The year of 2013 was not a bright one for the majority of shoe retailers in the Nordic countries. Overall, footwear sales in the region fell by 0.7 percent at constant prices in 2013, down to a total of SEK 12.73 billion (€1,380m-$1,845m), according to an annual survey by Skomagazinet.

The combined revenues of the five largest footwear companies in the Nordic countries fell by 4.5 percent. Nilson Group had a tough year with sales down by 6.1 percent to SEK 2,931 million (€317.00m-$425.13m) across all the markets in which it operates, and by 3.6 percent in Sweden alone. The company attributed much of the decline to poor economic conditions for retail companies in general. During 2013, Nilson opened some new stores but also closed some unprofitable ones, resulting in a total door count of 257, the same as at the end of 2012.

Based in Sweden and trading in other countries as well, Nilson Group owns several big chains of stores including Din Sko, Skopunkten, Nilson Radical and Carl Jern, and it manages several Ecco shops, but doesn't break down sales by format. According to Skomagazinet's estimates, Din Sko still accounts for over half of Nilson Group's turnover with sales of about SEK 1.195 billion (€129.24m-$173.33m). Next is Skopunkten with approximately SEK 606 million (€65.54m-$87.90m), followed by Radical with about SEK 337 million (€36.45m-$48.88m) and Carl Jern with a turnover of approximately SEK 135 million (€14.60m-$19.58m).

A number of measures have been taken by the group to help promote positive growth in 2014 including a focus on more efficient inventory management as well as marketing efforts and new store displays.

Euroskor, the big buying group based in Norway, also had a bad 2013, but a top executive of the company disagrees with the figures provided by the magazine, stating that its total sales declined by only 2 percent to 3,439 million Norwegian kroner (€415.5m-$556.4m). They fell by 5.3 percent in Norway and by 15 percent in Sweden, due to the shutdown of the Skokanon chain in 2012, but grew by 200 percent in Denmark.

The Norwegian company acquired the Danish Euro Sko before the summer of last year, it established a new wholesale company there and made a contract with former members of the group representing 29 shops.

Aside from Skokanonen, the group's sales were somewhat better in Sweden than in Norway, but both markets experienced a poor start and a poor end of the year. A number of stores were closed during the year, leaving a total of 496 units. According to Skomagazinet, which interviewed an official of the company, a large number of sales were lost as customers purchased abroad, while on vacation outside the Nordic market.

Scorett's turnover fell by 2.7 percent to SEK 815 million (€88.8m-$118.9m) during 2013, and according to its chief executive, Peter Blomqvist, the year was one of the most difficult ever. During 2013, the Swedish chain closed its Citybird chain and converted a number of its stores to the Håkansson format, which now consists of 17 stores. This was one of the many reasons for the sales decline. Another was increased competition from online stores. The chain had 339 shops at the end of the year.

Futura Group - an association of four family companies: Bergqvist, Johansson, Jarméus and Ryns - fared the best among the Nordic chains, reporting a 0.5 percent drop to SEK 467 million (€50.9m-$68.1m) at its 43 stores. This was largely thanks to Bergqvist, which has now had a store in the Emporia Mall of Malmö for an entire year. Jarméus alone, however, experienced a decline of 2.7 percent in 2013.

ANWR-Garant, the Swedish cooperative run by Garant International, fared relatively better than the average of the 34 largest companies on Skomagazinet's list. Its sales declined by 1.9 percent to SEK 2,464 million (€268.4m-$359.3m) and it ended the year with 339 affiliated shops.

Rizzo, the upmarket shoe retailer owned by Venue Retail Group (VRG), performed the best with a sales increase of 5 percent to SEK 243.8 million (€23.37m-$35.36m) during the financial year ended in August 2013. Together with its other operations, VRG raised its footwear sales by 8.9 percent to a total of SEK 305 million (€33.00m-$44.24m), representing nearly one-third of its total revenues. Venue Retail, a company that we are not covering as closely as before because of its increasing focus on handbags and other accessories, reported relatively stable sales for Rizzo through last May and announced that it will launch its online store in the autumn.

In the Nordic markets, the average price for shoes increased by roughly 1 percent for women in 2013 and by around 3.5 percent for men. Roughly 50 percent of the whole footwear consumption was handled by shoe-specific retailers, but their sales were off by an estimated 2 percent. About 12 percent of shoe purchases were made online.

When looking at the demographics of the Nordic market, women who are 50 or older tend to buy the most expensive shoes, paying on average SEK 539 (€58.29-$78.18) last year for a pair of shoes. Among men, younger people in the 30-49 age group spent the most at an average of SEK 664 (€72.3-96.8) per pair, up from SEK 638 in 2012. Sport and casual footwear hold a 35.5 percent share in consumers' purchases.