Drapers takes a trip to Milton Keynes, to put its footwear offer to the test.
In the fourth and final instalment of this spring’s hit or miss reviews, the Drapers secret shoppers descended on Intu Milton Keynes and Centre: MK to put footwear stores to the test. Retailers were divided into footwear specialists and clothing multiples, and rated on a number of factors including the strength of their spring collections, customer service and overall shopping experience.
Competition is increasingly fierce in footwear, as high-street retailers and footwear specialists battle it out for consumer’s attention. The picture at Milton Keynes was mixed. It was disappointing to see some retailers’ appealing, trend-driven products let down by what, in some places, were frankly unacceptable store standards. Marks & Spencer’s messy shopfloor was disappointing, letting down some trend-driven and well-priced product.
High street giants such as Next and Topshop are giving footwear specialists a run for their money with slick, well-thought-out footwear areas, but often still lag behind on service. Although staff were friendly enough when approached, Drapers found many footwear sections completely unattended. Customers need help selecting and trying on shoes more than they do for almost any other product – this failure to provide the necessary service is frustrating.
However, in many places retailers put on an impressive display of spring trends. Plenty of delicate floral embroidery was spotted adorning heels and running across toes. As the weather gets warmer and winter boots are consigned to the back of the wardrobe, bright mules and backless leather loafers, taking inspiration from Gucci, are prevailing.
Trainers have dominated the footwear market of late, and judging by what Drapers saw in Milton Keynes, the trend shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. Retailers’ windows were dominated by offerings from sneaker giants Adidas, Nike and New Balance. Plenty had given the trend a fresh spin for spring, introducing new textures, sugary pastel tones and ribbon laces.
- Clarks: 9/10
- Foot Locker: 8/10
- Kurt Geiger: 8/10
- Dune: 7/10
- Office: 7/10
- Charles Clinkard: 6.5/10
- Footasylum: 6.5/10
- JD Sports: 6/10
- Schuh: 6/10
- Jones Bootmaker: 5.5
- Shoe Zone: 5/10
- Soletrader: 4/10
Attractive, airy store design and truly excellent customer service
Clarks is a high street staple, but there is nothing old-fashioned about this modern and airy store. Styles are displayed on tables painted in muted tones and on whitewashed wooden benches. Rustic chandeliers add to the atmospheret. There are plenty of staff helping customers efficiently and offering advice on sizes. I try on some grey suede and silver pumps and, when they do not fit, I am brought both the next size up and a half size in a wide fitting. In the right size, they are easily the most comfortable shoes I try on throughout my trip to Milton Keynes. Staff carry tablets to allow them to quickly check which sizes they have in stock. The men’s section is slightly smaller but there is still a good selection, including some well-priced desert boots.
Some of the range is a little dull and uninspiring in places. Also, I am not greeted as I enter the store.
Foot Locker: 8/10
An attractive store design and strong offer puts Foot Locker ahead of its competitors
An eye-catching display of turquoise and powder-blue Puma trainers with distinctive ribbon laces in Foot Locker’s glossy windows draws the eye, and customers outside the store slow down to get a better look. Inside, two walls are dedicated to an impressive array of trainers. The store feels well designed and is an attractive place to shop. Key styles are displayed in black boxes, which helps to break up the space. The men’s selection is interspersed with interesting features such as “Sneaker of the week”. The staff member who helps me is friendly and helpful, finding styles promptly and taking them out of the box so I can try them on.
When I walk in, staff are clustered around the till area, which is set fairly far back from the store entrance. This means the front of the shop is left unstaffed, and no one comes forward to approach me. Service is helpful, but a little confused. I am told Puma’s Suede Heart trainers (£64.99) are exclusive and that the biggest size is a 6.5 – I later find them online at other retailers in larger sizes.
Kurt Geiger: 8/10
Excellent customer service and attractive product make a strong combination
Kurt Geiger’s distinctive mirrored store front and towering square shelves certainly stand out from the shops around it. A chirpy member of staff says hello immediately, which is refreshing. It is a small store and probably not the jewel in the brand’s crown, but is nonetheless well presented and well merchandised. Products are easy to browse and overall, it is a pleasant shopping experience. There is a wide selection of styles, which tick off all the key trends, as well as some bolder styles that feel unique to the brand. I am impressed by some pointed sneakers with ribbon laces and leopard-print toes at £69. Customer service is excellent – chatty and charming without being obtrusive.
The limited men’s selection is drab and is so small it is almost pointless. Although the pricing is broadly fair, a pair of pink velvet mid-heeled sandals feels expensive at £99. Similar styles are available elsewhere for much less.
