How A Romantic Brand Story Had Me Buy the Most Expensive Shoes I Own

This story first appeared in The Marketing Victim, my new marketing blog where I analyze why I buy what I buy, thereby giving greater meaning to my late-night impulse purchases. I don’t write in it very often, but you can get email alerts when I do!

For many people, $228 isn’t a lot to spend on shoes, especially when they’re handmade in Italy. But I’m the type of person who would rather buy experiences than objects, and I’ve been on an experience-buying spree as of late. Having just booked a flight to Bali, I couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted to spend over $200 on.

Then I discovered the Attorno sandals from M Gemi, a direct-to-consumer brand that sells limited-edition leather shoes from Italy.

Photo source: M Gemi

The Attorno sandals were everything I wanted out of an everyday mid-heel: two-inch tall wooden block heels with wraparound straps and gentle ankle support. I fell in love with the design’s simple elegance, but my heart broke momentarily when I saw the price tag. After clicking around for a passable and cheaper alternative, I just couldn’t be happy with a sandal that wasn’t the Attorno.

So I ended up whipping out my debit card and clicking the checkout button. The horror of what I did sunk in as I watched the money disappear from my bank account. How did I end up spending this much money (plus international shipping to Singapore) in minutes?

Here’s what actually convinced me.

Photo source: M Gemi

A Compelling Brand Story

Although a specific shoe style had me hooked, the M Gemi brand story had me convinced no other alternative will do.

Named after their Sicilian co-founder Maria Gangemi, the brand releases limited-edition designs produced by the best family-owned shoe factories in Italy, many of whom used to produce footwear for luxury brands. The idea is to make Italian shoes more accessible to world by selling them directly from the factories, which cuts out the middleman and keeps prices low. A pair that would normally retail for $500 can be had for as low as $200 at M Gemi.

Supposedly, each design is carefully handmade using a forma that shapes the toe, heel, and pitch. This means that the sizes stay consistent even as designs change — and designs change a lot. Every style is produced in limited quantities that typically sell out in 3 months, just like how boutique Italian cobblers used to do it back in the day. It’s certainly a romantic thought.

There isn’t any fashion-conscious woman in the world who wouldn’t want a pair of Italian leather shoes for less-than-luxury prices. With such a strong emphasis on provenance and quality, the Attorno sandals appeared to give more value-for-money than a made-in-China alternative.

The Scarcity Effect

It’s hard to go online without some version of the scarcity effect leaping out of landing pages and ads. Thanks to a cognitive quirk called the scarcity heuristic, implying a product’s limited availability is a pretty effective way to boost desire and sales.

Basically, the more rare an item is, the more valuable we perceive it to be, and the more we want it.

M Gemi has turned the scarcity effect into an art. Every week, they release a new limited-edition design. This, combined with their brand story, made the shoes almost impossible to resist.

Besides knowing that each design has limited supply, the product page shows proof that they are selling out at a fast pace, making them appear even more desirable. You can see on the righthand side which sizes are available and which are out of stock.

At the time I discovered the Attorno, my regular size 37 ran out, but size 37.5 was still available. Who knows how long it would be in stock for? But before buying it, I needed reassurance that going up half a size will make this style work for me.

Customer Service That Talks Like a Human

While not exactly a marketing tactic, I thought it worth mentioning that M Gemi’s customer service helped move my purchase along.

I got a speedy reply (peppered with Italian salutations) saying that there is only a 0.3 cm difference in length between half sizes. So while there might be a little more shoe in front and in the heel, they’d still fit nicely.

I really appreciated how their customer service reassured me by giving a specific answer to my question, as opposed to just redirecting me to a size chart.

A $40 Voucher for First-Time Buyers

I’ll let you in on a little secret: early-stage startups are all about increasing customer acquisition and revenue. So it’s pretty common for new brands to give things like vouchers or discounts to first-time-buyers. The newer the brand, the better the offer.

My final objection — price — was quickly overcome by a $40 voucher I dug up somewhere. This happened a couple of months back, and I don’t think there are any $40 vouchers available at the moment. You can, however, get $25 off your first purchase when you shop through my referral link.

Verdict: Marketing Win

Whatever buyer’s remorse I felt disappeared the day my shoes arrived. M Gemi’s claim to attention-to-detail can be felt throughout the unboxing, which was a full sensory experience. The Attornos came in a sturdy ecru shoebox, with my name handwritten on a note taped to the cover. I could smell a rich leather aroma coming from the box, which had me wondering if some sort of leather scent was sprayed in before shipping. All in all, it made for a very pleasant experience.

And of course, the heels themselves were everything I expected — comfortable, flattering, and incredibly versatile. It’s been several months since my Attornos arrived, and I’ve since worn them to countless meetings, first dates, and nights out. I simply can’t imagine my wardrobe without them.

At the end of the day, shoes are just shoes, but the M Gemi brand story made me feel like I was part of something greater: the grand tradition of Italian luxury shoemaking. And becoming the kind of woman that wears Italian leather is certainly worth the (affordable) premium.