Friday, January 02, 2009

If the shoe fits: spending less, selling more, and doing good

Surprisingly, as I look back over what I’ve written about for In-Store and Retail Media News, I’ve missed one topic very near and dear to my heart: shoes. That’s one that perhaps stereotypes me as a woman shopper (although not of the Carrie “Sex in the City” Jimmy Choo type – I’m more of a Columbia sportswear/Dansko kind of gal). But shoes are a great gauge of retail market sales, so I’m happy to find something to say about them as the year winds to a close.

Brandweek just profiled as an online shoe company that’s done exceedingly well with little to no advertising budget. Indeed, the biggest print ad I’ve ever seen for Zappos was no more than a three-inch sidebar in the New Yorker. Word-of-mouth and excellent customer service are the key factors that make Zappos successful. Indeed, my own retail happiness comes from knowing that I will be treated honestly and decently by whomever I talk to if I call to ask about an order or email a question. I’ve not had the pleasure of a bar sitdown with CEO Tony Hsieh, like some other customers have, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility, whereas the ten things I’d really like to convey to the executives at the Gap, Target, Starbucks, and Apple will probably only ever make it as far as this blog. There’s a lot of hype about social networks and retail sales, but Zappos is one of the few companies where it seems to actually work. Partly it’s the item in question: shoes are deeply personal but highly coveted fashion items that are necessary and ultimately functional (okay, well, for those who have learned the secret to walking in those Manolos, that’s not true). Partly it's good sales strategy that's accessible to even the small scale retail business. If you want to know more about how Zappos manages to do what it does, for a mere $39.99 a month you can subscribe to their new video question and answer service that’s a lot cheaper than a marketing consultant firm.

For another shoe company of more modest means and goals, take a look at Tom’s Shoes. I have been a fan of Tom’s for a long time. They make a single product in a million varieties and have a single important mission: to help shoe the world. Tom’s makes a stylish sustainable shoe (not Jimmy Choo or Dansko stylish – more “I’m a yoga goddess” or “I’m Brad Pitt and I can wear whatever I want” stylish”). Even if you personally don’t love these (and I do), you probably know someone who does and you’ll love the reason why Tom’s wants to shoe the world. For each pair of shoes sold by Tom’s Shoes, the company donates another pair to a child in a less developed country where podocondoitis is common. This disease, transmitted through high levels of silicate in the soil, which travels through the bloodstream to create lymphatic problems, is completely avoidable if people wear shoes. Tom’s has brought thousands of shoes to South Africa and Latin America. If you still haven’t finished your holiday gift giving or if charitable acts are part of your New Year’s resolutions, you can help Tom’s reach its goal of 33,000 shoes sold before the holidays end. Like its big corporate counterpart, Zappos, Tom’s Shoes makes great use of Facebook and MySpace, where fandom helps spread the word and provides excellent social network buzz about these cool shoes. There's a lot of marketing noise about the power of cause-based sales, but Tom's Shoes really walks the walk, as they say, in that the company's existence is centered on the cause as much as on the sales. Starbucks will still go on selling coffee long after their Red marketing foray into ending AIDS in Africa. But Tom's will always have a purpose AND good shoes!

All in all, here’s hoping you stay well heeled and inexpensively marketed for the new year.

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