Is it time to make a charge for your fitting service?

One shop is! We are all aware of how the internet and supermarkets have been allowed to ride roughshod over our high streets and town centres.Whatever you wish to buy whether it’s a washing machine or a lawnmower it is all too tempting to use a local shop and knowledgeable shop staff as a showroom and information centre, with absolutely no intention of buying from them because you know you can get it cheaper online, or from a warehouse style operation. Guilty? Yes most of us are and we ought to be very ashamed and rather scared! This is exactly what is happening to independent shoe shops and it should be a frightening prospect for EVERY footwear manufacturer and supplier, not just the smaller ones. How many of you walked miles in a supermarket just to find a few items and then found racks of the same brand stacked like a warehouse, instead of a wider choice?

The Society of Shoe Fitters (SSF) is one of the few bodies who have
spoken out and aired their concerns. This 54 year old non-profit organisation has a strong and loyal membership who some feel are fighting an uphill battle…but are they? Is the wind of change starting to blow in their direction? They are worried that the closure of independents is reducing the choice of footwear and reducing the skilled knowledge base of those who can fit shoes professionally.

So is it time to make a charge for a fitting service? We are aware of an independent shoe shop who is trialling the idea in the New Year. They intend to make a charge of £4.50 per fitting which will be refunded upon purchase. What are your thoughts? What does the S.S.F. think of this? We asked the Secretary, Laura West.

‘I can easily see why a shop feels driven to do it, but they are very brave’ says Laura, ‘shops are incensed at the amount of time they waste and how furious they are at their suppliers who are undercutting them, going to Sale early and dumbing down the fitting process. Imagine spending your time and energy – as well as business costs i.e. staff, heat, light, business rates etc. only to be told that someone can get shoes cheaper direct from the supplier online. Apparently consumers even have the audacity to bring out their Iphone’s instore and search the internet for the brand, style and fitting whilst enjoying their soft furnishings and warmth as if they are in an internet café….and maybe that is the answer, offer free wifi, charge £5 for the refreshments, and then match the price online – to include the P&P!!! Actually there is a shop in the Midlands promoting the free use of their computer to find the same shoes cheaper and then doing a price match. I am not sure if this is innovative or desperate measures!

Like everything else, unless the majority of shops decide to follow suit and make a charge, the idea is dead in the water, but if the Society had the co-operation of the industry, then it maybe something we would promote, as it would raise the profile and expertise of proper and correct shoe fitting (which doesn’t mean simply waving a shoe gauge at a pair of feet!).’ So we asked – why don’t S.S.F. members make a charge? ‘Our Council would be concerned on several fronts’ says Laura.

‘First it would put many well-meaning parents off having children’s feet checked for a growth spurt. Responsible parents monitor their children’s growth and responsible shops have always said whether shoes are needed or not because they know their customers and want to retain their loyalty. However over the last few years the water has muddied and parents are simply getting a free check to buy elsewhere. This is of course ignorance because every brand and style of shoe varies, so the size and fitting on the gauge means very little and is a starting point to an experienced or qualified shoe fitter – but they don’t know that. This consumer disloyalty has led many shops to simply try and sell shoes knowing they are not really needed, and some have admitted to lie about the size so that the parent buys incorrectly elsewhere. At least if you can get the public through your door there is a chance you can convert the ‘just looking’ into a sale.

Secondly, once you charge for a service you are responsible for that service and the public have the right to challenge who provided the knowledge and training. You will need special public liability insurance –which many businesses have anyway, but the costs involved in proving that a shoe has hurt feet could be immense. Litigation has been the bane of our lives in so many ways, there is always someone wanting something for nothing, prepared to threaten innocent people or companies to get it.

Thirdly, what will they do if the shop provides the fitting service, makes a charge and then the parent goes elsewhere? Your first thought is ….result – £4.50 in the till, but doubtless the size and fitting will mean nothing and the shoes wont fit – is that your problem? Yes it is. You could stipulate that is the size and fitting for that particular shoe…but occasionally a shoe will vary in the manufacture, how do you know the one bought elsewhere will fit?

Worse still they will insist their child wears the shoes despite ill fitting. Not only have you created a problem for the innocent child, but the parent wont believe you and wont shop with you in the future…worse case scenario they come storming in asking you to refund the cost of returning the shoes and compensate them for the resultant problems.

On an optimistic note, if retailers were members of the S.S.F., gave the correct advice, made a charge, handed the parent a disclaimer and provided their services in a slightly different way – similar to a chiropodist or Reflexologist (white coat optional), would the public realise that footwear can be dangerous (particularly for children) and should be handled professionally? Who knows, but it will be interesting to see what happens to the retailer prepared to try.

Ellie Dickins the SSF President commented, ‘Sadly it is impossible to garner overriding support for anything worthwhile. The SSF warned what would happen if certain brands sold online and it has. The industry has a wonderful footwear exhibition – MODA that the finest suppliers exhibit at, but still many retailers do not attend. We have a fabulous Footwear Awards event that should be supported by the entire industry, but numbers could be better. Brands run competitions that retailers do not bother to enter. Our organisation – The Society of Shoe Fitters despite a lack of funds, is opening the door to all shops to join in National Shoe Fitting Week (w/c 12th April) –but how many multiples, suppliers, even small shops will be bothered to do anything about it? It’s their loss, those of us who do will reap rewards, those that don’t even try simply moan.

We hope that many New Year resolutions were….’let’s get involved in the industry that puts butter on our bread’. Let’s support our trade associations, events and work together. Well what have you got to lose? A trouble shared is a trouble halved….and who knows, the brave Indie trialling the charge initiative may well be paving a way for us all to profit!

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