Dune london ss17 dl pacific, denvie and guru
A glossy product offer appeals to customers searching for designer styles at half the price
Dune’s glass-fronted store feels sleek and grown up, which is reflected in its product. Many footwear specialists seem to be focusing on a sportier look, whereas Dune draws on the world of luxury footwear with some pointed court shoes in bold prints and with glitzy brooch detailing. I am also impressed by a pair of studded T-bar heels in navy and cream, which look convincingly high end but are fairly priced at £95. Some black patent brogues with leopard print wingtips are stylish and good value at £75. The store is small but well lit, and is a pleasant place to be. Relevant accessories are mixed in among the shoes, which is a nice touch. Staff are friendly when approached and offer me pop socks that are more suited to the styles I am trying on than the ones I am wearing.
Although I am the only person in store, staff ignore me when I first enter and complain to each other about the temperature. Both the offer and the store are on the bland side and do not feel particularly exciting or trend driven. The embellished slip-on sneakers in the prominent campaign images are not available in store, which is disappointing.
Good service and fun exclusives could be elevated by a more trend-driven men’s offer
Office’s windows are inviting, showcasing a range of spring trends. A pastel-toned exclusive collaboration with Converse is a fresh take on the ongoing trend for trainers, and draws me into the store. They are clearly a hit: a helpful member of staff tells me the style was flying off the shelves the previous weekend. Unfortunately, my size is out of stock, but he offers to look it up online and tells me about free next day delivery to store. Women’s studded black Chelsea boots are reduced from £80 to £60, which is a good deal.
Scuffed walls let the feel of the store down, as does the cracked screen on the tablet staff use to look up my size online. The men’s selection does not feel as interesting and inspiring as the women’s: designs are less trend-driven designs and there are rows of similar brogues. It takes a while before I am greeted or approached by staff, although I do see other customers being helped more promptly.
Charles Clinkard: 6.5/10
Excellent and professional service is let down by a store in need of a dramatic refresh
The attentive staff at Charles Clinkard set it apart from other footwear specialists and the store is light years ahead of the ghostly service at some high street retailers. It is one of the very few stores where I am greeted as soon as I enter. Friendly and helpful staff are dotted around the store – one is advising a customer in detail about the styles, another is spending plenty of time with an older customer. Plenty of comfortable seating is provided and there is also an extensive kids’ area with a TV and (slightly battered) games to keep children entertained. There’s also a comprehensive kid’s offer including a sparkly navy girls’ stye for £28.
Although it is clean and tidy, the store is tired, dark and feels old-fashioned. With the footwear market as competitive as it is, this shop lags behind its brighter, more modern counterparts by some way, particularly compared with the bright and airy store designs I see at Clarks. The loud pop music blaring out does not feel relevant to the consumers I see in store.
A nicely edited range and excellent visual merchandising, but marks are taken off for inexperienced staff
There is a definite buzz around this new store and the large, neon green Footasylum sign certainly makes an impression. Inside, staff are friendly and the visual merchandising is excellent. Women’s styles are set against pretty marble-printed backdrops in light pink, blue and grey. Copper letters and jars of marshmallows are interspersed between the range, which is well-edited and cohesive. Unlike other stores, where styles are arranged by brand, in Footasylum similar colours sit side by side, making for an attractive display and easier shopping experience. The men’s section is similarly well organised, divided into “premium”, “future” and “comfort.”
Although service is friendly, it takes a very long time to retrieve my chosen style from the stockroom and once I do get my shoes, I am brought the wrong size. The staff member does apologise, but I hear her manager telling her to, which feels unprofessional. If I were a busy shopper in a rush, the situation would have been frustrating. Music is loud and the lighting is dim, which might alienate some shoppers.
JD Sports: 6/10
JD Sports scores points with its huge selection and keen pricing, but the service and store could be improved
JD Sports claims to be the king of trainers but there is fierce competition for that title on today’s sneaker-obsessed high street. The Milton Keynes store gets off to a strong start with a sleek neon yellow store front and eye-catching graphics advertising Nike’s Air Max trainers. Pricing is keen: some glittery Reebok trainers are £5 cheaper than they are in Footlocker and there are some very good offers on Adidas Stan Smiths. Staff are friendly and offer to leave the styles I try on at the till while I continue to browse. The men’s selection is extensive and busy.
Despite the sleek outside, inside the store I notice shoes left on the seats and a dirty tissue on the floor. It takes a long time to be served and for the member of staff to bring the shoes I want to try on.
An extremely wide range could be streamlined to improve shopping experience
Schuh has an extremely wide range of products and styles on offer. Although many of the key brands represented (Adidas, New Balance, Converse) can be found at its competitors, I also spot some styles I do not find elsewhere. A prominent display of pool sliders in the men’s section is more interesting than the racks and racks of brogues on offer elsewhere. Staff are positioned prominently at the front of the store and service is friendly. Although my size is not in stock, a member of staff offers to bring me the style in a different colour so I can try for size. She also tells me about Schuh’s impressive yearlong return policy.
