Although online shopping has been the biggest winner throughout COVID-19, 63% of footwear shoppers would feel more confident buying online if more sizing advice was available and 53% are put off by fiddly returns processes.

COVID-19, therefore, badly affected a market that at the moment is still better suited to in-store retailing. Store closures led to a sharp drop in sales and the market declined by 30% throughout the April-June 2020 quarter. Additionally, even once stores did reopen, demand for formal footwear still did not pick up as there were few occasions for dressier styles. Instead, shoppers opted for slippers to wear at home, or shoes to go for walks or partake in outdoor sports.

The biggest threats to the market have been the increase in online shopping, threatening retailers with large store portfolios, as well as the decline in consumer confidence. The market is heavily reliant on branded footwear and if people start to trade down and move away from these the category could suffer.

However, there are big opportunities within the sector. Several brands and retailers, such as Nike and Farfetch, have started to embrace online and digital innovation by introducing virtual try-on technology so shoppers can see what different items would look like when worn as well as virtual fit technology for shoppers to find out what shoe size they need. Meanwhile, Gucci and Buffalo London are taking things a step further by selling footwear that can only be worn on digital platforms. These are promising developments and show that footwear brands and retailers are able to innovate and keep up with new demands.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 and the third national lockdown on the footwear market.

  • How consumer behaviours and attitudes have changed since COVID-19.

  • What channels people use to shop for footwear and what retailers they buy from.

  • Consumer behaviours around discounting.

  • Incentivising shoppers to buy footwear online via convenient delivery and virtual try-on technology.

COVID-19: market context

This update on the impact that COVID-19 is having on the market was prepared on 21 April 2021.

The first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK at the end of January 2020, with a small number of cases in February. Rapidly rising case numbers led to the first national lockdown, starting on 23 March. It wasn't until 15 June that non-essential stores were allowed to reopen, followed by pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers on 4 July, and many beauty businesses on 13 July.

By September, it had become clear that the UK was at the start of a second wave, and social distancing measures were intensified. Continued increases in infection numbers led to Wales implementing a two-week national lockdown from 19 October, England announcing a full month-long lockdown from 5 November and Scotland introduced a new five-level system of coronavirus restrictions.

Despite these restrictions, however, case numbers continued to increase. All four UK nations tightened restrictions in January 2021, effectively leading to a full UK-wide lockdown.

On 22 February, Boris Johnson announced the roadmap to an easing of restrictions in England, starting with the reopening of schools on 8 March, followed by easing of restrictions on outdoor gatherings on 29 March, retail and leisure facilities on 12 April, and with a hoped end to all restrictions by 21 June. The Welsh and Scottish governments also gave more details on their plans to ease restrictions, with both nations taking a slightly more cautious approach to the one planned for England.

The UK’s vaccination programme started on 8 December 2020, and with the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines licensed for use in the UK, the government has offered a first dose of the vaccine to 33 million people as of mid-April.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel’s economic assumptions are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s central scenario included in its March 2021 Fiscal Sustainability Report. After the fall of 9.9% over the course of 2020, the scenario suggests that UK GDP will grow by 4% in 2021 and 7.3% in 2022. GDP isn’t expected to return to pre-COVID levels until Q2 2022, although this is six months earlier than the OBR forecast in November 2020, mainly because of the faster-than-expected rollout of vaccines. Unemployment is expected to peak at 6.5% in Q4 2021. As with GDP, this is more positive than the OBR’s November forecast, but the OBR does raise the prospect of long-term scarring on employment, especially in the more exposed retail and hospitality sectors.

Products covered in this Report

The Report looks at purchases of shoes for adults and children and uses ONS (Office for National Statistics) consumer spending data, which covers all retail channels – both specialist and non-specialist (eg clothing stores, department stores, sports shops, supermarkets, internet pureplayers, catalogue retailers, markets, etc).

This Report covers the following footwear categories:

  • All footwear including trainers.

  • Excluded from the Report:

  • Specialist performance shoes (eg football boots, ballet shoes).

There is a grey area between sports shoes and casual footwear, although sports trainers are classified in the government’s consumer spending data under the footwear rather than sportswear category. The latter, in terms of sports shoes, is largely confined to specialist performance shoes, such as football boots, athletic spikes or ski boots.

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