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Hit or Miss: Footwear autumn 18

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Drapers puts Bracknell’s footwear offer to the test at the Lexicon shopping centre, in the latest in our seasonal hit or miss series.

In the latest of Drapers’ seasonal Hit or Miss high street reviews, Drapers put the footwear retailers of the Lexicon in Bracknell to the test.

Both footwear specialists and high street retailers were tested and ranked on the same criteria: product, presentation, customer service, value for money and shopping experience were all marked out of five, with combined total score ranked out of 25. All stores were visited on Wednesday 17 October.

Overall the Lexicon provides a pleasant shopping experience for customers. It is a spacious and modern shopping centre, and most of its shops feature new concepts, strong designs and well-thought-out spaces. The exception to this was the Princess Square area of the centre, which is dated and dull in comparison with the glossy Lexicon hub.

Despite a large range of retailers, the footwear offer – particularly in menswear – was limited and occasionally repetitive. Rather than putting a twist on trends, different stores showcased almost identical interpretations of classic style. Desert boots and ombré brogues appeared at almost every store visited, and there was almost nothing to set styles apart. There was a general lack of excitement or daring in the overall designs on sale.

Women’s stores were marginally more interesting, and quirky takes on the western boot and loafer trends popped up alongside showstopper party shoes with sparkles galore.

One key disappointment from the day was the general lack of customer service. Particularly in the fashion stores, it was difficult to locate members of staff, and the service they could provide was often fairly limited. The stores that shone were those where staff were easily available, attentive and friendly.

If the future of the high street depends on in-store service and experience, there are big steps still to be made.

Stores were visited on 17 October.

 

Stores

 

Timberland: 20.5/25

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Timberland

A unique store design, excellent service and quality offer ensure Timberland shines

  • Product: 3.5/5
  • Presentation: 5/5
  • Customer service: 4/5
  • Value for money: 4/5
  • Shopping experience: 4/5

In a sea of similarly designed stores and products, Timberland stands out as a pleasing contrast. The store is cool and has a rugged design that accurately reflects the brand’s character. Exposed brick walls, wooden beams and warm lighting in the spacious store make it feel modern. Fresh and quirky touches – such as a wall panel made from wooden shoe lasts – add a sense of character to the space.

Although the product range is limited to boots – as would be expected from the brand – Timberland has a good variety of options, and the “Icon” collection, featuring a modern update of its signature styles, is an appealing line that plays into the trend for hiker-inspired footwear. A soft black suede version of the six-inch boot is a particular highlight.

Timberland has a reputation for good-quality footwear and the Bracknell store upholds this with its impeccably made styles. They are expensive – a classic boot is £180 for women and £190 for men – but are likely to last far longer and be far more comfortable than the rigid high street alternatives, and offer good value for money.

Timberland is the only store where I am greeted on arrival. The assistant hovers a little too close as I browse, which is quite uncomfortable, but once I engage her for assistance she is friendly and helpful. She is able to advise me on how to care for the shoes and how well different materials will last in wet weather.

It takes several minutes for shoes to arrive from the stock room, but while I try on the shoes the assistant also encourages me to look at the clothing offer at the back of the store. I am unable to order online from inside the store, but I am given a discount code if I choose to buy shoes later online.

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Skechers: 20/25

An impressive offer that ticks trend boxes but stays true to its core comfort-focused customer

  • Product: 4/5
  • Presentation: 3.5/5
  • Customer service: 3.5/5
  • Value for money: 5/5
  • Shopping experience: 4/5

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Alongside the cult success of the chunky 1990s-style D-Lites trainer (£64.99), Skechers retains an overwhelming focus on comfort and value that is appropriate for its core audience. Trend-led styles sit at the front of the store, and have retro stylings, chunky designs and bold colours similar to big name brands. This smartly tempts in younger shoppers alongside the core customer. Skechers’ younger styles are far lower in price than competitors: the D-Lites offer a similarly trendy product to Nike at JD Sports, but for half the price, which is excellent value.

Elsewhere, quality and value continue to shine. A pair of sports trainers are robust and lightweight, excellent value at £39, and a pair of men’s fake leather boots (£64) are very high quality, and good value.

