 glitter boots do not shed any sparkles when I try them on. The staff are very helpful and friendly, and use hand-held devices to stock check and size check with impressive speed. They also highlight the store’s 365-day returns policy.

Cons

While the store feels spacious, the shelves themselves are occasionally overcrowded. As items are arranged by brand rather than style, there is sometimes a sense of confusion where a chunky boot brand sits next to another offering sparkly stilettos.

Dune

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7.5/10

Feminine and fun offer, but points are deducted for a couple of scruffy details

Pros

The Dune store is feminine, modern and chic, with a store design that matches well with the styles on offer. The range is strong, and represents a good balance between everyday, wearable items, such as boots, and evening styles. The evening styles and heels are particularly strong, solidly made and elegant, with a variety of colours and styles – a black court shoe with heart detailing, reasonably priced at £99, is one standout style. The store makes clever use of levels in a relatively petite space: product is displayed set into the walls and on a bookshelf-style unit, as well as on coffee tables, so there is always something to look at. There are several quirky touches to the decor, which adds a sense of playfulness – for example, on the floor in front of each mirror are printed footprints and the words “show us your dancing feet”. I am greeted shortly after arrival and the staff are helpful and quick to fetch different sizes. Dune is also the only retailer to offer pop socks to wear when trying on shoes.

Cons

The store features mainly women’s styles, and this is clearly the focus. There are no staff in the small men’s area, and the selection is not as comprehensive as the women’s range – it focuses on classic styles rather than more trend-led items. While most items seem to be of high quality, several display pairs look pretty worn, with scuffed suede and scratched leather. Although this wear and tear is to be expected to some extent, it looks rather scruffy.

Aldo

Aldo

7/10

Fantastic staff and fun footwear offer, but some items feel overpriced

Pros

The staff in Aldo are some of the best in all the shops tested. Despite being present, staff are not overbearing or insistent. When asked about different sizing and colour options the woman I speak with is knowledgeable, friendly and professional, and offers the option of either reserving or ordering styles to store or home. She is also able to check prices and stock levels online of the shoes I am looking at using a hand-held device – this is speedy and means the alternative size I request is fetched almost immediately.

The shoes themselves are generally good quality and trend led without being overly experimental. A pair of sequin-embellished loafers, at a slightly pricey £70, nods to the Gucci-mania sweeping the high street without being an overt copy, while in the men’s offer a brogue style boot with camouflage patches, well priced at £130, are classic and slightly experimental, featuring excellent-quality leather and crisp detailing. Other trends, including slogan trainers and chunky boots, are also on offer. The store as a whole is nicely merchandised, and individual styles being displayed across many levels – this feels uncluttered and allows me to browse easily.

Cons

While the overall merchandising is strong, several aspects of the store feel a touch dated. The neon lighting is very draining, the shelves plain white and the floor scuffed. The back of the store is also in the process of being rearranged, and there are several empty shelves with shoes and boxes scattered across the floor and one of the seating areas. In a small store, this could prove a problem if it were busier. While the quality is good, the prices do occasionally seem slightly excessive when compared with other stores – a £90 pair of boots does not stand out hugely from lower-priced versions elsewhere.

Foot Locker

7/10

Good store and offer, but fails to excel against stiff sporting competition

Pros

Foot Locker is the only store tested where I am actually greeted on arrival. A friendly member of staff asks what I am looking for and directs me to the right place, offering suggestions on styles to suit my need. When quizzed on the technical properties of the trainers, he is knowledgeable and helpful. The slanted, individual trainer displays look very cool and fit with the sporty styling. The store is spacious and uncluttered, as well as being very neat and tidy, but with the characteristic, dark, slightly moody lighting and atmosphere favoured by sports stores. There are several exclusives, flagged by attached labels, and prices on other styles seem to match any discounts that competitor JD Sports is offering. The range of men’s and women’s styles are similar in size, and there is also a children’s section. Big-name brands dominate – Nike and Adidas make up the overwhelming majority of the offer – but the likes of Asics and Under Armour are also available.

Cons

It would be nice to see a little more detail on the technical aspects of the trainers. With many priced over £100, it seems reasonable to have sports shop staff explain the technical details without having to ask a colleague. Other retailers – for example, Sketchers – have diagrams or signs with details of the technical qualities.

In terms of practicality, there are not very many mirrors in the store, and they are not immediately obvious – this means I have to walk away from my own shoes to see in the mirror what I am trying on.

