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High Street Hit or Miss: Footwear spring 16

We step into Manchester’s Intu Trafford Centre for the third instalment of Drapers’ Hit or Miss secret shopper review of 2016, and our latest look at what the biggest high street names are doing to attract customers this spring 16 season.

From walking the length and breadth of the shopping centre, it is clear that mules are having a moment, while flatforms and sneakers look set to go the distance once again for women. Espadrilles are basking in the spotlight interpreted in myriad forms and many retailers are keeping their options open with ankle boots or open-toe boot styles still making an appearance in many stores. For men, innovation comes in the form of texture, and woven loafers were prominent in several collections.

In terms of service, some of the footwear specialists are upping their game by offering free next-day delivery to home or store if your size or style is not in stock. This was not replicated, or at least heavily pushed, by the clothing multiples.

Visited from March 30 to April 1, the stores reviewed are divided into footwear specialists and high street multiples. The scores are based on an assessment of the spring 16 offer, quality and value, as well as the overall in-store experience from the layout and visual merchandising, to the all-important customer service.

 

 

Intu Trafford Centre footwear stores

Multiples

Next 9/10

Primark 8/10

New Look Men 7/10

River Island 7/10

New Look 6/10

Marks & Spencer 6/10

Burton 6/10

Zara 6/10

Dorothy Perkins 5/10

H&M 4/10

 

Footwear specialists

Irregular Choice at Schuh

Irregular Choice at Schuh

Irregular Choice at Schuh

Schuh

Busy store where customer service goes the extra mile

9/10

Pros

Schuh really impresses this season thanks to the helpful, personable sales assistants who offer knowledgeable advice on styles. The store is packed with product, but signage is dotted around to help navigate the styles and explain some of Schuh’s policies – for example, “we’re happy to offer a refund or exchange on unused items returned within 365 days”. Schuh’s branded offer helps it to stretch prices in both directions: from Missguided at the lower end in the fashion stakes with heels at around £35 to the likes of Irregular Choice at £75 at the top end. Brands on display offer depth and breadth of ranges.

Cons

A pair of cheap-looking pink heels with fake fur balls at £50 feels overpriced. The small window means there is not that much room for displays. Schuh did not have my size in stock but the helpful sales assistant explained the free home delivery service.

Adidas NMD at Footlocker

Adidas NMD at Footlocker

Adidas NMD at Footlocker

Footlocker

Attentive staff and open-plan shopfit make for easy in-store experience

9/10

Pros

The huge open-plan store feels more minimalist than other stores, particularly its much darker rival, Footasylum, and most of the stock is on walls, which gives the feeling of space. The shopfit looks more premium than fellow sneaker stores JD Sports and Footasylum: ornate black picture frames showcase product from leading brands such as Adidas NMDs, which it has in stock. Footlocker is the only store where anyone offered to measure my feet and the sales assistant was the most helpful of any of the stores I visited, offering advice on other styles and information about materials and support.

Cons

The reliance on big-name brands may mean customers shop around based on price, which are in keeping with rivals, or exclusives, but the shopping experience made a big difference on my visit.

Kendall and Kylie for Office

Kendall and Kylie for Office

Kendall and Kylie for Office

Office

Exclusive collections and celeb tie-ups appeal to the label-led generation

8/10

Pros

The windows are inviting and have lots of product on show – all with prices listed and in various colourways. The focus is on fashion trainers and exclusive collections from brands such as Converse. There is a strong casual offer for both men and women, and a small selection of kidswear. The shop is easy to navigate and very clean. The Kendall & Kylie collection has some quite aspirational pieces: a suede high heel with fringing at £95 feels a little steep but may attract starry-eyed celeb fans with deep pockets. Staff are helpful and service from the stock room is quick and stress free. Office is promoting its free next-day delivery to store or home and click-and-collect services, too.

Cons

There is a messy Sale rack at the entrance to the store and the full-length mirror is obstructed at the bottom by the shoes on display, which have to be moved so you can see your feet when you try on shoes. Office does not have my size in stock, but the free next-day delivery option feels like they are going the extra mile.

