There are two shopping experiences that, when they go badly, are guaranteed to reduce me to tears. One is bra shopping (there is not a woman on the planet that enjoys bra shopping!) and the other one is shopping for running shoes.
For some reason, I have a strong emotional attachment to being fitted well in both of these scenarios and I often make the effort to seek out professional advice and fitters. I’m willing to pay for a premium product and to have expert sales assistance. Although it’s beyond me why all sales assistants can’t be “experts”…I mean, you’ve got one job…to be an expert and sell me your product? Right?
In a previous life, I worked in retail. For the better part of a decade it was my actual job to know what I was selling, to advise you and to even try and sell you more of something that you probably never came in to buy in the first place (shock horror). For a few of those years I sold shoes. I’ve sold shoes to everybody, from children to drag queens (both were equally fun customers who I adored). So I know what makes a good fit in a shoe and the techniques you need to make it fit properly. I know about wiggle room and I know how to measure feet. What I don’t know, or struggle with, is getting a running shoe to fit me properly. It’s just a service I want to get from someone else. Someone who is meant to know more than me.
As I’ve aged I’ve started to have serious problems with lace-up shoes. If the laces are too tight or in the wrong position I get numb toes and sore feet. It can feel like my toes are piling up on top of each other and it’s excruciating to un-pile them when I take the shoe off. It’s just bad news.
I’ve decided to take up running. Or at least fast walking…I haven’t decided yet! So naturally I need a good pair of treads that aren’t going to make my running goal more of a chore than it will inevitably be in the beginning (let’s face it, mama don’t need another excuse not to run!). I’ve been putting it off and putting it off. Both the running and the shoe buying! But today was going to be the day. I researched a running shoe shop that specialized in podiatry fitting and off I went. Ready to be expertly fitted and shown a host of running shoes that will fit my feet so I can be pounding the pavement by dinner (right before wine o’clock).
I didn’t really have a budget in mind and I don’t really care too much what they look like. I just want them to be comfortable and I want them to make me want to run because they’re so freakin’ fabulous and I’m spending all this time and emotion to get them in my life. So off I went to this running shoe shop.
As soon as I walked in I saw a wall of 30 to 40 shoes in blindingly fast colours (I assume the colours make you go faster?) and two treadmills that were set up with gear to check my gait and all that stuff. Signs were good that I’d be handing over my credit card shortly.
The sales guys comes and says hello, asks me some qualifying questions, I start to explain about my lacing issues and then he takes me over the to the multi-colour shoe wall. He’s talking me through the pros and cons of certain shoes, and at this point I’m thinking, “I don’t need to hear all these details, just take a look at my feet and show me a pair of shoes that won’t hurt.” I’m the first to admit I’m an impatient shopper. If I’ve spent time researching a specialist store and then driven out of my way…that’s time enough in my book. I know what I want and I just want help to buy it. The quicker the better. My therapy is wine not retail (for future reference!).
Next he asks me to take my shoes and socks off so he can see what my feet are doing when I walk. My first thought is to panic because I’m between pedicures and my toenails are frightful…but I pulled my focus back to the practical not the pretty. My treadmill test doesn’t seem to tell him much and all I learn is that I definitely need to up my fitness game, as I huff and puff my way back to my seat to quickly cover my lack of pedicure.
Then he measures my feet to confirm what I told him. I’m Mrs Average. 8.5 US in women’s sneakers. He heads out the back to find some shoes for me and I seize the opportunity to take some sneaky shop video with the intention of giving them some social media love just as soon as I have the new treads in my life.
He returns with two styles of running shoes for me to try. Neither of them is very comfortable and I start to explain my issues again. It was at this point that I decided to ask a qualifying question of my own. Was he familiar with my particular problem? (high arches perhaps? numb toes? more than two glasses of red wine a day…you know, standard life challenges). He admitted he wasn’t. Then he suggested I visit a podiatrist before visiting their store. I was a bit perplexed because their website says, among other assurances, that they “combine the best in motion analysis technology with expert podiatric trained staff to ensure that the appropriate footwear is selected for every customers fitness needs”. So I actually thought I was in the right place. Not just some chain store selling mass-produced Made in Vietnam leisure shoes.
As soon as he suggested I visit a podiatrist I realised that my credit card would not be leaving my purse and the 90 minutes I’d spent researching this store before I left home, driving to the store and actually visiting the store were wasted. Not to mention the planned social media post that I deleted the minute I walked out the door. I don’t do hate posts and try not to whinge too often.*
I started my quick-walk-maybe-running training right then and there as I left that store and headed back to my car just as fast as my old shoes would carry me. I sat in the car park for about 10 minutes on the verge of tears (yep, totally melodramatic. Told you I was emotionally invested in these bloody running shoes) just feeling defeated and like I was the problem. My feet are just too tricky to fit. But that’s fucking ridiculous. My feet aren’t tricky. I don’t have special needs. And I’m not the problem. The service was the problem. The promise on their website of expert advice and attention was the problem.
As I said, I acknowledge that I am an impatient shopper, especially when it comes to things that I actually need, like running shoes. I don’t have a lot of spare time. I’m very busy and important. I’m a mother for Christ’s sake! So when I want to buy something for myself I want to be in and out and I want it to be efficient. I don’t need to have small talk to loosen me up or to get me to buy stuff. I’m already in your shop. I’m ready to buy your stuff. Just show me your products, show me that you are knowledgeable so I can trust you and I will buy, simple as that.
So, mama still needs a new pair of running shoes…and new bras come to think of it. But I think I’ll put that off for a little while.
*I’m fully aware of the irony of this sentence. That’s why I have a blog. So I can tell you all about the minutiae of my life. Even when it’s a thinly veiled whinge when I feel like it…which this post most certainly is. My story. My life. My rules.