The brand offer is good, but there is not as much variety as elsewhere – in particular at JD Sports – and big-name brands are an equal draw for all competitors, not Foot Locker alone.

Office

Office 829025

7/10

Curated brand is offer- and trend-centred, but not quite seamless

Pros

The majority of the shop floor at Office is dominated by its trainer offer, which features a trend-led selection from big brands such as Nike and Adidas. While not as extensive as the trainer specialists, the offer is curated around the most popular, desired styles – including the Nike Cortez (£64.99) and Adidas Gazelle (£74.99) – at the same prices as trainer specialists. The trend offer is also strong: a wide variety of brands including Ugg and Toms, and a solid own-brand offer that features a selection of loafers and ankle boots. A pair of studded ankle boots, £90, feel solid and good quality.

A speedy stock-checking system allows the shop assistant to tell me which stores have my desired size and styles in stock, and enables super-fast collection of other sizes from the stock room. The shop itself is nicely designed and, other than the Sale racks, the shop floor feels is nicely minamilst, making for easy browsing.

Cons

Many of the full-price styles on offer are in summery pastels, which jars a little in October, especially sitting alongside chunky boots. While the hand-held device was useful in some aspects, I am unable to order styles into the store, which is disappointing. Some of the fittings are a little ragged – there are scuff marks on the skirting boards and chips on shelves.

Skechers

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6/10

Vibrant store but styles can be more varied and service more attentive

Pros

Walking into the Skechers store feels like being transported to an American mall. The impressive space feels both high tech and welcoming, with shoes displayed floor to ceiling, glossy lifestyle imagery dotted around and several quirky additions, such as a fake exposed brick wall and wooden display tables. Having the majority of shoes on the walls gives the store a spacious feel and, smartly, all the styles placed high up are also duplicated lower down, so I can pick them up without stretching.

The store is half men’s, half women’s, and both are  sectioned into their performance categories: clear, demarcated sections accommodate running shoes, high-performance footwear and walking shoes. In addition, the technical aspects of the shoes, such as memory foam soles, are made clear and explained in a digestible way, with labels and diagrams outlining the benefits.

The trainers feel as though they are of excellent quality, lightweight and breathable and, starting at around £59 for women’s and £64 for men’s, are priced lower than competitors’. Alongside the sports shoes, there are several casual options, with a star-printed leather ankle boot for women, well priced at £59, and a flat desert boot for men at a reasonable £64.

Cons

While the ceiling-scraping display makes a dramatic impact, it is slightly overwhelming. Many of the styles offered by Sketchers look very similar and having them all close together makes it difficult to distinguish between the different designs. Although of mainly good quality, there are several shimmery styles in the women’s section that look cheap, despite costing £64. In addition, when I enter I am the only person in the store, and despite browsing for around 10 minutes, no staff approach me to ask if I need assistance. When I do ask for a different size, it is fetched immediately – however, given the fact that I am the only one in the store, this is to be expected.

Footasylum

5/10

Well-kept store and strong brand offer, but nothing to set it apart from the competition

Pros

The smaller size of the Footasylum offer makes it easy to browse, and the arrangement of the space is neat, tidy and clean, with a well-lit display on a black background that showcases the product well. Staff are easy to spot and helpful, and fetch shoes quickly. There are also plenty of mirrors in the store, which is not the case at some other retailers. Key brands such as Nike and Adidas dominate, in a good variety of styles.

Cons

The club-style decor – with neon strip lights and plastic plants – jars with its sporting offer. The space feels dark and cramped, with the footwear displayed directly next to the clothing. Standing in front of the footwear offer obstructs access to the womenswear section of the store so I have to repeatedly move out of the way of other shoppers. While staff are on hand, the store uses a very loud walkie-talkie system, which blares constantly, making for a slightly unpleasant in-store experience.

A lot of the styles on offer for men and women are the same but, for women, the store chooses to almost exclusively display the pink styles – it would be nice to see a display that is a little more original and modern. In addition, Footasylum seems to offer fewer exclusives than JD Sports or Foot Locker, and some styles that are discounted elsewhere remain at full price here.

Sole Trader

5/10

Good range of brands and pleasant store, but missing a coherent identity

Pros

The warm wooden panelling and soft lighting make Sole Trader an enticing option from the outside. Inside, the unusual, slanted oval shelves display the shoes in a unique way, a combination of the sports and lifestyle stylings seen elsewhere. The bright lighting and large mirrors make it easy to test out and review shoes. The store offers an impressive variety of brands, from Adidas to Timberland and Public Desire, making for a wide range of styles across both men’s and women’s collections. Staff are fast and efficient, and my size is fetched very quickly.