Kurt Geiger

Kurt Geiger

Kurt Geiger

Kurt Geiger

Up-to-the-minute trends translated into KG’s signature style

8/10

Pros

Kurt Geiger is a fun, fresh shopping experience and the Trafford Centre store stands out thanks to its interesting use of mirrors to create boxes to showcase shoes instead of standard windows. A strong range of espadrilles catch the eye near the entrance and Kurt Geiger’s younger sister label, Miss KG, allows shoppers to buy into the trend at various levels – a pair of sequinned espadrilles from Miss KG at £32 compares with a main line pair at £110. The Keats black and red strappy sandals (£230) combine snakeskin detail, tassels, fringing and beading for a play on the ethnic trend yet retain the handwriting Kurt Geiger is known for. Men’s collections appeal to a trend-conscious shopper with espadrilles (£70), sliders (£35) and premium sneakers (£160) designed with a point of difference.

Cons

It feels less buzzy than last season’s visit to Westfield Stratford City – perhaps because the music is not as loud, but maybe because a third of the store is on Sale. It could struggle to entice men to the small menswear section at the back.

 

Russell and Bromley spring 16

Russell and Bromley spring 16

Russell and Bromley spring 16

Russell & Bromley

High service levels match the prices in a classic, premium setting

7/10

Pros

The Trafford Centre store is light and airy, and has light wood fittings, so the shoes on display stand out and convey the premium feel. Staff are immediately at hand to help and bring matching handbags, as well as smaller and larger half-sizes in a way that feels thoughtful rather than a hard sell. You get the feeling that Russell & Bromley customers pick up the latest update on a classic style each season, so prominence is given to its signature loafers. However, there are some interesting new pieces, such as the Stuart Weitzman silver perforated espadrille. Although pricey at £235, it has a leather sole and is made in Spain.

Cons

There is not much high summer stock on display compared with other stores, and there is no kidswear here. They did not have my size but offered to order it for me, and also wrote down the details so I could order online myself.

Michael Kors footwear at Sole

Michael Kors footwear at Sole

Michael Kors footwear at Sole

Sole

Carves out a niche with extra-special styles but service needs improvement

7/10

Pros

The store is in a great location next to Selfridges, the black, white and copper shopfit looks classy and the brand list in the windows (Jeffery West, Fly London, DKNY, Vivienne Westwood, Aquascutum and Moschino) highlights the premium assortment. However, the front of the store and windows are largely dominated by eye-catching versions of some of the more ubiquitous styles, such as patterned Toms, leopard-print Converse or snakeskin Stan Smiths. There is clearly a point of difference from the standard multiples with a heavy focus on alternative colours and textures for men’s styles, or sequins and metallics for women. There are also a lot of shoecare products on offer, which helps to create a specialist footwear environment.

Cons

No one offers any help as I browse and staff chat among themselves behind the till. Sole clearly prides itself on offering something different but where styles are available from high street rivals, it needs to be careful on price: at £74.99, a pair of Adidas snakeskin Superstars were £5 more than in Schuh.

Clarks

Clarks

Clarks

Clarks

Comfort technology builds on an impressive heritage, with strong multichannel offer

7/10

Pros

Clarks promotes its impressive heritage above the door with the C&J Clark “Shoemakers since 1825” logo, yet manages to feel contemporary thanks to the use of big campaign images and seasonal cherry blossom displays. The women’s collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum is instantly eye-catching: 1960s prints feature on a small range of styles, including patent Mary Janes with a block heel at £80. The Griffin Mia (£50) is a patent Mary Jane with detachable fringing for two different looks. The men’s Brinton Craft in tobacco suede (£70) is a nice take on the moccasin trend. Knowledgeable and friendly are staff quick to point out delivery options if a style or size is not in stock.

Cons

 Clarks could make more of classic men’s styles such as the desert boot or wallabie to entice younger customers into its stores. The V&A collection is distinctive but could appear frumpy alongside Clarks’ more classic, comfort styles.

