the ongoing hideous woe that is shoes

I spoke recently about the awesomeness that is the Nordstrom shoe department. By contrast, take two unfamiliar shoe stores I checked out today:

One actually sold some things in my size, but instead of asking what style I wanted and bringing stuff out, they gestured at the wall so I could look for things I liked. Look, people. Most of what you have doesn’t come in my size, so asking me to pick things I like is asking me to set myself up for disappointment. Just bring me everything you have that might work — I promise, that’s a half-dozen at most — and let me sort it out. Don’t make me spend lots of time filtering by a useless criterion.

The other had lots of exterior signage indicating that it specialized in difficult feet. That’s promising. But when I went inside, she gave me the spiel about the product they sell, and when I asked if it comes in narrow, she said no, but lots of people with narrow feet have used it. (I later realized she was talking about the shoe insert, not the shoes, which also don’t come in narrow, but clear antecedents are part of good customer service, eh?)

(I should note there are few quicker ways to send me into a despairing fury than to tell me that a shoe only comes in medium, but “runs narrow”. All that communicates to me is that the person I’m talking to doesn’t understand anything about narrow feet, hence cannot help me find what I’m looking for. To ask a Set-Sail-for-Fail-esque question: how have you seen cluelessness and futility communicated to patrons?)

Anyway, she spent a few more sentences trying to connect her product to my feet, not apparently noticing my get-me-out-of-here body language.

It really underscored the distinction between product-centered and patron-centered thinking. (An early draft in my head had that as “commercial” vs. “service”, but then I realized that was dumb and wrong; understanding your customers’ needs is an excellent business model. Nordstrom sells me shoes because it has awesome collection development and reference interviews. A librarian once told me that if her branch’s hours were inconvenient, it was my fault for not caring enough to get to the library when they were open. So, really, this is not a for-profit/non-profit distinction. One might say it’s a “sucking at customer service” vs. “not sucking at it” distinction, but I am, of course, too nice a person to suggest that.)

Suppose I’ll spend all of ALA Annual in heels. Good thing they’re comfortable heels. But think kind thoughts for my feet come Monday.

2 thoughts on “the ongoing hideous woe that is shoes

    1. I’m not surprised that I know more than they do about my foot, but yeah, I *do* expect them to know more than I do about shoe fit and availability. Hence the pathetic, overwhelming gratitude when people (aka Nordstrom, Zappos) actually do.


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