Sunday, May 10, 2009

Shoes of Prey - Uses for Returned Shoes

Jodie and I went to the restaurant Billy Kwong's recently. We ordered "The Banquet":

Kylie's Banquet ($95): In the kitchen, the Chinese chef consciously or unconsciously cooks according to the culinary laws of Yin and Yang – where harmony and balance between flavour, texture and ingredient is of the essence. My banquet offers you this experience.

Aside from the food being delicious this is a great way for the restaurant to minimise food waste. The chef selects what is served in the banquet, so if they have too many muscles in the fridge they can serve me the Stir-Fried Muscles with Black Bean and Chilli Sauce (which were amazing). I'm happy because the chef is cooking me food according to the culinary laws of Yin and Yang, and the business is that bit more successful through reduced waste.

This got me thinking about waste at Shoes of Prey. We've decided the Shoes of Prey customer experience is so important that we're going to have a no questions asked returns policy. For most online retailers that means wearing the return shipping cost then putting the shoes back on the warehouse shelf. Our shoes will be designed and made to order so we can't do the same and will need to find another use for the shoes.

Here's a few ideas so far:

  • Have a 'Shoes Needing a New Home' section on the Shoes of Prey site.
  • Sell them as one off shoes outside the Shoes of Prey brand through another channel such as eBay or a market stall.
  • Set up a Shoes of Prey branded pop up store (thanks for the idea Ben) or market stall, complete with computers to design your own shoes and use the returned shoes as samples in those stores.

How else could we make use of our returned shoes?


  1. I like to think in 3's, because it's easier! So lets say you have 3 options;

    1: Re-sale through your site. Maybe a "I'm feeling lucky" style part of the site where I put in my size and I get special offer shoes that have been returned. They are still special to me as they are personlised (just not for me!) but they are cheaper. No returns on these, otherwise you are a vicious cycle.
    2: Sell through alternate channel to protect the brand. You don't want to be known as the place where you can order, return and then get the same shoes cheaper?!
    3: PR! PR! and more PR. Find a few famous people who like shoes, send them a select pair of shoes (returns) and BOOM...public relations. Donate a few pairs to a childrens hospital for dress up, or to a charity event.

    So in summary;

    * Your channel your profit
    * Another channel, shared profit, protect the brand
    * Turn a return into another business opportunity

  2. Dom, great thoughts. You're spot on with the danger of selling returned shoes through our own site being that people can order, return, then buy them back cheaper!

    I like your ideas around using the returned shoes for PR, and a children's hospital dress up donation would be brilliant!

    Thanks Dom. :)

  3. Stelios, the guy who created EasyJet etc, had a brilliant example of how every bad situation could be turned into a good one. He had pre-sold tickets for a new route that easyjet had, when the country they were flying too refused them landing slots. He found a loop hole that meant that they could fly still, but couldn't charge for the tickets as they had no licence. So he personally arrived at the departure gate to give ALL customers a full refund, hence making it a pleasure flight and not a commercial flight. On arrival at the new airport, all the news crews were there to see the CEO giving away free flights, and he asked all passengers for a donation (not revenue!). They ended up collecting the same amount as if they'd sold the tickets, but the news crews lapped it up and gave him endless free advertising as they covered the story. The ban on them flying was lifted the next day. GENIUS!

  4. WOW, that's a brilliant move! Dom, you've got me looking forward to our first disaster so we can find an awesome way out of it!! ;)

  5. Mate, get them in a movie, any movie.


    Check this out for some inspiration. Young kids won't want custom women's shoes, but maybe there's some sort of group out there for underprivileged high school kids, and maybe they'd be good for prom?

    You might want to look at the tax-deductible part of donating, not sure what the Aussie tax laws are on this...

  7. So I had a thought whilst I was waiting for my rolled oats to simmer this morning; what is your secondary source of revenue, and can you link this to returns, either to limit/prevent them or cover your margin. You see, if you look at most successful business models, there is a secondary and complementary revenue stream, whether it be spare parts, hoover bags, games, new controllers etc...or in your industry, it's usual some form of shoe care product. Now, the super clever business models try tie these two streams in together to increase the conversion (higher % of secondary purchases) and to improve loyalty, but you could use it for your returns. All a bit theoretical, and I couldn't quite make the link by the time my oats were bubbling over, but I reckon it's got legs...hee hee. Got legs...

  8. Rohan - nice one with the movies idea. We've got some PR learning to do to find out how on earth that sort of thing is done!

    Chenger - - what a great concept!

    And I like how he thanks his customers rather than claiming all the credit - "Blake returned to Argentina with a group of family, friends and staff later that year with 10,000 pairs of shoes made possible by caring TOMS customers."

    When buying airline tickets I used tick the box and pay a little extra to offset my carbon emissions until I read an article where Qantas or Virgin, I can't remember which one, claimed that they were saving x tonnes of carbon through their offset program, when their customers were paying for it!

    Dom - We're definitely keen on finding some good complimentary products. In addition to shoe care products, belts and bags are two that would compliment shoes nicely. We're going to start without them simply because the two shoe suppliers we are dealing with only do shoes, and there will be difficulties matching leathers across multiple suppliers, but if things go well we'll definitely go down that path. Cheers for your thoughts. In terms of linking it to returns, the return rate on belts and bags should be MUCH lower than shoes (no sizing issues) so they would make a great complimentary product from that point of view.

    I too had oats for breakfast this morning, though the Google chef cooked them for me. I am going to have to learn to cook them myself come July... :(

  9. The reason Zappos "worked" was two fold 1)no questions returns policy 2)massive range of shoes.
    That's a very hard way to make money due to the cost of holding all that stock, and taking it back! Zappos was in the red for many many years, staying afloat with investor cash injections, thanks to having a very large and loyal customer base. If you fish around online there is a case study about all this. I'd caution that what you're offering is a luxury item, so your customer base will invariably be smaller. You may want to consider developing a "shoe template", something that can be disassembled back to a basic frame and reused. Zappos' return policy asks that the shoes not be noticeably worn, so you can bet they're restocking many of the returns. Tricky issue!

    All that said, my husband will be the first to tell you that I have been known to buy a shoe even if it doesn't fit perfectly. If I love it, I'll suffer a tight fit. Just by making a customised shoe, you're creating an emotional bond between the buyer and the shoe, so they're less likely to return unless the fit is totally off.

    One last bit: you're less likely to have "fit" problems with open toe, and open back, or strappy shoes. Maybe stock more of those?

  10. Hi Vanessa, thanks for your thoughts, you raise some great points!

    I wonder if customers would actually expect a Zappos style returns policy given that they know the shoes are made just for them? I suppose whether it's expected or not, it would be something that's great to provide. We should test it and see whether it results in a net positive (happy customers) or negative (too many returns to be profitable) gain.

    Great thought around having less fit problems with open toe, open back or strappy shoes. We're thinking we might price those a little less than the more closed in options because as you suggest we should have less returns on those.