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More than a third of the population struggle to find shoes that fit them properly

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

Yes, its hard to believe that more than 20 million Britons have shoe sizing issues when they visit a retailer and try on the styles and ranges that are in stock. The figure could be even higher.

So, wouldn't you think that with high street retailers struggling with the fallout from social distancing and online competition they would be seizing on opportunities to expand or attract new customers?

Unfortunately, its not so straight forward.

The range of shoe sizes accepted as being available off the shelf for women is typically sizes 4 to 8. Over the last 50 years average shoe size has risen. My daughter is now settled as a size 8 and yet she struggles constantly to find a high street retailer who accommodates her shoe length. When she does she then moves on to her next problem- shoe width!

Shoe width starts at A and moves through the letters all the way up to 8E. Most retailers cover sizes A to D. For example my preferred running shoe is manufactured by New Balance and is available in a D width so when I replace this shoe with the latest version ( the colour and fashion is regularly changed) I have to check that New Balance are still manufacturing this particular shoe in a D width. If I should even attempt to compromise for a C or an alternative similar looking shoe from another manufacturer my ability to run would be compromised and my Mortons Neuroma would be severely irritated.

A retailer must therefore stock a range of sizes ( for women) that if they were to cover every possible scenario could be up to 10 widths from A to 8E and 12 lengths from size 3 to size 8 ( when allowing for half sizes).

For men it would be similar if you started at width of A to 8E and length from size 6 to size 11.

With these numbers now established, it becomes obvious that if a retailer introduces a new style of shoe in just two colours for example brown and black; to cover every possible scenario would require each store to carry a stock of over 200 pairs of shoes - and that's just in one style!

If you are a manufacturer of bespoke and handmade shoes such as Church, Cheaney,Barker or Grenson in Northampton, the above nightmare is not so daunting as they have archives of "lasts" ( shoe templates) that they have accumulated over generations. They can quite literally make a shoe for you that will fit like a glove and as such give you years of satisfaction and hopefully problem free feet.

High street retailers are therefore faced with huge problems in making shoes and styles cost effective to both manufacture and retail.

They can invest in technology and materials that make shoe construction easier. Moving production to the next region of the world where labour costs are low is another option ( although that choose is limited by increased consumer awareness of exploitation). The third solution and the one that appears to be favoured by most retailers is range rationalisation.

This is where an average width is determined for the style of shoe on offer. Most retailers will settle for a width around B to D. Then they have years of data that determines the shoe size ranges of average customers. The average shoe sizes mentioned earlier would fall between 3 and 8 for women and 6 and 11 for men. Many retailers will strip out half sizes and often chop off the top and bottom end of the range still further. Some retailers will ensure that flagship branches initially receive an allocation of all sizes and are then replenished with stock throughout the season. If you visit an average branch you may not be so lucky.Range restrictions, out of stocks and non replenishment can create a really poor shopping experience.

When you look at the numbers, an average branch could see their potential stock holding in a colour and style reduced from 200 different sizes to as little as 5! If you are one of the lucky people whose feet BOTH measure 6C for women and 9D for men then its your lucky day at every shoe retailer across the country!

If you are not so fortunate ( like my daughter) finding a shoe that fits all around becomes a little like trying to fit into Cinderellas slipper and locating that needle in the haystack!

In the scenarios mentioned above many people settle for ( dare I say accept? ) compromised and ill fitting shoes. They move up by an extra length size (thats 2 extra sizes if you include the half).

In regards to width there are some quite serious scenarios that are regularly seen by podiatrists. To make a shoe fit better, linings are sometimes removed or for ease some may adapt to buying open toe shoes that allow for toes to squeeze into the front and overhang the sole. Others will wear extra socks in the belief that they are filling the space inside the shoe to give a better fit, or they will attach plasters and strapping to their feet and shoes to "help" the foot and shoe come together.

The long term effect of ill fitting shoes can impact on the feet and body in a number of ways. If your shoes "flop" you may start to shuffle and flop and find yourself gripping your shoe with your toes each time you make a stride. Injuries to feet and ankles increase when shoes are too loose or where for ease you become comfortable having laces untied and the body of the shoe loose around your foot. Often ill fitting shoes can exacerbate / increase wear at critical points on the shoe such as the heel. If this goes unchecked the wear down accelerates and the body is forced to adjust to compensate.

The adjustment is generally not for the long term benefit of your foot health and can affect your gait and movement through your body to a negative effect.

If anything written here resonates with you there are some solutions:-

You can make an appointment to consult with a Podiatrist at Deva Podiatry who may be able to put you back on the right track regarding your foot wear chooses. Many people have done so and with our recommendations have seen huge improvements in not only their foot health but increased mobility and overall health.

If you are replacing your sports shoes / trainers a visit to a specialist sports shoe retailer can be of immense benefit. They can take your sizings and recommend the most suitable size and manufacturer for you ( some manufacturers will focus on mainstream sizing as it brings in the most revenue). Others such as New Balance will make available wider fittings but only in selected styles which is great unless you have your heart set on this seasons on trend colour that isn't in your above average size!

My daughter visited a specialist recently and was looking to replace her worn out pair of Asics. They spent time with her assessing her needs and shoe sizing and recommended that the most suitable trainer for her reinvigorated love of running was a pair manufactured by Saucony . She has been using them for around 6 weeks and is thoroughly delighted with them.

If you are one of that huge pool of 20 million people who thinks that there is no hope and you are a lost cause don't despair, in my next post i'll introduce you to a long established British company who are doing all they can to address your "non-average", "non-typical" individual shoe sizing.

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