The Shoe Store: UX Tales


Disclaimer — I’m not a writer, just writing ;)

In writing this, I thought it would be fun to imagine a typical, bad e-commerce experience manifested in the physical world. Most of the mishaps and issues that arise all have digital parallels that we, as shoppers, put up with but seem a bit comical and ridiculous when brought to life.

I hope you get a kick out of it!

I’m just leaving this pho restaurant — I went for lunch — and as I’m walking back to my place, my friend Jen calls and asks me to tag along with her to this “thing.” I’m assuming it’s a get together of some sort, and I know these things are never fun, but being the wonderful friend that I am, I reluctantly say, “Sure, I guess. Are there going to be any guys there?” “No guys worth talking to,” She replies. “Hmmm, well, I better get some new shoes then,” I say. “I need a new pair of black heels anyway.”

We say our goodbyes, and out of the corner of my eye, I see a banner, across the street, that says “World’s Largest Shoe Selection.” I quickly jaywalk over and decide to check it out. I already know what shoes I want. “I should be in and out in a couple of minutes,” I say to myself.

The moment my foot hits the welcome mat, a man waiting by the door makes a b-line for me, so I say “Hi, I’m looking for some shoes for this last minute… ‘thing’ my friend is dragging me to. I saw your banner for the largest selection of shoes outside, but I’m in a bit of a rush, so I’m hoping you can quickly point me in the right direction.” I give a polite smile.

“Sure, no problem! Shoes are our specialty,” the man says. “But before we dive right in and find what you’re looking for, I ‘d like to take this opportunity to say, Welcome to shoesyshoes.com!” The man’s voice goes all salesman-like. “Your store for shoes and more! We have the world’s largest shoe selection and offer a 100% guarantee. You’ll love your shoes so much…” I politely cut him off. “Umm, ok, great, but I just want to grab this pair of shoes I’ve been eyeballing and head out the door so, where are your heels?”

The man looks un-phased with my interruption. “He probably gets interrupted every day,” I say to myself. He continues, “Ma’am I understand. And I know it’s frustrating when you’re in a rush and it seems like everyone just wants to waste your time. Let me take you right this way through our purse section.”

I’m a bit taken aback as I blurt out “Purses? I need heels.”
The man can sense my surprise with a hint of annoyance and says, “I know, I know, but I bet you didn’t know that we have our semi-annual purse sale and all of our purses are 4% off. What a deal! Wanna go check em’ out?”

This guy isn’t getting it, so I drop the nice girl act and get a little more to-the-point with my tone. “Seriously? I have like, 30 seconds to get these shoes. I already know the size, color, and brand. I just need to get the shoes, give you the money and reluctantly skip away to this ‘thing’ with my friend. Simple enough?”
He gets it. I don’t think he’s mad; just a bit hurt because I won’t entertain the thought of a 4% off the scarf. “4%?” I think to myself, “What is that, like 9 cents off a scarf?”
We continue walking down this hangar of a store. “Right, this way ma’am,” he says. “We’ll just breeze by all this other stuff then, scarves, makeup, swimsuits, socks…” He waves his arms flippantly through the air to show what a waste of time all this other stuff would be for a girl who’s as down to business as I am. “I know it’s a bit inconvenient,” he says, “but we’re in the process of streamlining our shopping experience.”

As were hiking to the very back of the store, the lights suddenly go dim. I look around to access the situation, but I’m startled by a massive object that seemingly falls out of the ceiling, tied to a rope and lands right in front of my face. It scares the living bejesus out of me, and I screech, “Oh my God! What is that!?”
This guy’s apparently seen this a million times as a casually says, “What that? That’s just our newsletter sign up form. Sorry if it startled you, but we like to pop it up right in our customers’ unsuspecting faces so that they can stop right where they are and sign up for our newsletter.” I think he enjoyed the payback. Touché, Mr. Man.

He goes on, “Our newsletter helps our customers stay in the know of all the news and events that — we here at Shoesyshoe — think are important enough to share.” He seems very proud that he’s memorized his lines.

I scowl and speak through my clenched teeth, “You know I don’t want to sign up for a newsletter right now.”

There’s an awkward silence for a moment.

The object –let’s call it a box — is blocking my path. “How do I move this thing and turn the lights back on so I can see where I’m going?” I search for a way to move this huge box as the man just lets me squirm in my ignorance.” It looks like there is a tiny little x in the top corner that will close it,” I say. “Can’t…really…reach it. Too… high…to…grab. There! Got it.”

A switch goes off in my head. I’m in hunting mode. “I seriously have no time. Where are the freaking heels?”, I growl.

“Maybe you should try our navigation system. I hear that other customers have used it with varying levels of success,” the man says as though this fantastic solution just came to him in a vision.

“Good idea,” I say. I look up at the navigation system and talk myself through the options. “Ok, let’s see here. There are women’s shoes. And here are dress shoes. Oh, I found pumps!” I’m surprised and pretty annoyed at how easy it was to find what I wanted.

Mr. Cheerleader chimes in with a courteous “Good job! Would you like any assistance at this point?”

I’m still in hunter mode and say, “No, just let me look for a second without distraction.”

“Sure, sure, no problem,” he says, putting both hands in the air like he denies a foul in the world cup.

I whisper to myself, “Ok, now there are signs for…open toe, closed toe, peep toe, loop toe. What’s partial toe?” I inquire. “Sounds like an accident. Can’t I just shop by color or size?” I plead. “That’s what I’m sure I know.”

