Western shoe brands should take more into account the growing local competition and other factors as they try to take advantage of the huge opportunities offered by the Chinese market and other important emerging markets where shoes are still manufactured in large quantities, using different price tags. They should also take advantage of major online sales opportunities and focus more on relations with key clients. As consumption moves inland, they will have to deal with enormous distances and a fast-changing environment.

These were some of the recommendations made by João Maia from Apiccaps and Peter Mangione from Global Footwear Partnerships in the U.S. at a press conference during the GDS fair in Düsseldorf last month, where Apiccaps, the Portuguese shoe industry federation, presented the third edition of its World Footwear Yearbook. Maia and Mangione have agreed to work more closely in the future on their statistical estimates.

According to Maia, Asia reinforced its leadership as the biggest market for shoes in 2012, at least in terms of volume and apparent consumption. The Asian continent accounted for 50 percent of worldwide footwear consumption, with China and India being the biggest footwear markets in the world because of their population. With 3.279 billion pairs bought in 2012, China's share of worldwide footwear consumption was 17.3 percent. India had a share of 11.9 percent with the consumption of 2.260 billion pairs. Japan and Indonesia kept their fifth and sixth rank in the table of the top ten countries with 690 and 532 million pairs, respectively.

Mangione noted that per capita consumption of footwear has risen in China to around 2.9 pairs, up from 1.7 in 2002 and 2.7 in 2011, but there is a lot of room to grow. Prices have gone up sharply since 2005, partly because of the appreciation of the yuan renmimbi and efforts by the government to push consumption and improve standards of living.

At the same time, workers' wages gave gone up to between US$3.00 and $3.50 an hour in Dongguan, or an average of $1.90 across the country. That compares with only 32 cents an hour in Ethiopia, which is regarded as one of the hot spots for shoe manufacturing at the moment.

One big problem for foreign brands in China is that there are hardly any multi-brand stores at the moment and that six out of the ten major shoe retailing groups in the world are Chinese said Mangione. They can be extremely profitable and competitive because of their vertical integration. Mangione also mentioned a major slowdown in the Chinese market at retail at the moment.

According to Apiccaps' Yearbook, the European Union's aggregated consumption took second place in the world after China, reaching 2.510 billion pairs in 2012. North and South America accounted for 15 and 8 percent of global footwear consumption, respectively, led by purchases of 2.237 billion pairs in the U.S. and 787 million pairs in Brazil.

Europe's share of worldwide footwear consumption was 17 percent, with Germany and France sliding into the last two spots among the top ten consumption countries in the world and the U.K. and Russia taking over their previous ranking in the seventh and eighth position. In the U.K., 459 million pairs were sold last year, followed by Russia with 428 million pairs, Germany with 389 million pairs and France with 371 million pairs. 

As for other national markets in Europe, Apiccaps estimated consumption at 275 million pairs in Spain, 208 million pairs in Italy, 72 million pairs in the Netherlands and 110 million pairs in Poland.

Africa represented only 9 percent of the world market, and Oceania just one percent.

Due to the impact of a difficult economic situation, the consumption of footwear in Europe and the U.S. decreased by 13.4 and 4.2 percent, respectively, between 2010 and 2012. Instead, the consumption in China and India increased in the same period by 21.4 and 11.1 percent respectively, supported by a positive development of the economy and demographic expansion, especially in India.

Only 1.5 percent of China's shoe consumption is imported, while 86 percent of U.S. consumption is imported from China. The U.S. is still the major import market, with a market share of 20 percent.

From a continental point of view, the European and North American areas are losing some relevance to Asia and Africa as new and emerging import markets. Europe's share of shoe imports dropped from 39 to 34 percent from 2010 to 2012, while North America's share decreased from 26 to 24 percent. Over the same period, Asia's share increased from 22 to 24 percent and Africa's share from 8 to 12 percent. 

With regard to the origin of shoe exports, little has changed from the previous year. Asia slightly increased its share of global shoe exports to 85 percent in 2012, followed by Europe with 11 percent and the remaining continents with only 3 percent. China exported 10.97 billion pairs of shoes in 2012, followed by Vietnam with 562 million pairs and Hong Kong with 314 million pairs. Shoe exports from China increased in the first five months of 2013 by 6.5 percent to 4.4 billion, as compared to the same period of the previous year, while their value rose by 14.6 percent to $17.7 billion, as reported by Global Footwear Partnerships during the press conference given by Apiccaps at the GDS.

Average export prices per pair were $24.39 for leather footwear,  $8.3 for waterproof footwear, $6.65 for canvas shoes, $4.10 for rubber and plastic shoes, and $6.59 for other shoes. Leather footwear lost further market share and has now fallen below the 50 percent landmark, having lost 15 percentage points in the last ten years. Over that decade, rubber and plastic footwear benefited most from the decline in leather shoes, but in 2012 they lost some market share to textile footwear, which now represents 20 percent of the volume and 17 percent of the value.

The average export price for shoes increased from $7.63 in 2011 to $8.09 in 2012. The price for exported rubber and plastic shoes increased by 2.9 percent in the ten years from 2002 to 2012, while the price for exported leather shoes increased by 7.5 percent.