In both men’s and women’s, the store is divided into three distinct sections, and I find it easy to navigate the store based on what I am looking for: trend, sport or comfort. Within the sport section, technical features of the shoes are explained clearly on the racks, making it simple for me to browse. Although there is a slight excess of product on most of the shelves – which is a little overwhelming – the overall store is pleasant.

Quirky touches give a sense of personality to the space: layered table displays feature vases of flowers, exposed beams hang from the ceiling and chunky chesterfield armchairs are one of several options of seating. There is also a good number of mirrors in the store.

Skechers is one of the few busy locations that I visit in Bracknell. As I shop the staff are cheerfully buzzing around assisting the customers. I am offered help as I browse, and staff are quick to fetch stock, as well as being friendly and helpful.

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River Island: 19.5/25

A varied offer, fun presentation and helpful staff place River Island ahead of its high street rivals

  • Product: 3.5/5
  • Presentation: 4/5
  • Customer service: 4/5
  • Value for money: 4/5
  • Shopping experience: 4/5

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With the design of footwear sections in other high street players’ stores proving a disappointment, it is a pleasant surprise to see a carefully designed, well-stocked and fashion-forward footwear offer in the Bracknell River Island store.

The corner of the women’s area dedicated to footwear is extravagant and lavish – there are metallic gold display tables, marble walls, neon decorations and huge mirrors throughout. The product is carefully arranged, and trend-led, seasonal boots are arranged on the shelves alongside co-ordinating bags and accessories. More “everyday” flats and trainers are stacked on racks for ease of access, which is a helpful touch.

There is a good range of standout styles – such as a pair of metallic platform heels (good value at £40) – as well as trend-led twists on classics. A pair of loafers with a 1990s-inspired chunky sole and hefty chain detailing (a bargain at £25) were a highlight.

Unfortunately, the men’s footwear offer fails to match up to this variety. Styles are pleasant but uninspiring and are no different from the designs seen elsewhere in men’s shoe shops. A pair of desert boots (well-priced at £50) are good quality, but identical to styles in other stores, whereas the womenswear offer stands out for its unique twists on trends.

Staff are friendly, helpful and easy to find.

Unfortunately, when I visit the stock management system is broken, so rather than looking up my size on an iPad app, the assistant radios to the stockroom. While this certainly takes longer than the intended system, it is nevertheless relatively swift. Both employees I speak to are apologetic for any delays, as well as being helpful and friendly – offering alternative style suggestions when the shoes I try on are not what I was looking for.

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Next: 19/25

A solid showing from Next: elegant spaces, classic designs and easy omnichannel options

  • Product: 4/5
  • Presentation: 3.5/5
  • Customer service: 3.5/5
  • Value for money: 4/5
  • Shopping experience: 4/5

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From the unexpectedly festive window display, it would be easy to miss the fact that Next has any footwear on offer in the store, as the ones on display are concealed by fake snow.

However, on entering, the boudoir-style, warmly lit footwear section shines like a beacon, beckoning shoppers to the back of the space. Quirky rugs, h leather benches, pot plants and brushed metal and glass fittings with neatly arranged shoes give a premium feel, despite surfaces being slightly dusty.

The menswear display is similarly pleasing to the eye – styled to look like a retro shoe shop with antique style cabinets, lush green seating, dark wood and marble tile detailing.

Although both the men’s and women’s offers are relatively small for such a large store, they tick all the trend and practicality boxes.

The women’s area is less dominated by boots than other retailers. Practical and stylish alternatives include a patent monkstrap brogue (good value and well made at £30) and a tasselled and robust good value take on the popular loafer (£28). Another highlight is Next’s showcasing of the “signature court shoe” (solidly made and good value at £35) which is an elegant style available in numerous colours, and in sizes up to a UK 9.

Men’s shoes feature a classic range well-suited to the more mature Next shopper, and focus on smart-casual and formal styles. A pair of ombré brogues (£59) are classy, well made and good value.