Dune spring 16 campaign

Dune spring 16 campaign

Dune spring 16 campaign

Dune

John Lewis concession does the trick as main store relocates

6/10

Pros

We visit a women’s concession within John Lewis as the standalone Dune store is in the process of relocating, so it is not a true reflection of a normal Dune store. However, the product is well presented within John Lewis’s footwear department and styles are grouped sensibly, so it is easy to shop for a particular look or occasion. Key trends are interpreted well and the quality feels good for the price. Standout styles include the Garnish slipper cut leather flatform at £75, which feels good value, and the Coco slingback block heel in pastel pink, silver or black at £70 is a wearable interpretation of this season’s trend. The Dune magazine is available to pick up for customers and includes founder Daniel Rubin’s email address for comments, which is a nice touch.

Cons

It is difficult to judge the true Dune experience but, nonetheless, there is no one around to help with sizes while I visit, although there is a ticketing machine for you to request service. Prices sometimes feel a bit high for some of the more basic styles.

Footasylum

Footasylum

Footasylum

Footasylum

Interesting assortment let down by a lack of interaction and inconsistent lighting

5/10

Pros

The dark, quirky shopfit is inventive and has been updated this season with campaign imagery using a cinema theme with film strips in the windows featuring some of the latest shoe styles, trainers stacked in popcorn cartons and a “Now showing” sign to highlight the leading brands such as Adidas, Nike, Timberland and Ellesse. The store has a good selection of footwear accessories, such as laces and Crep Protect protective spray, while brands such as Glorious Gangsta (styles from £54.99) bring a point of difference.

Cons

Quite a few styles have no prices on and no one greets me or offers any help. Employees stand chatting in pairs rather than helping customers. Part of the store is well lit but the central part is really dark and neon strip lighting makes it difficult to see the detail on the product. The ”Now showing” swing tag fits into the cinema-themed campaign and is attached to various shoes but gives no actual detail on what it is – perhaps it intended to identify new season stock, but this is not clear.

JD Sports

JD Sports

JD Sports

JD King of Trainers

Wide range but product knowledge and service are lacking

5/10

Pros

JD certainly packs a punch when it comes to all things trainers and the Trafford Centre store is packed as a result. The conveyor belt running with shoes on is a nice touch and provides visual impact as you head upstairs to the King of Trainers area on a mezzanine. The store has all the key collections from Nike, Adidas, Asics and Vans divided into zones with appropriate signage and branding. Technology is used to spice up the waiting experience as customers’ trainer orders can be tracked on big screens (similar to Argos but more jazzy) which is a nice touch as you wait to try on shoes.

Cons

Staff help when asked but advice is perfunctory – “yes they’re OK to run in” in response to a query about a pair of Asics trainers at £100. Service definitely lets this experience down when compared with rivals such as Footlocker.

Aldo

Aldo

Aldo

Aldo

4/10

Some standout pieces but needs more point of difference as competition hots up

Pros

Aldo is in a good location and windows are well styled with the retailer’s corresponding accessories showing off a complete look, augmented by “April showers” signage. In store a promotion offers a £20 reward when you spend £60 on new product. Some styles – a buttery soft leather moccasin at £65, for example – feel better value than others.

Cons

Once the go-to place for fashion-forward footwear at reasonably purse-friendly prices, competition has intensified in this space from the likes of River Island and Topshop, so Aldo has to work harder to lure people in. This is not helped by Sale signage that blocks half the door. Some styles look cheaper than they should be for the price – for example, the neon orange stiletto heel courts at £60 or the silver fake leather thong sandals with embellishment at £40, which looks similar to more basic styles you can buy at Next for £25. Around a third of the store is on Sale, which, combined with the offer on new-season stock, gives the impression of a lack of faith in the product.

MULTIPLES

Next

Next

Next

Next

Selling comfort benefits, while offering something for almost everyone

8/10

Pros

Next has a huge footwear range for men and women, and makes lots of effort to transform the space into an appropriate shop within a shop for both departments. In the men’s section, the desert boots with the hangtag proclaiming they are ”handcrafted in Spain” stand out as particularly good value at £65, while there is plenty of signage to promote entry prices such as work brogues for £45 and chukka boots from £55. Next sells the value-added extras of its products well – for example, Signature luxury-fit heels at £65 with OrthoLite, which offers “comfort, breathable fresh feet and bacteria resistance”. The pricing structure means you can buy into products at various price points, such as basic sandals at £20 up to £36 for more embellished styles.