Cluttered windows feel like an attempt to show off Schuh’s entire product range at once. The effect continues inside, where crowded displays make it difficult to know what to look at first. Disappointingly, there is a small but prominent mark on the pair of shoes I try on and as I leave, I hear staff complaining that another member of the team is late.
Jones lux collection
Jones Bootmaker : 5.5/10
A very quiet store makes for a slightly flat customer experience
Sleek and well-presented windows with a selection of men’s and women’s styles on glass tables welcome customers into store. Staff say hello straight away and seem genuinely interested in helping, undoing laces as I try shoes on and offering different sizes. There is also plenty of them around. Everything is spotless and staff are making sure the shelves are clean and tidy. The men’s selection is equally well-presented and I spot some lovely Barker brogues with navy detailing for £150.
The store is empty and staff do not have much to do, so the atmosphere in store feels a bit flat. Prices here are higher than I see elsewhere. Embellished trainers, while pretty, do not feel special or different enough from other styles I see to justify the £110 price tag – there are plenty of other trainers to choose from on the high street below the £100 mark. The lack of customers suggest Jones has yet to convince customers its higher prices are worth paying.
Shoe Zone: 5/10
Good budget offer and basic but functional store space
Although somewhat basic, the windows are bright and light. Prices are the lowest I see by some margin and the quality, while not outstanding, feels acceptable. Brightly coloured trainers with neon laces are a snip at £9.99. Men’s trainers and specialist work boots are a good deal at £24.99. It would be easy for this cramped store – there is a lot of product here – to descend into mess but, for the most part, it is spick and span. There is an impressive array of kids’ shoes and seating is dotted around.
Shoezone has not got particularly lucky with its placement in this shopping centre, tucked away from the main concourse and next to a strong-smelling herbal shop. Customers coming in and out of the store comment on the scent. There is just one member of staff in the busy store, which makes interacting with customers as they try shoes on and manning the till impossible. The store gets less clean and tidy as I move towards the back.
A shabby store and uninterested staff make for an unpleasant shopping experience
Soletrader is home to an extensive collection of brands, such as Uggs, Converse, Adidas and Ted Baker – customers should be able to find what they are looking for among the large collection. There are some styles on offer that I do not see at other footwear specialists, such as some grey men’s Converse with Lunarlon foam insoles. Given the amount of competition, this is no mean feat.
This store feels dark and confusing: at first, I find it difficult to tell what is men’s and what is women’s. Styles are displayed on crowded wooden panels with tacky, peeling stickers showing the brand and price. Staff stay clustered round the till at the back of the store when I enter and do not greet me. I walk round holding the shoe I’d like to try for some time but no-one asks if I need any help: when I do approach staff, they don’t seem particularly interested. The pair of trainers I want to try on are not in stock in my size and there is no offer to order them online. A door to the shabby staff area behind the till is open, revealing cracked and peeling paint.
An excellent offer and well-designed space for both men and women – but no staff
This is an almost cavernous Next. Shoes are a key part of the impressive windows, including an attractive display of men’s brogues paired with suits. It is nice to see a bit of thought going in to showing off the men’s offer. The women’s “Shoe Room” is spacious, filled with plush red chairs, navy sofas and plenty of mirrors. It feels modern and there is lots to choose from. Signs let customers know they can order different sizes from the till point. There are some interesting styles here, which feel like Next’s own take on the trends. I am drawn to some black mules with a textured metal heel and wraparound laces (£55), as well some magenta pink strappy heels, which are good value at £35.
In both the men’s and women’s shoe areas, there are no staff to be found. This is a real pity.
Slick store design and well-targeted stock, let down slightly by absent staff
Footwear is spread throughout the clothing offer at this impressive Topshop and Topman, drawing customers in to the well-designed footwear areas. Both the men’s and women’s areas are bright and light, as well as being clean and tidy. Customers hunting for the latest trends are unlikely to be disappointed. Embroidery is present once again, but Topshop’s take with delicate gold bees (£34) varies from the florals found elsewhere. Red suede boots (£75) are eye-catching and some leather cream sandals with contrasting toe caps are good quality at £39. Once approached, staff are friendly and chat with me about the trends, taking shoes out of the box and undoing buckles to make them easier to try on.
As in many high street retailers, Topshop’s footwear area is devoid of staff. Granted, it is early in the day but there are customers browsing who could be encouraged to try something on. I notice that there some shoes missing from the display and that a handbag has been left on the floor – this untidiness feels odd first thing in the morning.
