Towards the end of last year, Sally my wife and I spent a luxurious 15 nights in NYC. It was a delightful stay and one of the things we did from a research perspective was to have a focus on how women’s shoes were being retailed in the big apple. I was keen to see if there were any silver bullets we could bring back to the Australian market.
However, what we discovered is there is definitely no low hanging fruit. Every major shoe retailer appears to be pursuing the same strategy of simply making the shoes the hero. Some stores are perhaps a little more cluttered than others, but most simply have pared back in-store environments where the shoes have to speak for themselves from a merchandising perspective. There was no-one doing something remarkable we could use as a case study to convince any clients of a new approach that had been tried and tested in the American market. Some stores in NY did have big bold window displays that attracted strong attention, but they were truly big budget stuff.
Others like Saks Fifth Avenue have a revamped 8th floor women’s shoe offering that was getting lots of media attention, lavishly and spaciously merchandised around different clusters of well known brands, but again, nothing different, rather simply an aggregation of brands.
Across the board there is a fundamental assumption at a store level that customers know what the individual retail or shoe brands stand for as there is virtually no brand storytelling in store. Stroll the store, eyeball the shoes and experience some form of customer service. Even the way that shoes are showcased in store generally varies very little from retailer to retailer.
Certainly it is a category that demands ‘high-touch’ customer service and there can be considerable variability from one store to another. In fact it is at a service level where retail brands can seek to differentiate, but one senses that here or in NYC, there are very few doing it, except perhaps at a very niche and boutique level. It is not surprising therefore that we witnessed some of our own women’s shoe brand chains out in the market with 70% discount sales before Christmas.
There has to be a better way.