5 Ways Shoe Retailers Can Step Up Their Game

2020 changed the game for merchants and shoe retailers were no exception. US footwear sales plunged this spring with the lockdown. Then when the world started reopening, shoppers made it clear: they only want to buy casual shoes like sneakers and slippers now.

With the kind of changes the footwear industry is seeing, merchants need to be stepping up their game to meet the customer where they are now. Here are some tips on how to increase sales, inspire loyalty, and improve your customer experience in this new landscape.

1. Innovate shoe sizes

Shoe sizes are an area ripe with opportunity for retailers. 

In the past decade, clothing retailers have been experimenting with improving the fit of clothing from extending size ranges to offering size tailoring. However, shoe sizes have largely remained static in the wider footwear industry. 

Instead, try some of these ideas that a few trailblazing companies have been testing recently.

  • Extend your size range. The average woman’s foot has gone up a full shoe size since the 1970s. Yet women with large feet have a very hard time finding shoes from their favorite retailers as most merchants don’t stock above a size 11. Offering a wider range of sizes, up to a women’s 15, allows you to capture a part of the market that is deeply underserved.
  • Offer more in-between sizes. Shoe sizes have come in standard full and half sizes (that is, 7, 7.5, 8, 8.5…) for years. But recently some companies have started experimenting with offering more sizing between full sizes. Atoms, for instance, brought quarter-sized shoes (7, 7.25, 7.5, 7.75, 8…) to the market in 2018. The wider variety of in-between sizes enables Atoms’ customers to find their exact match, rather than picking a shoe that fits closest to what they need.
  • Offer pairings of different sizes. When Atoms founder, Waqas Ali, was doing initial research to start the company, he discovered that 70% of people’s feet are different sizes by at least a full quarter size. As a result, he decided to sell shoe pairings in separate sizes.
  • Allow customers to buy a single shoe. Zappos began offering different sized shoe pairings in 2017 to provide accessibility to people with disabilities. However, this past summer they also launched a program that allows customers to purchase only a single shoe. So whether you only need a single shoe because you only have one foot or because you’re just trying to replace the shoe your dog chewed from your favorite pair, Zappos can make that happen.

2. Utilize mobile POS

More so than other types of retail, it’s very common for footwear sales associates to work one-on-one with a customer who is seated. The nature of trying on shoes simply lends itself to a very personalized clienteling approach. 

Taylor Daniel, eCommerce merchandiser and former award-winning store manager for footwear brand Johnston & Murphy, says, “Selling footwear is personal. You are down on one knee, measuring the customer’s feet. It’s quite an intimate setting as far as sales cycles are concerned. Any successful shoe salesperson must be skilled in the art of making that customer feel relaxed and confident in your suggestions on fit and style.” 

Using mobile POS is an intuitive extension of this intimate process. With a mobile POS, an employee can ring up a customer right where they’re trying on shoes, rather than making the customer put everything together and hustle to the desk. 

Kids’ shoe retailer, OLLY Shoes, particularly finds iPad POSs a boon for the customer experience because most of their customers are parents shopping with one or more kids. Completing the sale at the try-on bench while the kids get their shoes back on saves the customer a lot of hassle. 

“With three doors and a warehouse, we wanted to keep the hardware costs to a minimum by location,” says Jim Trebilcock of OLLY Shoes. “Vend was able to give us the ability to use an iPad as a POS, which was a great fit with our operations. Vend was able to accommodate our active SKU count of around ten thousand items and is easily integrated with many different programs and payment processors.”

He continues, “And we’re constantly finding ways to improve the in-store experience of our customers. We’re currently looking into using iPad POS systems, so we can ring up sales from anywhere in the store.” 

“Most of the shoppers at Olly Shoes are moms and dads with kids. And for those types of customers, the checkout process can be cumbersome, because they have to bring all of their kids to the back of the store where the cash desk is to pay for their purchases. We’re looking to be more mobile so we can bring the register to the customer and complete the sale while the parents and kids are sitting on a bench (putting all of their shoes back on) without having to get them to move around.”

Vend Tip

Want to use your iPad as a POS system? Vend is the #1 point of sale system that lets you sell more and run your business right from your iPad.

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3. Create an endless aisle

The world of retail is firmly omnichannel now. Customers don’t see a difference between a retailer’s physical and digital storefronts. Shoe retailers can take advantage of this perception to create an endless aisle

The “endless aisle” is the phrase given to the concept of being able to order items you only carry online for your in-store customers, right from your POS. It solves for the massive losses out-of-stock situations create. (In 2018, RetailDive found that retailers, in general, had lost out on nearly $1 trillion in sales due exclusively to out-of-stock situations.)

The endless aisle opens up your complete inventory to customers, so if they love a certain shoe you only carry online, they can purchase it from you in-store.

4. Invest in sustainability

88% of consumers now expect the brands they purchase from to make a positive impact on the environment, according to Forbes. Simply put, investing in sustainability is no longer a perk to consumers, it’s a requirement.

There are a lot of ways that shoe retailers can invest in sustainability. Some are small and some require a lot of time and money, but whatever you choose to do will not only drive customer loyalty, it’ll help save our planet.

  • Use sustainable packaging. Shoes are often mostly packaged in tissue paper and cardboard, so it shouldn’t be too hard to flip over to recycled paper and cardboard.
  • Join a carbon-neutral program. A program like We Are Neutral works with merchants to determine their carbon footprint and then does the work for you to offset it by performing activities like tree planting and upgrading low-income households to energy-efficient appliances. 
  • Make your shoes out of recycled or sustainable materials. Rothy’s, for instance, makes their shoes out of recycled water bottles. 

5. Build a community

Shoes, perhaps more so than any other type of clothing, tend to be highly specialized for certain activities. There are shoes made for running, for rock climbing, for biking, for office wear, for weddings, for lounging, and on and on. The result is that if you sell shoes, it’s a lot easier to create a community than if you sell any other type of clothing because shoes are so highly specified to activities.

For instance, Pace Athletic, a running shoe retailer, was able to create a running club and build up a community of runners around their stores. Will Hatton, co-owner of Pace, says that the running clubs act like moving advertisements for Pace Athletics and bring in new customers.

This ability to create a community around your brand isn’t limited only to activewear shoe brands, either. A women’s shoe retailer who sells mostly office-wear shoes might choose to offer career-building seminars or networking events. These events function as a way to get to know your customers, offer them value beyond your merchandise, and to get new customers in the door.

Vend Tip

Get more pointers for success from straight from retailers just like you. We caught up with seven multi-store retailers and asked them to share their top tips, and best practices when it comes to running multiple locations.

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Lace it up

Shoe retailers have many opportunities to step up their game these days, from implementing new technologies to bringing their customers together over a shared passion. Adapting to the modern retail landscape takes experimentation.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.