Both sections feature signs directing the customers to order online if their chosen style is out of stock, and this is repeated by the friendly – if slightly reticent – shop assistant, who is able to order my style behind the till for home or store delivery. She is knowledgeable on sizes, and tells me quickly which men’s styles run to large sizing (up to a 14), thanks to an app on a touchscreen device. Despite her helpful demeanour, it is difficult to track her down, and I am forced to ask for help behind the tills, failing to find any staff available on the shop floor or in the fitting rooms.

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Foot Locker: 18.5/25

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A solid urban offer and excellent, friendly service mean that Foot Locker trumps its trainer competitors

  • Product: 4/5
  • Presentation: 3/5
  • Customer service: 4.5/5
  • Value for money: 3/5
  • Shopping experience: 4/5

The service in Foot Locker is among the most impressive and welcoming of all the stores in Bracknell. I am swiftly offered assistance by a friendly and impressively knowledgeable member of staff. She advises me on sizing and alternative style options when the product I select is out of stock in my size. She is also able to check website stock and order online to the store or my home address. When a size is also out of stock on the website, she checks the warehouse to estimate whether there is likely to be another delivery. This is all done quickly and with a friendly demeanour that makes the experience very pleasant.

The design of the store is fitting for an urban footwear retailer. The windows boast celebrity campaign imagery and standout style shoes on plinths, which is effective in showcasing the trend-focused offer in the store.

Inside, the dark wooden floors and industrial chain-link print walls make the space feel cool and youthful, which suits the offer. Men’s and women’s shoes line opposite walls and the space in between ensures that the store feels open and not oppressive. Generally, the space is well thought through – mirrors are close to the seating, and comfortable benches next to both the men’s and women’s offers.

The range is reasonably impressive. Top-name brands – such as Nike, Adidas and Fila – all feature in the product mix, and a good variety of simple styles and chunky-soled designs caters to a variety of tastes. In terms of value, the labels were all sold at full price and standard value for a brand-led footwear retailer. Some styles were more expensive – £74.99 compared with £50 for a women’s Adidas Gazelle style – than at competitor JD Sports, which was almost opposite the Foot Locker store and thus likely to tempt price-conscious consumers.

A couple of small details let down the otherwise impressive store. The windows are dirty and smudged, and there are several empty spaces on the shoe shelves. This gives the shop an unkempt look.

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JD Sports: 17.5/25

A solid showing from the “King of trainers”, and a pleasant all-round experience

  • Product: 4/5
  • Presentation: 3/5
  • Customer service: 3/5
  • Value for money: 4/5
  • Shopping experience: 3.5/5

Proudly proclaiming itself the “King of trainers”, on initial glance JD’s window displays fail to convey this, as most product on display is from the clothing offer. The frontage relies on a bright sign to draw in shoppers, rather than an interesting window offer.

Once inside, however, JD is a perfect example of the urban, industrial-inspired aesthetic favoured by trainer specialists. The store is very dark, which would be frustrating, but strategically placed lighting showcases the shoes in a pleasingly dramatic way. They are arranged from floor to ceiling on chain-link displays. There is ample seating in the store, but a dearth of mirrors – the full-length ones are covered over by racks of products, which is frustrating.

The overall darkness means that the neon bright tags of JD’s exclusives and discounts are easy to spot, and, unlike some of its competitors, it marks down big-name brands. I spot a pair of Adidas Gazelles reduced to £50, which is very good value.

Nike, Converse and Adidas dominate with trendy, chunky designs such as the Nike Air Max 97 (reasonable value at £145). Colours are generally muted, which makes the dramatic shapes seem wearable. As with other trainer stores, the offer is clearly geared toward men. There is a limited selection of women’s styles in comparison, which is frustrating and negatively impacts my shopping experience.

While I am not greeted or offered assistance, the staff are helpful and friendly when I ask for alternative sizes. They have a good knowledge of styles and new arrivals in the store, but I am left waiting for a relatively long time while the assistant fetches my size.

JD is the only retailer I test that has an in-store order point. It is easy to use and a useful addition – I am able to order anything from the JD Sports website for home delivery in 24 hours.

