What We Can All Learn From the Business of Selling Shoes

I don’t love shoes. There I said it — and I hope all of you don’t think I have completely lost my mind. To me shoes are just, well, a pair of shoes. If they are comfortable I wear them. If they have the potential to keep my feet warm in sub-freezing temperatures, they may earn a place on my short list. (I adore fleece-lined Merrels).

But, the business of selling shoes — that is an entirely different story. That realm earns a place on my “obsession short list”. As it turns out, selling shoes can teach us quite a bit about customers and meeting their needs. I may not love shoes. But, I marvel at their market power.

The Power of Shoes
Shoes are indeed a highly a coveted product. It’s not a surprise that savvy businesses have paid attention to the “Carrie Bradshaw Effect” (rooted in the wildly successful series”Sex in the City” series), and capitalized on developing market opportunities. The idea of being a “shoe lover” seems to have emerged from the shadows. Even the obsessive component of being a shoe aficionado — owning far too many pairs — is out in the open and embraced. Suddenly purchasing shoes is not only fashionable, but extremely “cool”.

Overcoming Objections
Even though I don’t love shoes, I am fascinated by the business of selling them. Those companies that have innovated and excelled in this area, have essentially rounded up a list of the problems shoe buying poses and have resolved those problems with tremendous creativity. In some cases, they have learned to respect human nature and formulated a plan that didn’t fight the current. That was the secret to success — and this could apply to many product categories.

Smart Shoe Selling Wisdom — I’m just not sure. 
People want to be free to change their minds, and Zappos was early to embrace this reality. The fear that many customers once harbored about shopping online, the actual process of returning an item, was an objection Zappos was quick to handle. Who ever had heard of hassle free returns at no charge? Furthermore,  Zappos is built to support customer service and maintain that commitment.

Lesson learned: Don’t fight human nature – work with it.

Time is money
Some people simply don’t have the time or access to pursue the hunt, and some start-ups realized this. Not unlike Pandora radio for shoes, some companies get to know your likes, and choose the shoes for you, after a brief style assessment and send them to you. (Think of a fruit of the month club for shoes.) For busy women with limited time, or those with limited access to shopping, this is a perfect solution.

Lessons learned: Know your customer and never underestimate the power of convenience.

Budgets are a fact of life.
Don’t show me a shoe I can’t afford — sort through the options and assemble a group of great choices that I can afford. DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse) is one example, and sensitivity to customer pocketbooks is key here. Certainly, there are those who have the cash and are willing to invest 700 dollars in a pair of Louboutin pumps. However, I guarantee there are far more customers who would like to invest less and just look like they spent more.

Lesson learned: Pick a price strategy and excel at serving that customer market.

Re-size and apply to your world
Whatever your product or service, make a list of the most looming objections that your potential customers may have. Then devise equally good solutions to those problems.

Chances are you’ll be putting your best possible foot forward.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. Find her on Twitter and Linkedin.