River Island: 6/10
A once glitzy store, it could do with a refresh to best show off trend-driven product
Some thought has clearly gone into River Island’s glitzy shoe area. “Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world” has been painted across the back wall in striking gold letters and numerous chandeliers add to the youthful, glamorous feel. There are plenty of the almost ubiquitous backless loafers with gold buckles, but River Island has put its own spin on the style with different prints and textures, including floral jacquard and navy velvet (£30). Similarly, platform sandals with floral embroidery (£45) are a strong example of the trend.
What could be a great experience that appeals perfectly to the youthful River Island customer is let down by a scruffy store. The carpet around the seating area is faded and stained, and has frayed edges, and the walls are dirty and scuffed. Overall, it feels like it could use a lick of paint. There are no staff around the shoe area to offer help finding sizes. I grab someone from the nearby accessories department, but my size is not in stock and there is no offer to order them in for me.
Zara : 6/10
An exciting, fashion-forward offer, but pricing feels high in places
Zara’s attention to detail and design differentiates the retailer from much of the high street. Rather than churning out the same trends as its competitors, its shoe collection feels bolder and quirkier. What could be some fairly nondescript beige espadrilles are given a charming twist with some embroidery spelling out “Welcome home” across the heels (£29.99). A number of women’s styles go up a size 42 (a UK 8), which is unusual among clothing retailers. There is a wide range of sizes available on the shop floor. Shoes are clearly visible among the clothes and are accessorised nicely with potential outfits.
Despite the fashion-forward offer, in places the pricing seems a little off. Some fun block heels with an embellished pineapple brooch on the toes feel a bit of stretch at £49.99 – the quality does not justify the price. Upstairs, the men’s shoes offer is not as trend driven as the women’s and, again, some battered brown brogues do not feel sufficiently good quality for £70. Bending down to retrieve shoes from under the clothes is not a particularly easy or pleasant way to shop and busy staff are hard to track down.
New Look: 5/10
A trend-led offer, which would have benefitted from a tidier store and better service
An attractive monochrome illustration of shoes and accessories greets me as I walk upstairs to New Look’s “shoe heaven”, which is well signposted from the front of the store. Birdcage lights and large mirrors with ornate frames give the area a glamorous, girly feel. Some black court shoes with pretty floral embroidery across the heel feel well-designed and are good value at £29.99, although there are limited sizes on display. The offer is extensive, including a wide selection of party shoes, trainers and sandals.
New Look’s shoe area is scruffy round the edges. Jumbled sales racks, labels on the floor and scuffed seating spoil the luxurious feel the store is aiming for. Product quality is patchy is places. Backless embroidered loafers are a nice nod to the season’s key trends, but feel flimsy for £27.99. At first glance, it feels like there are no staff around. Someone does later emerge from behind a rack, but she does not approach customers and leaves them to their own devices.
New look womens ss17 shoes shoes
Delivers on affordable style but little thought has gone into store environment
H&M is known for its trend-led, affordable fashion and there are some exciting styles on offer here. A pair of pointed slingbacks in yellow and lavender (£14.99) feel fresher and more forward-looking than many of the products at H&M’s competitors, helping to set trends rather than slavishly following them. Some dusky pink silk trainers look more expensive than their £24.99 price tag would suggest. To H&M’s credit, there is a member of staff looking after the shoe section, who sees me browsing and offers to help.
The women’s shoe section in the Milton Keynes branch is a bit of an afterthought. Unlike New Look, the shoe section is not clearly signposted from the front of the store and is tucked away. It is a relatively quiet day and yet the section is a bit of a mess – trainers are heaped on top of one display and there is a pile of shoes on the floor. There is just one small mirror hidden in a corner and no seating, leaving me the options of sitting on the floor or balancing on one leg to try on shoes.
Marks & Spencer: 4/10
Some great product is let down by the worst store experience
There is a huge array of product at M&S and I am impressed by much of what is on offer. Styles hit the sweet spot between being on trend and still appealing to the retailer’s core customer. Zebra-print ballet flats with a contrasting bright red trim feel modern and seem to have been a hit, as there are just a few pairs left on the shelves. A pair of red mules with floral embroidery over the toes reference two of the season’s key trends and are one of the day’s standout products. Pricing is very competitive – both the ballet flats and the mules offer good value for money at £35. Staff are polite, although not overly warm, when I ask for help.
A strong product offer is let down by a messy, shabby store experience, which is a real shame. Staff are unpacking a delivery, so perhaps the ugly plastic crates on the shopfloor are understandable, but on a quiet day, there is no excuse for this level of mess. Shoes, hangers and plastic bags are scattered everywhere. One abandoned slipper lies in the middle of the floor and a water bottle has been left on a shelf.