French shoe retailers’ inventories were relatively high before the January sales, which again drew a lot of traffic to their stores, in tune with an increasingly promotional environment. After the hot summer months, which helped them to get rid of sandals and other open-toe shoes, the Fall/Winter season began slowly for them. A 7 percent decline in November was followed by a stable month of December where the independent stores scores much better than chain retailers.

In the end, the French shoe industry federation estimates that the country’s consumption was either stable or grew by 0.5 percent at the most to 320 million pairs worth €8.06 billion, with average prices off by 0.1 percent. That gives out an average of 5.5 pairs per person, with a bit less than 8 pairs per child, a bit less than 6 pairs per woman and 4 pairs for each man.

Sales of sports shoes for adults grew last year by 5 percent – they already represent 55 percent of all shoe purchases for boys - but otherwise there were no major new sales trends among the different styles, contributing to the general climate of insecurity and to the deflationary process. Sales of women’s boots rose by 50 percent in the Fall/Winter 2002/03 season and ballerinas were by 9 percent in the following one.

Sporting goods retailers, some of which have launched new formats of lifestyle footwear stores, raised their market share in 2003. With 21 percent of the total footwear market, they are now ahead of the independent shoe shops, which were left with a 20 percent share. The large specialty chains have 23 percent of the market, the boutique-style chains 14 percent, the hypermarkets 9 percent and mail order houses 4 percent.

Total shoe imports rose by 6 percent in volume to 308 million pairs, but in value they rose by only 2 percent to €3.4 billion, indicating a further erosion of the average price. The growth came only from Asia. China and Vietnam, with about 100 million pairs and 45 million pairs, respectively, are France’s biggest suppliers in terms of volume, ahead of Italy with 40 million pairs.

On the other hand, French shoe manufacturers recorded a healthy 5 percent volume increase in their sales to other European countries, with increases of 28 percent in Italy, 36 percent in Spain and 5 percent in the UK. They declined by 7 percent in Germany and by 15 percent in Belgium. However, the 20 percent appreciation of the euro resulted in a drop of about 19 percent in their exports outside the European Union, with decreases of 10 percent in the USA, 29 percent in Japan and 40 percent in the Middle East.

Putting forward the notion of “French style” instead of the “made in France” label and reinvesting some of the savings on additional marketing, French shoe companies continue to outsource more abroad due to high labor costs and to the mandatory 35-hour work week. The production of shoes declined in France by an estimated 17.5 percent to 62.3 million pairs and their value declined by 14.5 percent to €1.39 billion. There are now only 173 producers with a workforce of more than 20 people in France. After a 13 percent decline in 2002, the total staff in the industry fell by an additional 14.5 percent to some 15,000 people in 2003