Shoe stores are increasingly fed up with customers trying on pair after pair of shoes and not buying any of them.

Worried shopkeepers are increasingly frustrated by people they dub “fit-lifters” who use stores to find the best-fitting shoes before buying them online at a lower price says the Financial Times in Shoe stores sock it to online buyers.

If the shoe fits . . . but you don’t buy it, you could soon be tarred with the same brush as shoplifters by shoe store owners.

Bricks-and-mortar shops have higher salary and rental costs than internet rivals and store owners say some online buyers are freeriding on their resources. “You’ve come in and stolen that service basically,” said Richard Napier of Idaho Mountain Trading, an outdoor sports store in Idaho Falls, who calls fit-lifting unethical.

“It’s not that the salesperson didn’t have somebody else to serve who would have bought something. So not only have you stolen the wages. I have a loss of revenue that he would have collected from another customer.”

It is common for online shoppers to research products in stores in other retail sectors such as bookselling – a practice named “showrooming” – and smartphones make it possible to buy online even while still in a store. But the trend is particularly contentious in footwear because staff spend so much time fetching boxes and advising customers on comfort.

Gary Weiner, owner of Saxon Shoes in Virginia and a board member of the National Shoe Retailers Association, said shoe-sellers were “very concerned” about fit-lifting.

“We also hear ‘My mother sent me in to get my size fitted so she can buy them online’. Those exact words,” he said. “We’re a polite people. So we give them the time of day.”

Zappos, an online shoe-seller owned by Amazon, encourages shoppers to order two or more different sizes, which they can return for free, in an effort to overcome customer reluctance to buy without trying.

Making Sense of It All

What does it say when it is cheaper to buy two pairs of shoes and return one rather than to buy a pair of shoes at a shoe store?

Three-Part Answer

  1. The price of labor and benefits is too high. 
  2. The price of rent is too high
  3. For consumers, the convenience of having it now is not worth the extra cost

Given the above, raising minimum wages is not the answer. Nor is the Fed policy that attempts to raise asset prices of real estate.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock