December 16, 2018

The Source of Paying More

Get ready for a rant because I am peeved.

You know how much I adore shoes. They will forever be one of the greatest loves of my life. So when I heard Payless ShoeSource released a commercial where they opened up a fake luxury shoe store and successfully pranked shoppers into believing their shoes were worth up to $640, my inner footwear diva was instantly offended. Yes, I have a bias for high-end footwear. Yes, I sometimes display immediate displeasure at certain shoes without so much as a second glance. But I also like to think of my bias as a heartfelt respect for the art of well-designed, well-made shoes.

And in reality, your home girl shops at ALDO, which is far closer on the scale to Payless than any luxury brand. I may be a snob, but I am not delusional. I am fully supportive of affordable footwear, and have said before that fashion which appears to be of high quality does not have to break the bank. I strongly believe in clever ways of faking it 'till you make it, baby.

Before we start peeling apart the situation, let us first take a look at the commercial:


Initial Thoughts

No way. There is NO WAY you can mistake Payless shoes for something worth anything more than $100. I have been in Payless multiple times before, and based on my knowledge of their merchandise, I am adamant there are no shoes in there which can remotely pass as high-end. As soon as I heard about this campaign, I was absolutely certain there was more to the story than what the headlines led us to believe. Which is why I am going to start breaking it down and showing exactly why Payless managed to pull this commercial off (sort of).


The Intent Behind Using Influencers

Payless used social media influencers in their commercial. That statement alone pretty much explains the entire situation. I had a difficult time imagining everyone who browsed through Palessi -- whether they be fashion industry folk, affluent shoppers familiar with high-end wares, or even random passersby from the public who wandered into the store -- all being fooled by the fa├žade. But once I learned only social media influencers were invited to peruse the shoes, everything made sense because...well, influencers are a special breed.

The very nature of being a social media maven is to promote merchandise, and we all know how the allure of sponsorships and paid promotions can propagate inauthentic words of praise. So just imagine you have a bunch of (probably) D-list social media influencers who are invited to a swanky, glamorous party, and you shove a microphone in their face on camera to ask what they think of the shoes. I'm pretty sure no one would dare criticize the shoes, even if simply to be polite. In fact, in order to leave the door open for future opportunities with you, they might actually compliment and rave about your shoes. And heck, if nothing else, they would put on a face to show their followers they're having a fantastic time at this oh-so-luxe event.

And let me clarify one thing: social media influencers are not necessarily experts in fashion. They are experts in influencing. Many social stars may enjoy nice clothes and looking good, but their understanding of fashion may not go beyond the superficial. Their true skill sets lie, after all, in how to create and promote engaging content -- that's their bread and butter. One particularly pointed, yet not altogether unjustified, comment on Instagram opined, "Great job Payless for exposing the fraud that this 'influencer' movement represents." Ouch. But really, Payless does not stock any footwear that is made from real leather, so basically you're telling me these influencers couldn't even distinguish between synthetic and genuine leather...?

Payless was deliberate in who they set up. You think the corporate minds at Payless didn't sit around a conference table discussing exactly what kind of individuals to invite? They made a clearly conscious decision to not bring in actual fashion experts, and didn't even run the risk of having random members of the public blow their cover.


A Shameful Social Media

I feel bad for harping on influencers so much, but they really did paint a bulls eye on themselves here. Being social media influencers, I imagine the first thing they would do upon receiving an invite from Palessi is to...check out the company's social media pages! And yet if they really did, then how could they not have been suspicious from the start?

Look at Palessi's Instagram page. What kind of luxury company would post these grainy, low resolution photos? And isn't it odd how they posted a total of 24 photos on October 25 -- half of which don't even contain shoes?

And their website is laughable. Granted, the site has been edited since the campaign so I'm not aware of what it looked like before, but the shoes currently showcased on the landing page are dead giveaways. The rubber sole, man-made material, and bumbling shape of the stilettos would have been obvious from miles away. Yet hilariously, Palessi has blown up and magnified the images to the point it should have been impossible to miss these details.

The problem is, the social media influencers probably didn't look too deeply into what Palessi was, or if they did, chose to ignore what they found. There are countless influencers on the Internet who knowingly advertise for (Chinese) clothing companies which have abysmal quality and deplorable customer service, and YouTube was rife with recent drama over high profile content creators who just didn't do enough research on what they promoted. Ignorance is bliss.


