High heels

High heels have dominated women’s closets for years, but it seems that the high heel may now be failing to keep up with women’s footwear demands, as 37% of females bought trainers compared to 33% who bought shoes with a heel in the past year.

Previously, sales of high-heels and trainers have been equal and last year, the same percentage of women buying high-heels also brought trainers (35%), according to new research by Mintel.

Led by the likes of Victoria Beckham, driving this trend are women aged 35 to 44. Almost half (48%) of women in this age group bought trainers in the past year, compared to 30% of the same group who bought heels.

Overall, flat shoes are still the most popular type of shoes purchased at 51%, with women’s flat boots (30%) and flat sandals (25%) following in fourth and fifth place after trainers and heels.

The research suggests that the popularity of heels is falling in general, as 59% of female footwear buyers prefer to wear flat shoes, compared to just 12% who prefer to wear high-heeled shoes.

Tamara Sender, senior fashion analyst at Mintel, said: “For the first time ever sales of trainers have overtaken high heels. The UK sportswear market has seen strong growth in the last year and there has been a trend for consumers to integrate sports clothing into their daily wardrobes, meaning trainers have also become more popular among women, overtaking heels to become the second favourite item of footwear after flat shoes.

“Athletic footwear is increasingly being used for everyday non-sporting activities showing that trainers are now more likely to be used for non-sports use.”

The UK footwear market is expected to increase 5.4% in 2016 to reach £10.5 billion, up from £10 billion in 2015, whilst sales are forecast to increase a further 25% over the next five years to reach £13.2 billion by 2021.

The research also reveals that the men’s footwear market is racing ahead, with sales of men’s footwear growing 9% from £3.6 billion in 2015, to reach £3.9 billion in 2016. In comparison, women’s footwear fell 2.5% from £5.6 billion in 2015 to £5.5 billion in 2016.

Ms Sender added: “While women’s shoes dominate the market, the men’s footwear sector is growing at a faster rate as men become increasingly interested in fashion and grooming, pushing up sales of men’s clothing and men’s footwear.”

For footwear buyers comfort is king, as three quarters (74%) of Brits who have bought footwear in-store or online in the last year agree that comfort is more important to them than fashion. In contrast, just 28% prefer to buy shoes that follow the latest fashion trends.

Additionally, two in five (39%) of this group prefer sporty or casual styles of shoes, compared to just one in five (21%) who prefer formal styles of shoes.

It also appears that “if the shoe fits” does not apply to many female footwear buyers as over two fifths (43%) struggle to find shoes that fit them well. To address this problem almost half (54%) of UK women would like to see a better range of size options, such as half sizes or wide and narrow fit options, and 43% would like to see a better size standardisation across retailers and brands.

Ms Sender said: “Women in particular struggle to find shoes that fit them and this remains a big issue in the footwear sector, leading to high rates of returns, particularly when shopping online.

“One of the ways to help consumers to find better fitting shoes is for better size standardisation across retailers and brands. While this is a big challenge for the footwear industry, retailers can assist customers by advising them what sizes they are likely to fit into across different styles of footwear and to be more transparent about the differences between sandal and shoe sizes.”