Epic Nordstrom Shoe Fail: A Tragedy in Three Parts

I was in a hurry.  Headed to a wedding.  And needed shoes.  I had a pair in mind–something I’d seen in a magazine or a Tumblr.  Wingtips.  Suede.  Preferably blue.  Preferably not too much money.  I was counting on Nordstrom to have something along these lines.  They’ve positioned themselves as that mostly-upscale place that keeps tabs on current trends. And they’ve earned a reputation for delivering pretty good service.  Nothing remarkable, but better than average.  

With that in mind I hit the Men’s Shoe department and found the pair I was looking for.  The exact pair, turns out.  Navy suede with a nice rubber sole.  Khaki stitching.  And only $64.95.  Brilliant.  The salesman was giving me a respectable amount of space–not crowding but certainly letting me know that he was there to help.  “I’ll take these in a 10” I said.  He hustled back to find the shoes.  I stood still.  He was out of his shoe cave in five minutes.  And then the Epic Shoe Fail began…

Fail #1: He had boxes.  Not one box but seven.  Teetering over his head, tipping to the left, then the right.  He craned around the box tower and apologized, “We don’t have your size in those shoes.”  The obvious implication being that he found at least seven viable alternatives and that, surely, he had something I’d like.  Most likely untrue as I’m very specific about these things.  It was one of those “If you throw enough crap at a wall something will stick” sales moments.  He set the seven boxes on the ground.  I explained that I really only wanted that pair and that style before going back to the drawing board.

Lesson #1: Don’t try and hard sell or bombard your customer with irrelevant choices.  Own the fact that you don’t have the right solution at that very moment and then collaborate on the next-best option.  But let the customer control the direction.

Fail #2: I found a pair of shoes that worked.  Very well.  Same style, same price, different color.  “I’ll take ’em” I said enthusiastically.  “Great” he replied and hurried off to secure them from the shoe cave.  He had the size.  Things were looking up.  As he started the purchase process he paused, looked at the shoes, looked at me, and said without apology “I’m sorry, I can’t sell you these shoes–they’re part of our Members Preview Sale.”  Bizarre.  Really, really bizarre.  There were were–I had the cash, he had the shoes, the deal was done.  He had failed to mention that Nordstrom had a secret Men’s Shoe Club that allowed special, privileged access to select items.  He COULD have explained that to me before I started shopping.  He saw EXACTLY which shoes I was interested in purchasing.  However, instead of communicating this in an up-front manner he waited until the “close.”  “So I can’t buy these shoes?  I’m here to buy shoes and you’re telling me I can’t buy THESE shoes?”  Pause.  Stare.  “That’s right” he replied, “Not unless you have a Nordstrom account.”

Lesson #2: Scarcity sells.  I get that.  But if you’re going to create scarcity then you have to communicate it as a value-add rather than a punishment.  You have to leverage scarcity to generate desire from the beginning of the sales cycle rather than at the end–where it’s just as likely to be perceived as punitive non-sense.  And, frankly, pisses off the customer with its absurdity.

Fail #3: “You can open a Nordstrom account and have these shoes” the man said, “It’ll only take five minutes.”  I don’t want or need a Nordstrom account.  I don’t want or need a loyalty club.  I’m not that kind of shopper.  “No thanks,” I said.  We stared at each other.  “You could simply sell me the shoes at the promotion price, which you overlooked earlier, ” I said.  No can do.  He’d “get in trouble.”  These things are, well, “tracked” or something along these lines.  The salesman leaned in to me a bit.  “You can open the account, buy the shoes, and close the account down five minutes later…”  Faustian.  Slimy.  Sad.  In one sentence he betrayed his employer–a reputable store.  He betrayed the program he was being paid to promote.  And he betrayed any confidence that I may have had in his integrity.  Ugly.  Desperate.  Dumb.  I declined.  Paid cash for the shoes and left.  Thankfully he gave me his business card for all the return business we’ll do together…

Lesson #3: Want to build loyalty?  Start with trust and transparency and honesty and service.  Don’t throw your employer under the bus.  Do the right thing for the customer if, in fact, you’re responsible for poor communication.  And never, ever, put your own needs ahead of the customer.  

It was a three-part Epic Shoe Fail that could have been prevented from the on-set.  The good news is I had a nice pair of kicks for a wedding.  The bad news?  I happened to bump in to a Nordstrom executive later that day.  He was appreciative of the feedback, as were the four other people with whom I shared the story…

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