Auctioned Away

Although Payless has not confirmed outright, it does appear some shoes were sold through an auction format, giving Payless that sweet, sweet opportunity to drive home the fact their shoes fetched up to $640.

This move too is entirely deliberate. An auction allowed Payless to capture inflated dollar figures for their campaign. If you attach an outrageous price tag to an item that can't live up to the figure, shoppers might not bite. But if you pit influencers against each other in a friendly game of bidding, you can possibly get them in the right mood to spend more. The auction was yet another strategic decision that granted Payless the perfect little media snippet.


Glamour Shot

Let's be honest with ourselves and not deny that the atmosphere of a store can most certainly affect our perception of quality. No matter how much we may try to judge the inherent value of a fashion item, a lot of what we think (and how much $$$ we shell out) is impacted by brand value. Brands in favour have the freedom to demand more in exchange for their promised fantasy. By simply setting up shop in a former Armani store in LA alongside other luxury giants, Palessi gave themselves some leverage against even the more discerning influencers. A poorly made shoe might just seem decently bearable perched on a gleaming glass shelf. Add to that scores of beautiful people at a glamorous party by invitation only, and you have a stunt that is one step closer to believable.


Take To The Streets

I aim, if nothing else, to be fair. So before I gave myself the liberty to knock on Payless, I did actually go out and try it. I was a girl on a mission as I visited two separate Payless stores to confirm: (1) Could I find the shoes presented in the commercial? (2) Was the quality actually impressive enough to deceive?

First of all, yes, I was successful in finding most of the shoes filmed in the campaign, with the exception of the gold and leopard print sneakers which appeared to be Palessi's pride and glory (though I found many similar styles). The majority of shoes used were, not surprisingly, from the Christian Siriano line, but I do give Payless credit for keeping the stunt honest.

In terms of quality, Payless was far better than expected, though still hardly exceptional. While some shoes veered towards trendy, the designs were overall basic and banal, lacking the originality of luxury footwear. I was disappointed to see a rubber underside on every shoe (instead of leather soles), and was put off by all the fake leather and textile uppers. However, I will say some of the synthetic leather was smooth enough as to almost pass for the real thing at first brush of the hand, unlike the nauseating polyurethane normally used by bargain stores. And I didn't see as many exaggerated toe springs (often seen on poorly made shoes which need to roll forward in order to compensate for lack of flexibility in the sole) and sloppy stitching as I had anticipated. Yet despite the reasonable craftsmanship, the devil is in the details. Payless pumps all came with -- in addition to a seam in the back -- a second seam along the arch of the foot, a surefire sign that more than one piece of material was used to construct the shoe. A high quality pump will possess only one seam along the back of the heel. Upon inspection of their ankle boots, I found one particular design with braided straps which were cut bluntly near the zipper, leaving a distasteful number of unfinished ends. Any luxury shoemaker would close the loop on such details.

After my evaluation of the shoes, I pegged their worth at around $40 (not $640!), which turned out to be exactly what most of the price tags asked for. I am happy to say Payless is at least principled in their pricing.


Final Thoughts

The news headlines surrounding this campaign were almost farcical:

"Payless pranks customers by getting them to buy its discount shoes at designer prices."
"Payless shoes fools fashion snobs, sells discount shoes at luxury prices."
"Payless opens fake luxury store, dupes influencers into paying hundreds for shoes."

In some ways, Payless did manage to dupe a bunch of shoppers -- but not because of how great their shoes were. This campaign was a carefully constructed scenario that took full advantage of the behaviours and motivations of those who were invited. This is not a prank that would have succeeded if a single foot stepped outside of those meticulously drawn parameters. My conclusion? The real dupes are those who think this experiment said anything about the quality of Payless shoes.


Image Source: PYMNTS, Adweek, Ad to Date, Bustle, Rouse Hill Town Centre, Forbes

6 comments:

  1. This could be one of the reasons that Payless is closing their shops. I don't believe that their shoes had the same quality as high end shoes.

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  2. This was an interesting stunt-so many people are influenced by brands and don't care about the quality.

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  3. I hit Payless when they were closing stores near me and found some cute shoes for really cheap prices. They're definitely not high-end but are worth the price for me.

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    1. Glad you scored some good deals when they were closing!

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  4. Payless was good to have around for kids shoes since they out grow shoes so fast.

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