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Office: 15/25

Office 983572

A nicely designed space and fashion focused offer in a strangely bare, repetitive store

  • Product: 4/5
  • Presentation: 3.5/5
  • Customer service: 2.5/5
  • Value for money: 2/5
  • Shopping experience: 3/5

Despite a jumbled window display, which crams so many shoes on shelves that it is impossible to discern stand out styles or trends, the Office store is sleek, modern and cool.

In contrast to urban trainer shops, Office is bright and spacious – it has crisp, whitewashed brick walls and elegantly curved glossy display racks. A good number of full-length mirrors mean I can view styles in the context of my whole of my outfit, which is a strong addition to a fashion footwear-focused retailer, and was missing at trainer specialist JD Sports.

The menswear section at the rear of the store features curved wooden display cases and warm toned lighting. However, the shelves are dotted with squares of orange duct tape for no obvious reason, which undermines the charm of the space.

The store is fresh and elegant, potentially drawing a more sophisticated, less trainer-focused shopper with its fashion footwear focus – this allows it to stand out from the crowd of shoe shops in the Lexicon.

Trends are a focus and a large, branded trainer offer dominates the front of the store. Office’s take on the trainer trend stands out for its daring colour range. Bright colours and extreme styles dominate – for example the Fila Distruptor II (good value for an on-trend shoe at £84.99) appears in bubblegum pink and fiery mustard yellow.

In women’s, the western boot trend is ticked off with a pair of snakeskin boots which are reduced to £49, which is excellent value for a chunky, well-made, own-brand boot. However, some styles seem to be priced unreasonably highly. A women’s loafer has a very flimsy sole, and does not warrant it £69 price.

The offer in the store is strangely repetitive and the displays seem sparsely stocked. Styles at the front of the store are displayed again at the back, so the overall offer feels limited.

The staff are unoccupied when I enter but do not acknowledge me. I am not offered help as I browse, and as I turn to ask for a shoe in a different size, the assistant on the shop floor disappears into the stock room. It makes for a frosty reception, and an unpleasant experience.

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Primark: 14.5/25

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A wide range of trend-led value styles let down by experiential snagging points

  • Product: 4/5
  • Presentation: 3/5
  • Customer service: 1/5
  • Value for money: 3.5/5
  • Shopping experience: 3/5

In a swish new store, Primark’s vast women’s footwear offer is similarly impressive. The design of the space is simple yet effective. Dark units and displays give a sophisticated feel, and there are several fun design elements, including a neon sign that makes the section easy to find.

Some elements are less appealing. The store is silent and very cold, which is unpleasant when I am browsing. The display racks are close together and are too tall to see over easily so it is difficult to navigate the section, or to see where different products are displayed. There is only one small seat for the whole section, and it is covered in discarded shoes. Additionally, I am unable to find a close full-length mirror, only an ankle-height one next to the seating. The section is relatively tidy, but some rails are empty, while others overflow messily with product.

The menswear section is far smaller, hidden upstairs with no clear directions – it would be very easy to miss.

As would be expected from Primark, products are trend led and cheap. A men’s pair of Balenciaga-inspired sock boots are just £10, which is good value. Comfort is also a focus and there is a huge array of boots on offer for both men and women in low- and block-heeled styles. However, while £14 is good value for a blush pink women’s hiker boot, which feels fairly robust with a cushioned ankle, a men’s desert boot for £16 is scratchy and cardboard stiff, offering poorer value for money. Primark caters well to the “going out out” fast fashion market with easy party styles. Highlights include a feathered stiletto available in baby pink or black, which is good value at £12.

I do not see a single member of staff the footwear sections. The assistant I eventually find is unable to help, telling me all styles and sizes are out. The offer may be vast in store but it is not complete, and Primark’s lack of a website to cater to unusual sizes or out of stock styles feels like a significant barrier to sales.

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Marks & Spencer: 13.5/25

Some stand-out styles, but an overwhelming and muddled offer is further let down by a lack of in-store staff

  • Product: 2.5/5
  • Presentation: 3/5
  • Customer service: 0.5/5
  • Value for money: 4/5
  • Shopping experience: 3.5/5

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There are so many styles on offer in the Marks & Spencer women’s footwear department that I am overwhelmed before I even begin to browse.

