Payless System Helps Buyers Find The Perfect Shoe

Web-based 'Shoe Finder' locates merchandise, offers coupons, and tracks sales
Payless ShoeSource Inc. caters to customers who have no qualms about browsing store aisles and trying on low-priced shoes without waiting for help from an employee. Following that same low-cost approach, the company has a new system to help locate shoes, improve customer service, and boost sales to more than 225 million pairs of shoes each year.

It's called, appropriately enough, Shoe Finder, and it's the cornerstone application in a proprietary system Payless started developing 18 months ago and has just finished installing in its 4,700 U.S. stores.

When shoppers can't find the shoe they want, sales associates consult Shoe Finder, a Web-enabled PC-based system, to locate the merchandise in a few seconds, either in the storeroom, in transit, at a neighboring Payless location, or on The front-and back-office functions of each Payless store are linked, via the Web, to company headquarters in Topeka, Kan.

Payless offers shoppers $1 coupons that they can use to buy the shoes if they're located at another store, says Dave VonFeldt, the company's director of IS development.

Payless customers use the $1 coupons about half the time, and Shoe Finder leads to a sale about 80% of the time, based on results from the first stores that implemented the system a year ago, says VonFeldt. He would not disclose the cost to develop Shoe Finder or the number of coupons stores have handed out.

Although Payless relies on customers finding their own shoes, Shoe Finder lets sales associates make an extra effort to locate sizes or styles that aren't in the store--a good customer-relationship builder.

Another benefit of the new technology is that it provides online training for the company's 27,000 sales associates. Lessons once delivered by word of mouth now can be delivered in five-minute online sessions. That's important, VonFeldt says, because "our employees are fairly transient; we compete with fast food for many of them."

Payless, which had $2.95 billion in sales last year, can use the coupons to monitor what merchandise is out of stock in a particular location, where customers make their final purchases, and what store referred them. In the past, stores were unwilling to send shoppers to another Payless location since it meant losing a sale; now, they receive bonuses for doing so.

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