Department stores and mega marts have bolstered their footwear sales by 60.6 percent between 2000 and 2005, according to Verdict, a UK retail consultancy. Footwear specialists, meanwhile, saw growth of only 24.5 percent in turnover. In 2005, only four of the 13 major footwear specialist chains – Shoe Zone, Faith, Schuh and Jones Bootmaker - have raised their share of the market.

On the other hand, big and more mainstream specialty chains like Brantano, Dolcis, Kurt Geiger, Matalan, Stead & Simpson and Shoe Studio Group saw their market shares stagnate. All others either had flat growth or saw their share decrease. Although some footwear specialists are losing their footing in the market, most have reported a continued increase in profitability, however.

Big gains in market shares have been recorded instead by clothing specialists like Next, New Look or River Island. The latter is already generating about 20 percent of sales from footwear. Mass merchants like Tesco have performed well, too, but Marks & Spencer has lost a lot of ground.

The UK footwear market will become increasingly attractive for non-specialists in 2005, as its growth is projected to outperform the growth of the clothing market. Footwear sales are expected to increase by 4.0 percent in volume in the UK this year, and the decline in average retail prices should be reduced to 0.7 percent.

Under the circumstances, the main challenge facing specialty footwear retailers in the UK is to find a solution for the customer’s need to purchase clothing outside their stores, according to Verdict. Every footwear shopper has to buy clothes elsewhere, and non-specialty stores can offer the convenience of buying a dress and a matching pair of shoes in a single visit.

Specialty footwear retailers must become innovative and continue to establish foundations for growth to fight back against non-specialists, says Verdict. One way would be for specialists to capitalize on the complexities of sizing and stock availability by filling gaps that non-specialists could overlook. Specialty footwear can then remain special by offering its customers more choice and service (for further information, contact Richard Hyman or Anne-Marie Hartnett, Verdict, pho. +44 20 7255 6400).