The vast range is split between autumnal boots and Christmas-ready party shoes. Highlights from the range include a pair of patent red ankle boots (excellent value at £29.95) and some trend-influenced checked boots (reasonable value at £45). The occasionwear shoes also feature some surprisingly chic pieces with clever design twists (low heels, extra straps and cushioning) to ensure comfort as well as style. A pair of satin and velvet slip-on mules in both deep purple and black (well-priced and well made at £19.50) are a delight.

Alongside these, however, there are several slightly off-kilter designs. A pair of diamanté and plaid block heels (£35) sit alongside stuffy, dated styles, and the overall offer is muddled.

The men’s offer has a much more coherent style, focusing on good-quality boots and formal brogues. A practical, chunky hiking boot (well-priced at £69) and a vintage-style brogue (also £69) are highlights.

The space is pleasant and modern. There are neat rows of shoes on slate grey shelves and good lighting throughout the space. In the women’s area, a box of fresh socks to use when trying on shoes is also a pleasant touch. A lack of practical mirrors – those available are either very narrow or only show your shoes – and a limited amount of seating make the overall experience slightly clunky.

One area M&S is a real disappointment is customer service. I am unable to find any staff in the store when I search. It takes me 10 minutes to find anyone at all, and when I ask for assistance she is unable to help me, as she only focuses on the food department.

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New Look: 13/25

Neat and nicely merchandised, but some styles are low quality and poor value

  • Product: 3/5
  • Presentation: 4/5
  • Customer service: 0.5/5
  • Value for money: 2/5
  • Shopping experience: 3.5/5

Newlook 954310

In past Hit or Miss outings, New Look has been marked down for messy and mucky stores. However, The Lexicon’s New Look is smart, neat and clean – with an impressively smart display of shoes in its bright, minimalist women’s footwear section. Although the racks are slightly too close together to make for truly easy browsing, and there is an almost overwhelming number of shoes on display, the overall experience is good. A particularly pleasant detail is the use of 1960s-inspired glass tables to display standout styles in the centre of the women’s footwear area.

The adjacent men’s area is far smaller but equally pleasant, and has a more urban feel, thanks to darker fittings and wired and frosted glass shelving. However, the shelves in this department are dusty, as are a large number of the shoes themselves.

Both men’s and women’s offers focus overwhelmingly on boots, and the latter takes a particularly trend-led approach with a plethora of western-inspired styles. The quality, however, lets the offer down. A pair of snakeskin-print cowboy boots at £27.99 may be aesthetically pleasing, but they feel flimsy, and have a spongey and cheap-looking rubber sole. New Look does offer a good-value alternative to branded trainers, and a chunky white women’s style (£19.99) is relatively solid and robust.

As with many of non-footwear specialists, the service and availability of staff is disappointing. There are no employees on the first floor of the store, where the footwear offer is located, and when I ask for assistance, I am told that all styles are on the shop floor. There is no indication of whether I can order from store to online, or any willingness to assist me in making a purchase.

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H&M: 13/25

H&M

Disappointing designs and boring product from the Scandi giant fails to impress

  • Product: 2/5
  • Presentation: 2.5/5
  • Customer service: 2/5
  • Value for money: 4/5
  • Shopping experience: 2.5/5

With basic, black ankle boots and plain black court shoes, the windows and mannequins of H&M treat footwear as an afterthought. Unfortunately, this is a sense that continues throughout the footwear department.

The overall store is bright, modern and crammed with trend-led clothing, but in the far corner of the store, the limited women’s footwear offer is a disappointment. Although there is a variety of good-value basics – a patent loafer (£24.99), plain black ankle boots (£24.99) and simple scallop-edged flat (£8.99) are all decent quality and good value – there are no products that match the type of trend offer of the clothing in store. Overall, the offer is quite boring.

Particularly disappointing is the fact that none of the shoes on the mannequins are available in store. A store assistant tells me that they are “display only” and they have never had the styles in stock. She also tells me that they are not available on the H&M website. This is extremely frustrating.

