ShoeShopping Advice From a Shoe Store Assistant Manager

As an Assistant Manager at an independent footwear retailer, I offer advice on getting the most out of a shoe-shopping experience including questions to ask, information to give up front, and how to score great discounts and freebies on shoes.

In a time where large, corporate and discount shoe stores seem to have pushed customer service to the wayside, smaller, independent retailers are thriving with individualized customer attention and highly-trained service personnel. Finding the perfect pair can be daunting nightmare for customers, but with the expertise of a knowledgeable sales associate, one can discover dreamy shoes to melt the heart and soles.

Most sales clerks are trained, either through extensive and cheesy 80s videos or through quality experiences, to ask 'probing questions' in order to best serve the customer's needs. But what if the customer stumbles upon a trainee or otherwise inexperienced associate, and still wants the most bang for the proverbial buck during the shoe-finding experience? From start to finish, a few tips that will keep a shoe quest from becoming a shoe epic journey:

Give the clerk a heads up. Many shoe-hunting customers answer the existential "Is there something I could help you find?" with the witty response, "Shoes!" To be sure, in a shoe store, the customer is not making an unreasonable demand here.

However humorous the response may seem at first, it indicates to an associate that the customer is not ready for assistance. If a customer believes s/he may eventually need help, it's best to give an idea of the ultimate shoe in mind to the salesperson so that s/he can be thinking it over. Chances are, when the customer and clerk reunite after the customer's browsing, the clerk will be much better prepared to suggest valuable recommendations and ideas.

Be specific, but relevant. It's tempting to describe a shoe by the activity one will engage in while wearing it, and for the most part, such a description can be immensely helpful. A "wedding shoe" and a "basketball shoe" can clearly be vastly different pairs. Yet, a "work shoe" can mean anything between a "wedding shoe" and a "basketball shoe," all depending on the customer's place of employment.

When a customer is, indeed, looking for a "work shoe," or any other types of shoes, it can be helpful to describe the conditions the shoe must meet. Is there a dress code to adhere to? Will one be standing on a concrete floor all day? Does the customer have inserts or orthodics to add to the shoe? Sometimes a catch-all label, like "work shoes," doesn't really catch all.

Let's get the facts up front. If one has a hard-to-find size, require a special width or wear orthodics (custom-made inserts for your shoes, made by podiatrists), it will be helpful to tell the sales clerk immediately. That way, the associate can rule out specific brands and styles of shoes based on his/her knowledge of how each fits and direct the customer to more appropriate shoes.

Honestly! I hate it! If a customer dislikes a shoe for any reason, it's best to just say so. There's no sense in wasting time trying on a shoe that reminds the customer of her grandmother or prancing around in hot, red pumps if she finds them ludicrous. Honesty is truly the best policy and can save the customer time if s/he is willing to tell the salesperson what is really on her mind.

If the shoe fits… There's a country song with a chorus line that lilts "Men don't change and shoes don't stretch." If a shoe is too tight or too loose, alert the associate so that s/he can bring you a proper-fitting pair. Feel free to ask the salesperson if the brand runs big or small, wide or narrow; if the salesperson is experienced enough, s/he will know. Also, trust the clerk's intuition with the brand.

Clerks know shoe-tricks; for instance, s/he might suggest a half-size up one width in from what is normal, or half-size down and one width out. In the end, such suggestions might make the difference between the perfect pair and the almost-perfect pair.

If the size is a trouble spot, be honest about the issue or ask to be measured. If one is unsure, honesty can save a lot of time and hassle in the long run. There's nothing worse than hauling out an armload of shoe boxes in several different sizes only to hear the customer cry, "I thought I'd be a 9!" Shoe salespeople should all be trained on the Brannock device, and can quickly and easily give the customer a point of reference for sizing.

Ask questions. The sales associate knows more than s/he probably ever cared to on the topic of shoes, feet, and the like. Fell in love with some shoes but they pester a bunion? Ask the clerk about a spot stretch. Not sure the shoes are perfect? Ask about the return policy! An experience salesperson will give the information up front, but customers should never be afraid to get the real scoop on things.

And speaking of experience, the long-time salesperson is likely to have earned the ability to give a discretionary discount. The better the rapport between customer and clerk, the more likely the customer is to receive a little bonus, whether it's a percentage off or some extra shoe polish. Don't be afraid to ask about incentives for multiple purchases or upcoming sales; one might be surprised to learn that the payoff is immediate!

Be polite. Not only can a customer score serious discounts and cool freebies, but also a potential long-standing relationship. Wouldn't it be nice to receive such treatment every time one shops?

Remember, sales associates are not in charge of policies, prices, or company problems. The salespeople will do their best to help a customer, but as with everything, some things are just not under a clerk's control. Many sales associates are willing to go out of their way, even calling other retailers or special ordering from catalogs, in order to get the customer the perfect shoe. Everyone knows one catches more bees with honey than with vinegar!

Armed with these handy hints, any customer should be able to find dream shoes without a nightmare shopping experience.