Cons

Despite the strong brands, the actual styles seem to jar, and the offer feels incoherent. Sparkly, heeled sandals from Public Desire are displayed alongside Timberland combat boots. The brands are also mixed together – trainers from Nike sit next to those from Adidas. Given the focus the store places on brand names, I expect brands to be grouped together – not having this makes it difficult to shop for a specific shoe by, for example, Adidas.

While the store is aesthetically pleasing, it is very cold, and some elements are impractical – shelves are high shelves and seats for trying on shoes tiny. I am not acknowledged by staff when I enter – given the small size of the store, this feels awkward.

 

Clothing retailers

Next

Next 811145

8/10

Almost excellent, but undermined by scruffy details

Pros

The extensive footwear offer in Next feels like a hidden gem. With its cosy boudoir chic design, featuring cushioned sofas, tile walls, luxurious marble display tables, pot plants and extremely flattering lighting, the womenswear space is invitingly cosy. The men’s area is equally appealing, albeit slightly smaller, with its dark wooden fittings and forest green cinema chairs giving it the feel of a deluxe private members’ club. It even smells of leather – testament perhaps to the quality of the shoes.

The offer matches up to the aesthetic of the space, with sophisticated, stylish designs. The men’s collection focuses on classic styles rather than trend-led designs – the brogues are beautifully made and, at £55, are very reasonably priced while a pair of leather desert boots are of higher quality than the £48 price tag suggests. The womenswear is more trend led, and red, lurex and leopard all dominating the space. All the trend-led styles have a practical twist – for example, the heels have cushioned soles or chunky, sturdy heels. A pair of magenta ankle boots, £38, are sturdy but daring.

Half-sizes are available, which has not been seen elsewhere, and staff are knowledgeable about size ranges, colourways and options, and offer to order in styles when needed.

Cons

Unfortunately, the beautiful shopfits in the store are already beginning to look worn. Vintage rugs are overly threadbare, the sofa is stained and some of the display shelves marked or scuffed. There is a pile of shoes left abandoned on a chaise longue, and several gaps in the items on display. This scruffiness undermines an otherwise excellent store.

Topshop

Pg topshop boutique aw17 18 rgb

7.5/10

Beautiful store and sharp trend-led designs, but absent staff will drive many online

Pros

The large, luxurious footwear section of the Lakeside Topshop feels like a premium store, rather than a young fashion retailer. A dramatic display dominates the back wall, with individual pairs of key shoe styles displayed in mirrored, box shelves – these make an impact, drawing the eye to the space and tempting customers to the back of the store. Alongside these presented styles are glass shelves of other designs, as well as racks of more-everyday shoes such as loafers, displayed in multiple sizes. Scandi-style marble tables, pot plants and candy pink chairs, as well as an abundance of mirrors, make the space feel primed for Instagram.

The shoes also reflect this social lure with relatively low prices to encourage a statement purchase. An abundance of glam, party styles is showcased prominently. A rainbow, sequinned platform sandal, good value at £49, and a nude feather strap sandal, similarly well priced at £49, are highlights. Alongside these party pieces, there is a good selection of more-everyday styles, with a trend-led twist. Red, metallic and heavy-duty hardware is a common appearance – a studded pair of flat ankle boots (£79) ticks boxes for style and quality.

Cons

Despite searching, I cannot find any members of staff in Topshop, so am unable to try on shoes in my size. When I eventually locate staff, it is as I leave the store – three employees stand chatting behind a deserted till point. Given their lack of availability, it would be quicker and easier for me to order shoes online and return them if they don’t fit.

The quality of the shoes varies immensely. Some styles are made from soft supple leather and others – including a pair of slip-on white trainers (£20) – feel plasticky and rough. Although the price is low, and lower quality is a natural consequence of this, they look as though they would be uncomfortable to wear.

Marks & Spencer

Nv208 34 light after dark 083 1

6.5/10

A tale of two halves – nice shopfit, but scruffy; good designs, but inconsistent quality

Pros

The range for men and women is extremely comprehensive, focusing more on smart footwear in both cases. Suede boots (£79) for men feel of excellent quality and the range of trend-led ankle boots in women’s is impressive. A pair of white kitten-heeled boots (£35) stand out for their soft feel and directional shape, as well as their very reasonable price. Women’s styles feature clever details – for example, a pair of brogues (£49.50) has a soft back to prevent rubbing. The areas themselves are nicely designed. The womenswear section features soft lighting, cosy furniture and elegantly curved displays, all of which make the space feel like more than just an afterthought.