Cons

No one is staffing the men’s department, although it is close to the till, which is staffed. Upstairs for women there is one flustered sales assistant who is trying to deal with multiple customer requests.

Primark spring 16

Primark spring 16

Primark spring 16

Primark

Edited selection within Selfridges shows product at its best

8/10

Pros

This is the Primark concession within Selfridges, so is not reflective of a normal Primark store. Product is showcased in a premium environment with dedicated staff looking over a manageable space with plenty of seating and mirrors so you can try shoes on. Sandwiched between clothing from the likes of Whistles, AllSaints and Maje, the quality of design can sometimes be called into question, but at an average of £15 per pair, the value of the shoes is played to best effect. Primark has all of this season’s key trends covered, at low prices – a fringed peep-toe boot at £18, a chunky block-heel strappy sandal in patent nude, green or black faux suede at £12, heeled courts in multiple colours at £10 and a snakeskin laser-cut cage heel at £16 – so shoppers can choose more than one.

Cons

Quality and comfort could be called into question, but the Selfridges concession shows Primark product at its best. The sales assistant, however, is discussing weekend plans with someone in the next small concession, rather than greeting customers.

New Look Men

New Look Men

New Look Men

New Look Men

Standalone store is a step in the right direction for carving out new niche

7/10

Pros

Now New Look Men has its own standalone store, perhaps its footwear can start making waves for men as its women’s collections with fashion-forward styles at affordable prices. The store is busy and the footwear collections are lined up in a central rack covering loafers, boat shoes, lace-up derbies, boots, trainers and pumps at prices that are cheaper than rivals such as Topman. Desert boots are available in both real suede at £44.99 and fake at £24.99, while synthetic leather loafers with tassel details at £24.99 are much cheaper than Topman’s equivalent at £36. Staff are helpful and chatty.

Cons

One sales assistant points out to me that shoes are not sold in boxes, just in a bag. He explains that customers expect to get their shoes in a box but, for the price, it should not matter too much. New Look has a way to go in terms of being recognised for its men’s collections too, as it has only just branched into standalone stores.

River Island

River Island

River Island

River Island

Eye-catching styles abound but housekeeping lets it down

7/10

Pros

River Island’s women’s footwear department feels like a destination in itself with a luxurious carpet and decadent chairs decorated with parrots. A pair of embellished silver gladiator sandals priced at £35 feels a lot more substantial and good value than Aldo’s at £40, while real suede tie-detail heels are available in beige and yellow at £65 and look much more expensive. In the men’s department, real suede desert boots are £50, which undercuts most on the high street. Staff are friendly and helpful, and most sizes are out on display to try anyway.

Cons

TThere is quite a lot of stock on Sale in the women’s department and, although pairs are kept together with elastic bands, there are quite a few stray shoes around. The men’s department is very messy and the seats where people are trying to try things on are covered in excess stock.

New Look

New Look

New Look

New Look

Good value product but in-store experience needs a lift

6/10

Pros

Although the edit in this womenswear store does not feel as fashion-forward as some of New Look’s bigger stores, it has a lot of the basics covered with plenty of lace-up fake suede sandals at £29.99 and espadrille wedges at £24.99. There is a wall full of flat sandals priced from £7.99 to £24.99 covering most bases and tastes at good prices. The music is upbeat and the store is busy but tidy, while the dedicated “collect-and-order” pod behind the counter makes the most of its multichannel offer.

Cons

The women’s store is older and more tired than the new, flashier New Look Men store in the Trafford Centre, and the mannequins are wearing shoes that do not fit. A stool is covered with black and yellow warning tape as it is damaged, and there is not enough seating, so customers try on shoes while hanging on to rails. There are no staff to help.

M&S Collection

M&S Collection

M&S Collection

Marks & Spencer

Some product successes but inconsistent experience across brands

6/10

Pros

Women’s footwear is given pride of place at the front of the top floor of the store and its Autograph collection has some key pieces this season. Trends are interpreted in a relevant way: black or tan suede cut-out high heel boots at £55 are similar in style to a pair in Primark at £14, but the Autograph version is more refined and elegant. The price is justified by the Insolia technology, endorsed by the London College of Podiatrists, stain-protected real suede and greater comfort. Block heels are well represented. For men, leather brogues in tan, chestnut, oxblood and burgundy are good value at £69 to £75.