The design of the women’s footwear space is also lacking excitement. Although it blends well with the rest of the store, with minimalist design and white shelves and fittings, the space is too small for the product and the overall effect is messy.

Upstairs, the menswear offer is slightly more considered, and its pale wooden shelves mark it apart from the rest of the store. The offer here is also limited but features some nicely designed brown suede and leather trainers (good value at £19.99) and a pair of mink suede brogues with a standout white sole, which are reasonable value at £29.99.

I struggle to find staff in the store, and the first two tills I go to are unmanned. When I eventually find an assistant, she is friendly and helpful to a point – but unable to fetch me additional sizes to those on the shop floor.

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Topshop/Topman: 12/25

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Poor presentation and a limited offer undermines Topshop’s fashion potential

  • Product: 3.5/5
  • Presentation: 1/5
  • Customer service: 2.5/5
  • Value for money: 3/5
  • Shopping experience: 2/5

Hidden in a dark and cluttered corner of the store, Topshop’s footwear offer is an immense disappointment. The store in general is modern and fun, and has quirky mannequins and playful design details – the small footwear area feels like an unwanted addition.

The section as a whole is barely designed – with its blank white walls, lack of mirror or campaign imagery, unreachably high units, a tiny seat and flimsy, wonky metal shelves – it feels like a stockroom rather than a showcase of fashion-forward footwear.

The extremely limited number of styles focuses overwhelmingly on boots. A hefty, buckled hiker boot (well-priced at £89) and on-trend western boot (reasonable value at £65) both stand out as on trend, good quality and sensibly priced, despite their uninspiring surroundings. The overall offer of styles is similarly good, but the lacklustre display and limited number of styles undermines the strength of the fashion-forward designs. Disappointingly, the footwear selection in the small but heavily reduced Sale section is more exciting and comprehensive than the store’s new season stock.

The mannequins through the store are well-styled and wearing a good variety of footwear – from high-heeled sandals to chunky boots – but I am unable to find most of these on sale in the store. However, the staff do offer to order them for me when I enquire.

Topman’s footwear area is marginally better – it has warmly lit shelves displaying carefully arranged product. The range is basic and fairly uninspiring given Topman’s fashion focus, but styles are reasonably good value. A pair of sophisticated ombré brogues (£39) and suede Chelsea boots (£59) are standout items. The lack of trainers in such a youth-focused store feels bizarre, given their dominance of the men’s footwear market. Once again, there is no one on the Topman floor to ask about sizing, and I only find staff when I return downstairs to Topshop.

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Clarks: 11/25

Musty, dated and neglected – Clarks in Bracknell is an unpleasant place to visit.

  • Product: 3/5
  • Presentation: 0/5
  • Customer service: 3/5
  • Value for money: 4/5
  • Shopping experience: 1/5

Clarks

Situated on a far-flung corridor in the older Princess Square area of The Lexicon, Clarks is a neglected, dated and unpleasant space that offers zero lure to passing customers.

Clinical white walls and displays are lit with washed-out neon strip lighting on a low ceiling with broken panelling. Combined with the dirty blue carpet tiles, the space is like a grim, 1990s office space. Metal shoe racks wobble unnervingly as I walk past, and the wall shelving units in both men’s and women’s are relatively empty.

The store’s soundtrack clashes with the tinny blare of the shopping centre music outside and the store smells pungently of a musty damp.

All of this hugely lets down the Clarks product offer. The range is fairly limited and confined to the brand’s less trend-led ranges. The “comfort” shoes take centre stage, but a pair of silver metallic block heels (fair value at £58) are a subtle nod to a more adventurous style offer.

Shoes are good value for money, particularly the boots. A pair of women’s soft, sturdy leather brogue boots (£79) are some of the best quality I see all day.

When I first enter the store, there are no members of staff to be seen, though after several minutes someone appears from the stock room. She is helpful, quick and friendly. She has a good knowledge of the range offered in store and an iPad tool enables her to check size range and availability in an instant.

Despite good service, this cannot make up for the overall disappointment of the store. While certainly limited by the confines of its dated shopping centre location, the lack of any apparent effort or desire to create a modern, inviting or even vaguely appealing store is a huge letdown.

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