Cons

As with several other stores, the letdown with M&S comes from a messy and unkempt space. Despite the nice design there are stock boxes, half-constructed display rails and used tissue paper dotted around the space. Equally, the quality of the shoes varies greatly: one lurex sock boot (£35) has messy uneven stitching around the top – disappointing for a retailer that is normally known for quality.

The store is completely silent, which is unnerving, and there are no staff to be seen on the shop floor. Additionally, both the men’s and women’s offers are hard to locate, as there are no signs. In a large store, this makes navigation a challenge.

Topman

Topman 808781

6/10

Inconsistent quality lets down an otherwise fun and crisp offer

Pros

Alongside its own brand, Topman offers a carefully curated selection of popular brands such as Vans, Lacoste, Converse and Fred Perry. Classic designs of brogues and boots dominate its own brand, and are well priced and stylish. A tan pair of gradient leather brogues (£85) is a highlight, while the basic entry-level brogue (£36) is a strong basic offer. The more-experimental, trend-led pieces, including a holographic loafer – good value at £45 – sets the offer apart from other young fashion retailers.

The section itself, while small, is light, modern and minimalist, and has bright white shelving that frames the styles nicely. Unlike other retailers using white displays, these are impeccably clean and neat, and therefore look far more premium and appealing.

Cons

While the prices are generally low, some of the styles are clearly of a poor quality. A pair of fake suede desert boots (£40) feel grainy, rough and rigid. Similarly priced versions – for example, Next’s £48 offer – far superior in terms of quality. The area also doesn’t feature any full-length mirrors, which is frustrating. Additionally, given the doubtless draw of big-name brands, they are very much hidden away, in a comparatively small box display which feels like an afterthought rather than a showcase. As with Topshop, there are no staff in the section, and I have to wander around the wider store to find help.

Primark

Primarkuk 838232

4.5/10

Typically chaotic, price-conscious trends are carelessly piled high

Pros

The shoe section of Primark is truly vast. The number of styles and sizes on display is far greater than any other retailer. From thigh-high metallic silver boots (£22) to butterfly-embroidered, velvet ankle boots (£16), the offer is comprehensive and trend led, its very-low price points geared to the fast-fashion consumer.

The footwear section is organised by style. Ankle boots all sit together, as do sandals and heels, which makes the area easier to navigate.

Cons

As might be expected with a low price tag, the quality of items is not great. Fake leather is extremely plasticky and rough on men’s and women’s shoes, and a pair of sequinned boots sheds sequins as I pick them up. The whole store has an unpleasant smell of rubber, and a strange humming sound pervades throughout.

All sizes are out on show, but this makes for overcrowded, overwhelmingly cramped displays – items are so jammed in, it is hard to extricate anything from its rack. There is a lack of seating and mirrors in the department, and a generally messy feel. An abandoned stock trolley and bits of broken shoes are dotted around the floor, despite the fact that it is only 11am. There are no staff to be seen in the section, and when I eventually do find someone, they cannot help me as they specialise in lingerie.

Zara

Zara

4.5/10

A chaotic store and poorly thought-out displays, redeemed slightly by fashion-forward flair

Pros

Zara leads the way when it comes to footwear trends, particularly in its womenswear offer. There is a vast array of ankle boots, ranging from a flat, fake snakeskin style – good value at £19.99 – to a directional patent leather, ruffled kitten heel, that feels slightly overpriced at £89.99. Popular styles are given a quirky twist or detail that sets the designs apart from other stores – for example, a pearl-embellished pump, reasonably good value at £29.99, features a flared kitten heel.

Men’s styles are more classic: a £39.99 interpretation of the desert boot and an ombre brown leather brogue at a sensible £79.99. While there are several low-priced trainer styles – men’s styles sit at £39.99 – Zara mostly errs away from these, possibly deferring to the dominance of the sportwear players. The quality across the styles feels good, and both leather and fake leather are flexible and soft. The addition of a label signalling styles available in large sizes (women’s 9, men’s 13), is a handy, functional extra.

