Shoe retailers in many European countries have indicated strong sales during the last quarter of 2005. Reporting the third monthly increase in a row, the French indicated a 15 percent sales increase for November. A similar trend has been reported by VDK in Belgium. In neighboring Holland, shoe retailers’ sales went up by 8.1 percent in October.

A likely turnaround is being cautiously murmured in Germany since the recent confirmation of Angela Merkel as the new chancellor. German shoe retailers booked a 10 percent sales increase in November, reducing to 1 percent the nominal decline since the beginning of the year, and preliminary estimates put December’s rise at just over 3 percent.

German retail executives visiting the Expo Riva Schuh show earlier this week indicated that they had had a very good season, but were not sure of a lasting turnaround, particularly in terms of pricing. A couple of them indicated that German consumers had started to accept higher prices for good women’s boots in the medium segment, but others felt that they are still looking everywhere for bargains. According to a survey made by HFU, the consultancy of Hermann Fuchslocher, some 40 percent of the shoes ordered by German retailers for the last season were not sold at full price.

Many retailers complained that they were seeing too many boots and few novelties at the Italian fair, but most exhibitors said they had had the best show in many years, with stronger demand than a year ago from retailers all over Europe except in the UK, where it was described as stable. However, some British shoe retailers like Kurt Geiger and Dolcis, as well as Tesco and other mass merchants have reported good trading before Christmas and over the last few months.

While European retailers are apparently resisting any major price increases at this stage, their inventories are generally low in the medium and low-priced sectors. Compounded by a frenetic search for new sources of supply in case of anti-dumping duties or other measures against China or Vietnam, the resulting strong demand contributed to raise the number of registered trade visitors at Expo Riva Schuh to a record of 11,042 persons, or 15.6 percent more than one year ago. No breakdown is yet available for the visitors’ countries of origin.

The number of exhibitors reached a high of 1,041 firms, although some Italian companies have dropped out of the show. The organizers rented out a total of 31,000 square meters for the show, adding for the first time a counter for customs inspectors to act on complaints for intellectual property protection. They are now considering new collaborative ventures with the shoe industries of Brazil, India and Egypt.