Cons

As in the Hit or Miss womenswear review this season, it is clear the sub-brands (Autograph, Per Una, Limited Collection, etc) need an edit, to reduce repetition. Each clothing sub-brand area features a few shoe styles but the remainder are in the footwear section, which is confusing. The men’s department feels unloved at the back of a middle floor with a low roof, right next to a Sale area.

Burton

Burton

Burton

Burton

Strong value for a full outfit offer

6/10

Pros

The windows feature the Suited & Booted offer, which offers a free pair of shoes to a value of £38 with any suit priced over £99. The sales assistant is happy to give advice and help on the best way to use the offer (“if you have a pair of shoes that go with your suit, grab a pair of trainers instead or pay the difference for a more expensive pair”) and there are some good value products within the deal, such as the £38 black Kenneth lace-up formal shoes, which feel substantial. The focus is on formal styles, which make up most of the stock, although there is an offer on two pairs of casual styles for £35.

Cons

The selection is not huge, particularly on non-formal styles, and there is not much seating, which could put men off trying shoes. Most stock is priced at between £38 and £50, so there is an opportunity to stretch prices in each direction.

Zara footwear

Zara footwear

Zara footwear

Zara

Floor-height browsing makes for a difficult shopping experience

6/10

Pros

Silver espadrilles catch the eye at £29.99, while a real suede pair is buttery soft to touch and feels much more expensive than the £39.99 price tag suggests. The tan leather flatform sandals with stud detail feel substantial for £49.99, and the buckle slingbacks with chunky heels in white or black patent leather are on trend for the season at £29.99. For men, there are some interesting styles, such as woven loafers at £59.99 in tan or blue.

Cons

Zara is not an easy shop for footwear and probably not somewhere you would think to shop for footwear alone. Most of the product is at floor height, which makes it difficult to browse and there is no seating to try it on. Some styles are particularly gaudy – for example, the glitter lace-up gladiator sandals at £39.99 or the espadrilles with stars on at £39.99.

Dorothy Perkins

Dorothy Perkins

Dorothy Perkins

Dorothy Perkins

Style steals to be had but collection lacks a little fizz

5/10

Pros

There is a fairly comprehensive range of all the main trends at competitive prices, especially with The Fashion Event deal on that gives up to 30% off everything. Fringed peep-toe boots at £39 (with 20% off) feel considerably more substantial than a similar pair in Primark at £18. The Head Over Heels range by Dune sold here, which has 10% off, provides some more expensive styles (£48 for some sandals) and there is a good wide-fit and extra-comfort range, such as the tan Woody lace-up block heel in fake suede at £35.

Cons

 “The Fashion Event” is emblazoned across windows, obscuring displays, and immediately sets the focus on price rather than design or quality. The offer is divided into sections of 30%, 20% or general Sale, which is confusing as there is already a lot of price signage, such as sandals from £19 or boots from £29. The colour palette is muted with lots of tan, nude and black, and the range may benefit from more vibrant tones. The area is messy with stickers and a calculator lying around.

H&M Women's mules

H&M Women’s mules

H&M Women’s mules

H&M

Jumbled product and nowhere to try it on

4/10

Pros

The “H&M Loves Coachella” collection has some highlights that you can be sure will be gracing festival-goers’ feet across the UK come summer, such as the tan ankle boots with Aztec print textile on the heel at £29.99 and some chunky-heel black lace-up boots at £24.99, which are scattered throughout the clothing department.

Cons

There is an assorted selection of sizes on display and a passing sales assistant stops to say everything available is already out. There is no seating to try anything on and the area is very messy. There are some good-value, on-trend pieces, but they are difficult to shop because the dedicated footwear area is cluttered and different styles are strewn across the racks. There is one pair of open-toe mules real sued with coloured fringing at £59.99 on show, which look quite premium but there are no more sizes available.

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