Cons

Both the men’s and women’s areas are, frankly, chaotic. Even in a tidy store, the footwear offer is not easy to browse. Styles are either displayed underneath clothing racks or on shelves above them. However, when I enter the store towards the end of the day, there are clothes strewn everywhere, falling off hangers and tables, meaning I have to pick up and move clothing to even look at the shoes. Men’s is marginally neater than women’s but, in both cases, there are mismatched styles, odd – and even broken – shoes on display. To try to find my size, I have to kneel on the dusty floor and, when I ask a staff member for help, she seems surprised, telling me all shoe sizes are on display, despite there being a single size six shoe (but not its pair) on the shelf.

River Island

Ww look 14

4/10

Nice styles and helpful staff, but River Island’s footwear is messy and neglected

Pros

River Island has a strong trend offering across men’s and women’s shoes. Vinyl boots (£55), knee-high suede boots (£65) and embroidered slip-on loafers (reduced to £15) tick the women’s trends with reasonable price points for the quality. The men’s offer is stronger, and has a nice range of cheap fashion trainers, including a crackled white pattern for £28.

In the more-formal shoes, shearling desert boots are a standout and smartly priced at £55. Staff are helpful and friendly when approached and, when one colour is not available in my size, they offer a similar style in the same colour, as well as fetching the products quickly and taking them out of the box for me.

Cons

Piles of shoes are abandoned on the floor, even though it is barely past opening time. Shoe polish has been left open on the shelf and has spilled. The chandelier is dusty, display tables are wonky, out of place and battered, and there are empty sections in the display where shoes have been removed and not replaced. Most shoes are hung on racks, but these are overflowing, ragged and not at all appealing.

There are no chairs to sit on in the men’s or women’s areas, as they are covered in abandoned shoes. Hidden at the back of the store, both sections feel neglected and unimportant.

H&M

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3.5/10

Trend-led items are lost in a tiny and neglected footwear section

Pros

All the classic shoe styles are on offer in H&M, where several trend-led styles standing out from a generally practical offer. The ankle boot trend is covered for both men and women – a men’s white-soled desert boot, at £39.99, feels well made and hitting a key trend. For £5, the women’s coral-coloured canvas shoes are a good-quality basic, while a pair of cerise, satin, heeled sandals for £19.99 are a quirky and eye-catching trend-led piece.

All the shoes displayed on mannequins around the store are easy to find in both the men’s and women’s sections, and all sizes available in the store are out on display, which speeds up the buying process.

Cons

Given the size of the H&M store as a whole, the range of footwear on offer is tiny. Hidden away at the back of the store, the three display shelves for women’s shoes are extremely plain and do not stand out – they neither attract attention to the area or showcase the shoes effectively. The hanging racks of shoes are crammed full, and look very messy. Seve hangers only hold one shoe and other shoes are littered all over the floor.

Compared with the neighbouring make-up section, which is brightly and warmly lit, and has displays and campaign imagery drawing customers to the area, the shoe section is easy to overlook.

The quality of the shoes varies but the majority of the more-substantial styles use a very rigid, plasticky, black, fake leather. A pair of chunky women’s ankle boots, at £34.99, are trend led but feel poor – other young fashion retailers offer similar items at similar prices, but they are of higher quality. The section is also completely unmanned and, while staff are dotted through the store, it is frustrating having to wander around such a large space in search of someone who can help me.

New Look

Newlook 777616

3/10

Unpleasant and untidy. Quite a letdown from a big high street name

Pros

There is a good selection of trend-led styles and seasonal options, and a wide range of designs on offer. Over-the-knee boots at £44.99 provide an easy way to test the trend, and lurex heels, reasonably priced at £25.99, offer a party option as Christmas items filter into the store. While all sizes are on display, alternatives can be ordered to home or store by staff, who, once I locate them, are very helpful.

Cons

New Look’s shoe heaven is far from divine – in fact, for a retailer known for having a strong footwear offer, it is shockingly poor. The area is separated from the main womenswear floor and, as a result, there is no music but a loud whirring noise instead. The place is a mess. Odd shoes dot the floor, under shelves crammed with too much stock. Shoes have fallen over or off the shelves and a stock box and packaging sits abandoned in the entrance. The chandeliers are dusty and the mirrors warped, and one wall, scuffed with marks, has a fist-sized hole in it. Yellow and black hazard tape crisscrosses shattered floor tiles and the suede seating area is ominously stained. Understandably, it seems the staff are avoiding the area.

 

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