The first few months of 2019 were promising for German shoe retailers, with a combined sales increase of 16 percent in January and February alone, followed by a relatively good month of March. Last month, the retailers' sales were 9.8 percent higher than in March 2018, when they had shown a year-on-year decline of 22.9 percent. Observers credited this mainly to more favorable weather than in the first quarter of 2018. Their recent investments in e-commerce and their increasing use of internet marketplaces may have been another positive factor.

The situation was not good last year, largely again because of the weather. German shoe retailers had to endure an average 3 percent decline in their sales according to their trade association, BDSE, lowering the total market size to around €11.5 billion. A survey conducted by the association showed that only one-fifth of them obtained higher profit margins than in the previous year.

On the other hand, only one-fourth of the respondents said they expected flat sales this year. Another 30 percent were projecting flat sales and 47 percent were confident that their sales would go up in 2019.

Interestingly, BDSE estimates that, while physical stores lost 4 percent of their turnover last year, total sales of footwear over the internet grew in Germany by only 4 to 5 percent in 2018, representing 21 percent of the market. About one-fourth of those sales were made by brick-and-mortar retailers. About half of those retailers have their own e-commerce or utilize a third-party marketplace.

About 45 percent of the respondents to BDSE's survey said they had seen fewer customers in their stores. The declining traffic was named as their second-biggest worry after the early and comprehensive price promotions of their competitors. The increasing competition from online retailers came next.