consumer connection

Footwear holds a certain connection to the consumer found in only a few other product categories: watches, eywear, cars… cellphones are getting there and you could argue MP3 players are as well.

Why do you think this is?

Fashion is a tempting first answer, but before you make that reply let me point out that apparel is filled with more or less staples. T-Shirts, Jeans, hoodies, they don’t change much. Colors, graphics, materials, fit all move slightly but all in all the products are the same from old navey, to the gap, to banana republic. The way the garments are constructed are pretty universal until yo get into high end one off fashion.

Footwear, cars, cell phones ect seem to go in bigger macro trends where one product come out into the market, the TT, the presto, the iPod and changes the game for everyone every couple years. But you could say the same about a freaking toaster, cofee maker, mouse… so why the connection?

Pluss the tooling costs on making a new shoe are crazy, you need to make a mold for every half side and each foot. Yet new products are cranked out 3-4 times a year! The product cycle could be just a few months before it is pulled off the market, unlike a phone that might be in production for years.

I’m still pretty new to this footwear game, only been doing it about 20 months, but I’m amazed when i travel the amount of kids who can recite model names, know I have a rare Japan only colorway on, or even what year the product was originally launched in? kind of the way I was as a kid with cars.

They are pretty disposable products, a toaster you might have for 20 years, shoes like 6 months to a year depending on how stinky, I can’t figure the whole thing out yet.

I can’t say for others, but for me it’s because of the interaction. My shoes are probably the most expensive product that I constantly interact with. All of the rest of the apparel is cheaper, you get a hole in a shirt or pants, kick out $20 and get a new one, no big deal. A watch is a good accessory but doesn’t have that constant interactivity like shoes. Every waking minute unless you’re in bed, your shoe sends feedback to you. So they have to be good and you don’t skimp on picking the right ones, for me at least.

To me, buying a pair of shoes is on the same level as buying a car. You have to pick the right one because the choice will affect your comfort and transport constantly for the entire time you wear them. And you have to get a pair that’s versatile for different clothes you may wear (assuming you’re not one of those guys that have 100’s of shoes).

So when you add up the level of decision-making and thought that go into a shoe purchase (assuming you are looking for the best performance and not just the current trend), the frequency that you have to go through it (a lot more than buying the right car or cell phone), and the constant interaction and feedback you get from your purchase, you develop a deep personal connection with your shoes and the results of your time and effort.
-Granted, this isn’t for the person buying the $20 cheapos. It’s for the folks spending $100 on a shoe that may end up being the only pair (for it’s specific purpose) that they have for the next year.

There’s the right combo of functional needs, personal involvement, sensory feedback/ reward, and temporariness (?) that forces it’s consumer to really get involved with the product more than other things.

Status symbols; the Bling factor. It do think a lot of it has to to do with trends and fads as well as subcultural identifiers.

It interesting how for example, classic kicks styles globally have come to identify a person, expressing a sense of self; not by traditional feature benefit function but by style functionality. Its not fashion, its expression, but a coded expression to others who can understand the codes. Not so much what you use but how you use it…

I think the “Nippon-ization” of America’s consumer culture is a good example od this. Japanese kids utilize the oddest things yet describe and express them in a completely new way, remanufacturing their meaning and expression without compromising the function and use. Japan was one of the first genuine consumer economies, and to differentiate themselves within a highly crowded and competative market companies and consumers teamed up to create lifestyle and expressionistic products some of which are completely non functional but are highly sought after as “totems” that are descriptives of their particular lifetsyles.

A lot of the products you mentioned above have had few paradigm reinventions recently; as if the functionality has reached a plateau, in fact studies are showing that there is an overload of functionality, or a negative reaction to over functional swiss army like objects, in the minds of most consumers. Where does a company go to stay competative when functionality and use plateau? How does a company differentiate when every product in the market essentailly does the same thing and gets the same results when used? The company creates an experience and lifestyle and wraps the product up in that. Oakley is a freakin great example of that and so is Nike sometimes.

The ultimate consumer connection is not only thru the product and its use; the ultimate connection is the communcation of a lifestyle, or sense of self, through the use of the product. its a synbiotic realtionship not a heirarchical relationship

Well put. Though Oakley has lost a lot of their cool, they are a great example, the glasses cost like 30 bucks, the other 100 is for the lifestyle expression.

I agree that design can be a great differentiator. Esp once people realize they don’t want their phone to taske crap pictures, they just want it to work great…as a phone. So once the phones all work, and the networks are the same size, and the features all bottom out, where do you go? Aesthetic expression.

I dont know when phones will ever loose functions…smile

they have so much shyt on them now that they are like no longer phones but instead devices and phone capabilities is just a feature. along with a camcorder, pda, Pockect PC, online chatting, camera, navigation systems (like an onstar), phone, blue tooth, beaming, in japan you can use urs to swipe to take public transportation, you can do confrencing on these devices. they play mp3’s, play quicktime, and wma movie files. I mean it has become just not a phone but everything mobile and wireless. people always on the go, these features all accomidate them. I just wonder where it will take us from here.

dispence sour patch kids…i would like tht…i love those things…

" Its not fashion, its expression, but a coded expression to others who can understand the codes. Not so much what you use but how you use it… "

the sociology/anthropology term is Semiotics. When the objects themselves trenscend their functional importance- imbued/invested with unspoken importance…symbols/meaning…(not an exact definition…)

In business, don’t we call it ‘aspirational’?

Yo, I think that like cars, sun glasses, etc, the act of dawning the symbols is what makes them powerful, and therefor lasting and important. Thats why ‘taste’ or fashion doesn’t quite adequately describe the scenario/situation very well.

When Clark Kent pulled back his white buttondown to reveal the “S” he became SOMETHING -what one asian writer once called the ultimate assimilationist’s fantasy- blending in, undercover, but inately powerful and desireable- yet from another planet…why does that matter? It seems that everyone wants to belong to a cultural norm, subcultural norm, etc. Shoes are a pretty good way to self identify while still being within the larger norm…eg:I’m a roadie cyclist, but I can’t wear my lycra tights to work…but I could wear my Oakley Factory Pilots (back in the day) and the people who recognized the Pilots would give me props- My subcultural group idolized Greg Lemond, i was like Greg, powerful - Semiotics