- DSW. Here, what you see is what you get. If the size isn’t on the shelf, they don’t have it; there is no “checking in the back” and anxious waiting time. However, there is also no human element to this experience (or, on the bright side, human interference, if you prefer not to have some salesman/woman ogling you as you squeeze your feet into pair after pair of shoes and wobble about the store). No one will offer to call another store if they don’t have your size, and no one will recommend you an alternative pair of shoes. Furthermore, I would bet that if you stacked all of the shoes displayed in these warehouse rows onto pretty department store pedestals (see #4), a) a greater variety of shoes would be available, and b) the store would sell more shoes to shoppers’ spontaneous, “Look! How pretty!” reaction.
* Smaller versions of this design include Payless and Foot Locker.
- Outlet-boutique hybrids. (e.g. Shoemania) These stores offer cramped rows of single shoes, and when you find the one you want, you alert one of the uniformed attendants walking around in headsets. They are supposed to alert someone in the storeroom, procure your shoes, and you balance precariously in that aisle, dodging other customers as you remove your current pair of dilapidated shoes and try to fit into the new pair—all while maneuvering your bags and the shoebox (or boxes if you are trying on more than one pair of shoes) out of everyone’s way. The pros: more shoes displayed but at warehouse-style prices. The con: these workers do not attend to you personally, as they would in a department store. Thus, if you need a different size or even just to return a pair you don’t want, the amount of time it takes to flag down “your guy” can border on absurd.
- Boutiques. As is implied in their name, these stores are typically smaller and therefore offer a smaller but more tailored selection of shoes. Want a Nine West shoe? Go to a Nine West boutique! Aldo and Bakers have quite successful franchises, as well. These shoes are usually displayed considerably more attractively than in the previous two examples, and an attendant will wait on you when you visit these stores. However, most boutiques do not carry obscure sizes (alas, 11 is included in “obscure”), so extremely large- and small-footed people rarely have success here. Moreover, these shoes at these venues are often the most expensive.
- Department Stores. This to me seems like the “original” shoe store, as it is where I looked for most of my shoes from childhood onward. Here, salespeople attend to you personally, retrieving the shoe you found on a shelf of pedestal around the showroom floor and waiting to either help you pay for your successful find or to remove the unwanted pair once you deem them unfitting. Again, the wait time for retrieval can be lengthy, depending how many salespeople are on the floor and how crowded the department is, but at least here you can recline in a seat and actually sit down to try the shoes on. (This is another perk of the boutique arrangement, as well.) Prices are generally higher than at warehouses, but a good sale can beat any boutique price handily!
During my recent shopping experience, what shocked me the most was how McDonald’s-esque everything has become. Scanning a barcode, keying a shoe number into a touchpad, and wearing headsets to communicate with the stockroom do seem like very efficient means of conducting shoe sales, but in the end, the wait time to retrieve shoes from a back room—whether at a boutique or a department store—does not seem any shorter than what I remember as a child, when everyone still used the old-fashioned “I’ll go look on the shelves in the back” method. And as much as I hate being fussed over by salespeople, it’s almost more frustrating to be forced to pass up a nice shoe just because the store couldn’t afford to add a size 11 to their small stockpile of boxes underneath.
As much as I hate to admit it, my mother may sometimes be right: there is something to the “old” way of doing things.