How Cinderella phenomenon can help create better customer experiences

Shoe shopping experiences are a treasure tote of insights. Here’s how brands can leverage the ‘Cinderella phenomenon’ to create better customer experiences.

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The shoe story opens with harmless window shopping. And closes with happy shopping. The world remembers Imelda Marcos. But can somebody, please, give a medal of honour to her shoe sales person.
By Shaziya Khan

I care about the romance of shopping, the experiential heart of it, what thoughts, loyalties and relationships are connected to it. As the purchasing power evolves, it is timely to put the magnifying lens on the everyday shopping adventures people embark on.

Fusing shopper and planner perspectives, each story reveals an insight, about what the experiential heart of shopping means to the shopper on a mission, armed with her tote.


Here’s touching upon a topic that means a lot to many - shoes.

Shoes makes us happy

Yes, shoes. There’s something about shopping for shoes. That is hard to describe but easy to understand. A poster in a shoe shop in Singapore came closest to articulating that “something” about shoe shopping. “Shoes make me happy, I am superficial, whatever”. Retail therapy comes with a platinum version, which is shoe retail therapy.
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Shoe shopping is a perfect storm of whimsy, serendipity and indulgence. But it is couched in calm currents of wardrobe gaps, comfort deprivation and colourful practicality.

There is a fine line between the two, the inner reality and the outer justification, of something. So, it takes a lot of perception on the part of the shoe sales people to navigate both, deftly.

Like expert captains, shoe sales people steer random, lurching and plunging ships of a conversation to the safe, solid and successful harbour of closure.

The sales people most graciously run to the back of the store and walk back out carrying no less than half a dozen shoe boxes in a long column. And are seen repeating this exercise several times, per customer. Happily and patiently they also join the deliberations of the prospect and his/her family or friends who opine, loudly. Knowingly, forthright at times and yet withdrawn at times, as the situation turns.
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Nobody understands a perfectly magical storm of unreason, that shoe shopping really is, better than shoe salesmen and saleswomen. Have you noticed that the best ones just skirt the water’s edge of the practical and close ended. Their pitch is mostly tuned to the joyously thrilling surf, all magical and open ended.

Try posing a problem, any problem, to a shoe salesperson and you will realise the truth of this.
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Is this shoe too tight? No way, this material expands as you wear it.
Is this shoe too loose? No way, your feet expand when you stand on them for long hours.
Is this colour too young for me? Of course not, it is in fashion this season, for everybody.
Is this colour too old for me? Of course not, it is evergreen.
Should I buy the heel or the flat? Of course, you buy both, you need one for day and one for night.
Should I buy the black or the tan? Buy both, you need one for weekday and one for weekend.
And so it goes. Each answer, reassures the beating heart of the closet shoe-a-holic. Providing a justifying narrative for a mostly unjustified purchase.

The shoe story opens with harmless window shopping. And closes with happy shopping. The world remembers Imelda Marcos. But can somebody, please, give a medal of honour to her shoe sales person.

Cinderella Insight: Our search for what fits, is actually to find what we love.
Whether shoe shopping is mere window shopping or wedding shopping or weekend shopping, or panic shopping or party shopping or holiday shopping, the women in the shop are letting their inner Cinderellas out.

So, every woman on a shopping mission for shoes, is on a mission for something deeper, besides the stated test of fit of course. This is about finding what she will love wearing for as long as she can. Sales people, spouses, friends, family, do well, to treat shoes shopping missions as nothing less than stepping stones of an unfolding love story.

How can brands leverage the Cinderella phenomenon to create better experiences for customers?
There are a myriad ways that all brands in shoe shopping eco system can sit closer to the experiential heart of this Cinderella phenomenon. A shoe ball, or a fashion show, that is a celebration of shoes, instead of the dresses that tend to dominate fashion, is only a start. Engaging shoe diaries, bringing alive unique shoe love stories, is another community creating platform. Special day or even hours, dedicated to shoe shopping, as official perks for working women, related to destination shoe brands and stores, could be a wow. A shoe agony aunt to guide buyers on what’s best for them (for instance, many are unaware that there is a “wide fit” option available for broad feet etc.) Even as expert who analyses gait & steps to guide you on what’s best for long term wear (professional athletic shoe stores offer this in some parts of the world).

These are just few indications of mining the experience to enhance it. In sum, shoes do make women happy, and there’s a lot of experiential potential there, for brands to build around. Let’s, err, step on it.

(The writer is national planning director, Wunderman Thompson. Views expressed are personal.)
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