People in industrialized countries are fortunate to have an incredibly wide range of footwear from which to choose. Zappos.com, a large online shoe retailer, carries about 500 brands of shoes. It is not uncommon for a brand to produce over a hundred styles for each sex, with most styles available in multiple colors. Further, shoe styles change on a regular basis. Thus, there are probably hundreds of thousands of different brand, style, and color combinations of shoes.
There is footwear for every sport, every occupation, and every occasion. There are corrective and therapeutic shoes for virtually any medical condition for which footwear is a factor in treatment. Walmart offers shoes for $20/pair that would have been beyond the wildest dreams of most people of just a few generations ago. At the other extreme, you can pay thousands of dollars for hand-crafted designer shoes.
The same economic forces that have given us such wide choices of affordable shoes have also driven up the value of labor in the industrialized countries. As a result, many shoe stores have become little more than self-service warehouses with a clerk to ring up your sale after you have made your decision. Having a guide in the process of buying shoes to ensure proper fit and the appropriate shoes – although available at some upscale and specialty shoe stores—has become a luxury for which most are not willing to pay.
Until I was in my mid-thirties, I thought I had a medium width foot. I had also had a lot of trouble with foot pain. Only when I went to a Red Wing shoe store in Bessemer, Alabama to buy work boots did I discover I should have been wearing a narrow shoe. The owner and his employees were knowledgeable about what they were selling and realized the importance of a proper fit.
My experience at the Red Wing shoe store in Alabama led me to almost exclusively wear Red Wing shoes for about ten years. I assumed that I would find similar expertise at all Red Wing shoe stores. I was disappointed when I moved and found that the owners of the local Red Wing store knew nothing about the shoe business when they bought the store a few months earlier and were of absolutely no help in making my decision.
If the stores do not provide guidance in the shoe buying process, we are largely on our own with a bewildering array of choices. Some specialty shoes—e.g., running shoes—have reviews in magazines. Retail shoe websites often have reviews by those who have bought the shoes. One problem with such buyer reviews is that satisfaction is highly influenced by expectations. Those who have been wearing cheaply made shoes will have very different expectations than those who splurge on their feet. Further, people who are disappointed with their purchases are probably more likely to write reviews. Thus, the reviews are of limited value.
While this book will never take the place of a knowledgeable salesperson, it is intended to give the layperson some guidelines for buying footwear and for getting the most out of the footwear he buys.
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