GDS Retailers Gravitate to Basics, Comfort Styles

Düsseldorf, Germany — Despite ongoing economic and market challenges, the mood at the GDS shoe fair, which closed here Friday, was cautiously optimistic.

Buyers and vendors on the show floor said they have noticed a definite shift in consumer preferences, with more basic, comfort-driven styles leading the way over fashion looks.

“The days of the stiletto are over,” said Karima Ouali, owner of Bleibgruen, a shop in Berlin that carries United Nude, Casadei and Jeffrey Campbell.

Ouali said she is stocking more wedges and other easy-to-wear styles. “I try on every shoe [I’m considering], and if the fit is good and the shoe is comfortable, I buy it,” the retailer said.

André Hamouda, manager of Scholl footwear, parent company of Dr. Scholl’s, said his customers were cautious about committing to styles that were too feminine or modern.

“They are focused on buying basics,” he said. “They want excellent fit, nice materials and nice prices.”

Basia Gugalka, owner of Schuberts footwear shops, which has locations across the U.K., agreed that comfort was top of mind for her customers.

“Last season, we did very well with quality comfortable shoes, some more-feminine styles and ankle boots,” she said. Still, Gugalka expressed caution about the economy. “In England, there is a recession, and we don’t know how [business] will develop.”

Speaking about the current climate in the Middle East, Ghassan Shamout, manager of Alyasra fashion department store in Kuwait, said she expects sales to improve slightly in the coming months.

“Our women’s sales will get a little bit better [this spring],” he said, adding that the retailer stocks footwear brands such as Donna Karan, Kenzo and Jimmy Choo.

In Germany, though, the retail mood is uneven.

According to BDSE, the German footwear retail association, a third of German shoe retailers are anticipating sales growth in 2012, while half are projecting flat sales. About a fifth, the organization said, are worried about declining sales.

Given positive employment figures and continued optimism among German consumers, BDSE said overall sales gains of 2 percent to 3 percent should be attainable in the year ahead.

By comparison, in 2011, the German shoe retail industry reported a 2 percent decline in sales, 7.8 billion euros, or $10.9 billion. (All dollar figures are converted from the euro at an average exchange rate for the period.)

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