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Are Those Ruby Slippers You’re Wearing: Looking Down at the Customer Secrets Hiding in Plain Site

“The ruby slippers are going to go down as the most memorable wardrobe piece in the history of visual arts.” – TCM host Ben Mankiewicz

If someone walks into your store wearing ruby slippers, the first question is, “Are you Dorothy?” If she answers yes, turn and slowly walk away. If she answers no, you say, “Wow, those slippers are really cool, where’d you get them?” And never forget, “Oz never did give nothing to the Tinman that he didn’t, didn’t already have.”

Why is the most iconic piece of memorabilia from the most iconic movie a pair of shoes? Why wasn’t it her dress? Why wasn’t it the witch’s broom (though to be fair, people who carry brooms have been proven to be notoriously unreliable)? 

Why is it that those ruby slippers sold for $690,000 in 2011 and another pair was listed for sale at $6 million in 2018. This movie was made 84 years ago!

Shoes tell us more about the wearer than any other item of clothing. Which if true, means you should be paying attention to people’s shoes when they first walk onto the sales floor. Not to mention the fact that you should first be paying attention to the shoes you put on before you walk onto the sales floor.

Thanks to a study performed by the University of Kansas,the home of Dorothy (not the ruby slippers; they were from Oz) there’s evidence to back up this theory.

A team of psychologists at KU found that the style, value, color and condition of shoes can provide signals about the wearer’s emotional, political and other vital personality traits. So accurate was their research that observers who were shown a picture of shoes guessed around 90% of the wearer’s personal characteristics.

The type of shoes a person wears can communicate a lot about their personality, including their confidence, creativity, and attention to detail. All of which tells you something about the person you are about to assist before a word is spoken. 

Also, some folksy wisdom that’s been passed around the mattress industry for years says, “Get a good pair of shoes and a great mattress because if you’re not in one you’re in the other.” That’s a relevant connection to make that customers will understand. 

A quick caveat: I don’t want you to look at someone’s shoes and place them into a price bracket. Whether they’re wearing dirty decade-old Sketchers or suede Ferragamos doesn’t always matter. If that customer is tired of being tired, they’ll often invest in a sleep system to solve their problems. With your guidance and your ability to build value in the sleep products you sell, they’ll be slipping off their shoes at the end of each day to enjoy a good night’s rest.

Are you still paying attention? 

Shoes give you information about the person that will allow you to get to know them. People want to do business with people they trust. This is about finding ways to build trust and create a connection.

Having lived in several metropolitan areas, I’ve noticed each has their unique shoe of choice. 

People with active lifestyles in one region may wear Adidas and in other parts of the country they gravitate toward Nike, Hoka, or New Balance. Almost certainly one brand will dominate. Do you know what that brand is where you live? Is your town more Redwings or Birkenstocks? 

Your astute shoe evaluation may indicate you’re dealing with:

  • An organized, detailed person
  • A formal or casual person
  • A professional or blue collar person
  • An active lifestyle person and, even specifically, which sport
  • A creative and fashionable person

These observations may afford you the opportunity to adjust your approach, or at the least, inform the conversation before it ever begins.

Instead of asking what size mattress are you looking for or the perennially lame, “What brings you in today?,” why not take a different approach and ask, “What kind of shoes are those?” Or, smile and give a compliment by saying, “Hey, nice shoes.” 

It remains true that there’s no place like home. It’s also true there may be no better indicator of where that home is, and what that person is looking to buy for it, than their shoes.

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