Five Retail Sales Training Tips From Selling Shoes

By Bob Phibbs

sales lessons in retail from selling shoesI'll get to my tips for selling shoes but first, a story about how my knowledge of retail sales training began at the feet of others.

I put myself through college in the '70s as a men's shoe salesman. My store was run by a sales manager whose simple motto was, "Sell shoes.".

There were five of us on the floor at any time which was a problem for a 700 sq ft shop. We were all commissioned working against an hourly wage (also referred to as our "draw.") Because of this, we had an ups system, much like in baseball. The process worked like this...

Once you engaged a customer, you went to the bottom of the order. As enough customers came through, you progressed up the order. When it was your "up" that meant you got to wait on the next customer.

Whether you sold them or not, that was your chance to make a sale.

Blow that, and you were back at the bottom.

Don't satisfy them and you got product returns which cut into your paycheck.

Because of that, you had to build trust with a customer quickly and, knowing how much guys hate to shop, make it easy for them to get their annual shoe purchases out of the way. Which meant always looking for the higher ticket via helping the customer get what they wanted.

Selling in a store has to be better than online.

Back then, and still today, most clerks in shoe stores would just ask a guy's size when he picked up a shoe. Our sales team always replied to the customer, "Let's check that, because one foot might be larger than the other.".

We did truly want to find the exact size:

  • #1 Because it saved us time, half the time the guy was off by a size from what he told us.

  • #2 Because if you didn't know from the start by the length and width that the guy had very narrow or wide feet, or if his instep was too high or low, it would  automatically limit the choices the salesman had to work with.

Having understood why we measured everyone, the sales process was then to mentally match up the customer’s foot and what they said they were looking for before going to the stockroom.

That way, if the customer had limited options, the trainee could collect all of his choices at once, saving the customer time and maximizing the sales opportunities. This sales strategy also kept trainees from a conversation about features and benefits on the sales floor about why a particular product was so well made or why it would fit a customer’s foot, only to go to the stockroom and discover there was no shoe in the customer’s size.

Your up would have been wasted...

Discover how to get started with retail sales training with this comprehensive primer

When I took over the store, I trained the men's shoe salesmen to bring out four boxes of shoes; the requested pair, a pair in the same color, but different style, the originally requested pair in another color and a casual.

After the customer decided on the original pair, he would invariably ask the salesperson, “What’s in those boxes?” This is much easier selling when they ask rather than you push.

The salesperson would reply, “I found a few others in the back. Would you like to see a few more in your size?” The customer would, ninety-nine out of one hundred times, answer "Yes" They’d often buy two or three pairs of shoes where many shoe stores would have sold just one, if that.

Here are five tips from selling shoes that made that store successful:

1. A unified focus on what the #1 job was: Sell shoes.

2. Not assuming, confirming what size they thought they were.

3. Getting ahead of returns.

4. Keeping options open.

5. Arousing curiousity.


See also,

Better Sales Through Customer Engagement

In Sum

I know a lot of people who made money selling at retail - particularly in shoes. The whole experience was one of pampering and catering to the customer.

Contrast that to the experience now that you have to try on your own shoes after asking for your size and trying to figure out if they fit. No wonder so many shoe stores are nervous about online retailers!

'Cause here's the thing, if all your clerk can do is run and fetch products from a stockroom - either aided by an iPad or not - they add no value to the transaction.

That part-time job selling shoes is where I first learned much of what I still teach today about persuasion, presentation skills, energy, sales techniques in retail, teamwork and success.

Nowadays, I study and question what seemed so simple and try to put into words what is so very hard for so many.

That's because....

Customers don't realize that when they have an exceptional experience it is not by chance, but by the training given to the sales team.

Retailers of all sizes need to get back to basics and look at who they hire for the floor, how they are onboarded and how retail sales training can be mutually beneficial for all.

To go deeper on sales training, check out these posts:

Ten Retail Selling Tips
Mission Possible - Train Your Retail Sales Team on How to Sell
How to Gain a Positive Customer Perception of Your Brand


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