“But ma’am,” the man says, “we’ve determined — through someone else’s research — that our customers always pick by style first, and then they choose color and size.” He’s so sure of himself right now, “But no one researched me,” I say to myself.

“You’ll just have to go through our pre-determined path we’ve made for you and hope for the best,” he so matter-of-factly states. “It may seem different, but it works, for most people, sometimes.”

“That was encouraging,” I say to myself. “Well, what if I get all the way down the aisle and you’re out of my size, or color?”

“That’s a risk I’m willing to take,” he says.

“All right. Because I’d just be wasting time and energy, I’ll do it your way.” I give in for the sake of time at this point. “There,” I say, pointing to a large sign. “Closed toe. Let’s go. God this is a long aisle.”

“We’re the world’s largest…,” he chimes in, “Oh my God, I know!” I say, interrupting him again. I can’t help but think, my interruption skills are improving if nothing else.

“Where are your size eights?” I sound confused. “You have them labeled Large, Medium and Small! Who has ever labeled shoe sizes that way, anywhere?” I say in disbelief.

“Hmm, I would have guessed a 10,” the man says looking curiously down at my feet. “Anyway, that would be in the large section,” he points in the right direction, “Which spans sizes 8–13.”

“Why wouldn’t you just clearly label… nevermind,” I interrupt myself as I know it’s pointless to reason with him. Afterall, he does have research.
As I’m looking and walking, walking and looking, my shoulders slump, and I start dragging my feet like a tired three-year-old at an amusement park.

“This is impossible. I feel like I’ve been walking down this dead-end-of-an-aisle and rummaging through all these irrelevant and mostly impractical shoes for an hour.”

“It’s been 5 minutes,” the man soberly says.

“Yeah, 5 minutes too long,” I say, kinda feeling like a smart-alecky teenager but just when I’ve lost all hope, “Wait! What’s this!? Here they are! In the medium section,” I send an evil eye his way, “and mislabeled as dark gray. I can’t believe I found them.” My spirit has lifted as I find my second wind, I realize time is running out. “Ok, I gotta go where is the checkout?”

“Why it’s all the way in the front,” the man delightfully says, “There wasn’t a better option when we were building, so it was thrown in at the last minute.

You ready for the hike?”

“I’ve come this far,” I say like I’m finishing a marathon.

*A while later

“Phewww!! Here we are. Ok, all you need to do now sign in,” the man casually says.

“Sign in?”, I question.

“Yeah,” he says like he’s explaining to a child, “username, password, an account.”

Obviously, I know that, so I fire back, “I know what a sign in is, but I’ve never been here, so I don’t have an account.”

“Ohhhhh, no worries!” He says. “You’ll just have to register over there.”

I look over, and the line is pretty long. In fact, it reminds me of the DMV. “Can I check out there?” I ask, hoping for the best.

“No. Once you register, you can get back in line and proceed to checkout,” he says.

I revert to my child-like state of pouting, “But it’s soooooo long,” I say.

The man replies to my childishness with a parent-like tone and sternly retorts, “Well, then you should probably hurry over. You’ve got a ‘thing’ to go to missy.”

“Your sarcasm, not appreciated,” I whisper, just loud enough for the man to hear me.

Walking over to the desk reminds me of the saying, you catch more flies with honey.

“Hello!” I say to the lady, in an overly friendly voice that is one octave higher than my usual voice. “I was told I have to register before I can check out. What do you need from me?” I smile and tilt my head as if to say, “I’m listening to every word you say.”

She’s not on the same level of niceness and without looking up, she proceeds in her systematic, robot/drone voice:
Name. “Uh huh.”
Email. “Yep.”
Phone. “Phone?”
Best time to reach you. “Wait, what?”
Newsletter Opt In. “No.”
Interested in promotional offers. “Ok, stop!!”

The lady behind the counter is surprised and annoyed that I’ve ruined her well-rehearsed, assembly line pitch and have thrown her into improv mode.
Her eyes look up at me, but her head doesn’t move.

I regain my composure and return to my nicer, higher voice. “I thought this was to register my credit card info and shipping address,” I delicately say.
The lady lets out a huge sigh, “It is,” she moans. “But you have to fill out all of this preliminary information first. Oh, and you’ll also need to go home, check your mail and bring back in our verification letter to ensure we have all of your information correct and then you can check-out.”

I stare in disbelief. “Can’t I just check out as a guest or something? I promise next time I’m here, with time, I’ll register. Twice! And you can send me all kinds of verifications and newsletters, but right now, I have to get these shoes and go!”

I get the same huge sigh and then, “I’m sorry ma’am, but it’s site policy.”
“Of course it is,” I sarcastically say to myself. After a few seconds of replaying this entire experience in my mind, I slam both of my hands on the counter, drawing a line in the sand and proceed to take out all of my shopping experience rages out on Mrs. Robot.

“You know what?” I say. “This little… ‘thing’ I have to go to will be pretty dark. And, I bet there aren’t going to be any guys, at least not guys that I’d want to talk to.” I feel a sense of freedom come over me and continue, “Why am I going through this enormous hassle when I could wear my navy blue shoes, and no one would be the wiser?”

I point my finger in the air and turn up my nose. “I’m leaving,” I remark, turn around, and head toward the door.

I can hear the hustle of the man’s footsteps behind me, just as I’m walking out the door. “Can we still send you promotional offers and our newsletter?”