Business Insight
Harnessing AI for Growth
To enhance their profitability, independent shoe retailers must improve their operational efficiency. The utilization of today’s emerging technologies should lead to a higher return on investment. The most successful retailers understand the importance of collecting and analyzing information in order to make better decisions in the future. They already train their staff to effectively use accounting systems, merchandising management systems, email marketing programs, customer facing websites, and social media platforms. A wise owner/operator aims to increase efficiencies, control costs, and explore new markets and services.

Our industry is one where growth is essential for survival. However, there are considerable roadblocks to achieving growth.  

• Consumer traffic has been declining for many, many years.

• Online buying of footwear has been proven successful and pulls traffic from your business.

• Expense growth in recent years, coupled with declining traffic count, has negatively impacted abilities to post adequate sales gains. Gains are occurring based on price inflation, but likely the number of units going out the door is declining for many shoe retailers.

• Selling shoes online gave many independent retailers hope, but

• If you took on the tactic of selling shoes as a third-party retailer, it probably wasn’t profitable and was a distraction.

• Retailer websites for retailers haven’t been successful for every small retailer. It depended largely on that retailer’s ability to invest in technology deploying website enhancements, recruiting talent and executing well.

• Now, the use of AI by “the big guys” threatens retailers seeking to maintain their market share.

Historically, the success of independent retailers has hinged on their ability to cater to customers with timely access to the appropriate products complemented by exceptional service. Service encompasses both attentiveness and expertise, culminating in a customer experience that fosters loyalty and repeat business. Unfortunately, loyalty has often been compromised by competitors who lure customers way with enticing offers and services.

• A properly directed shoe store operation has a social media and email marketing campaign that engages the public and encourages traffic to the retailer’s front door.

• Without a functioning e-commerce site to show the store’s product offerings, the job is only half done.

• Without a means to maximize sales on that website, the site fails.

The era of AI has already begun, the major retailers are already using it, and it is time for the independent shoe retailers to take on the challenge of employing it in their businesses. Keeping up with these technologies and best practices has already challenged many retailers, but with the introduction of artificial intelligence (aka “AI”) staying ahead of the curve will become even more difficult, because the pace of change is so rapid. If internal abilities and systems are insufficient to take on the challenge, retailers will need to seek out the assistance of third parties to drive these business enhancements.  

How Retailers Can Embrace AI

In the fast-moving world of footwear retail, embracing AI can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are various AI tools designed to meet retailers at their level of tech comfort, budget, and business need. Here are a few AI tool types to consider::

Chatbots for Customer Service: AI-powered chatbots can handle customer inquiries on your website or social media platforms 24/7. They can answer common questions, help with sizing issues, and even guide customers through the checkout process, making shopping easier and boosting sales.

Personalized Recommendation Engines: These AI tools analyze customer data, like past purchases and browsing history, to suggest products that shoppers are likely to buy. This personal touch can increase sales and improve the shopping experience on your website.

Inventory Management Systems: AI can predict trends and customer demand, helping you stock the right amount of each product. This means less overstock of unsold items and ensuring popular sizes and styles are always available, saving money and meeting customer needs better.

Email Marketing Automation: AI-driven platforms can segment your customer list and send personalized marketing emails based on customer preferences and behaviors. This approach can lead to higher open rates, more clicks, and ultimately, more sales.

Starting with AI in your footwear retail business can be as simple as choosing one tool that addresses a specific need. Whether it’s writing better ad copy, improving customer service, managing inventory more efficiently, or personalizing marketing efforts, there’s an AI solution out there that can fit seamlessly into your business model.


Integrating AI into the operations of independent footwear retailers offers a dual advantage, enhancing both the in-store and e-commerce experiences:

Identifying Sales Opportunities with AI:

In-Store: AI provides sales reps real-time suggestions for cross-selling and upselling based on the customer’s current selections and browsing history.

E-Commerce: AI algorithms analyze online shopping behaviors to recommend complementary products, boosting online basket sizes.

Automating Tasks with AI:

In-Store: AI automates inventory checks and customer profile updates, enabling sales reps to focus more on personal customer interactions.

E-Commerce: AI handles customer inquiries through chatbots and automates order processing, streamlining the online shopping journey.

Enhancing Accuracy with AI:

In-Store: AI tools offer accurate inventory and customer preference insights, guiding sales reps in making personalized recommendations.

E-Commerce: AI ensures online product recommendations and stock levels are accurate, improving the reliability of the online store.

Continuous education in AI tools empowers staff to boost their earning potential:

In-Store: and E-Commerce: Staff trained in AI tools can leverage insights to enhance sales tactics and customer engagement across both platforms, maximizing sales potential.

Interactive technologies, powered by AI, serve multiple roles:

Collecting Customer Information for AI Analysis:

In-Store: Kiosks collect preferences and feedback, which AI analyzes to enhance the in-store experience.

E-Commerce: AI uses online behavior and purchase data to refine marketing strategies and product offerings.  

Identifying Brand Preferences with AI:

In-Store: AI assists sales reps in curating a personalized shopping experience based on known brand preferences.

E-Commerce: AI tailors the online browsing experience to highlight preferred brands and products.

Understanding Needs and Wants through AI:

In-Store: AI-driven insights help sales reps anticipate customer needs and offer solutions proactively.

E-Commerce:AI algorithms adapt website content and recommendations to match user search and interaction patterns.

Expanding the Customer Base using AI:

In-Store: AI identifies potential new customer segments based on in-store data.

E-Commerce:AI leverages online data to target lookalike audiences with digital marketing campaigns.

Improving Customer Satisfaction with AI:

In-Store: AI feedback analysis tools help retailers refine the in-store experience based on customer input.

E-Commerce: AI optimizes website usability and personalization, ensuring a satisfying online shopping experience.

By applying AI across in-store and online channels, retailers can offer a cohesive and personalized shopping experience, enhancing customer satisfaction and driving sales growth.


AI transforms email marketing for independent footwear retailers by enabling more personalized and efficient campaigns:

Email Validation and List Cleanup: AI improves the quality of email lists by checking if email addresses are valid and removing those that aren’t active, making sure emails reach people who are really interested.

Optimizing Sending Frequency: AI looks at when people interact with emails to figure out the best times to send them. This helps get more opens and clicks without annoying subscribers.

Content Ideas with AI: Consumer-based tools like ChatGPT help retailers come up with new ideas for their email campaigns by suggesting topics and themes that fit a store’s brand, making the writing process easier.

Content Creation and Automation: AI doesn’t just come up with ideas; it also helps write personalized emails and schedule them to be sent out automatically. This saves time and ensures messages are relevant to the audience.

Smart Segmentation: AI smartly groups customers based on their actions, likes, and purchases, allowing for emails that are more targeted and likely to be well-received.

Personalized Recommendations: Using information about what customers like and have bought before, AI personalizes product suggestions in emails, greatly increasing interest and sales through messages that feel tailored to each recipient.

Gaining Campaign Insights: AI analyzes how well email campaigns are doing, offering insights that help retailers make their email strategies better and more effective.

Anthony “Chips” Chiappetta, the founder of Shoe Dogs United and co-owner of Chiappetta Shoes in Kenosha, WI, responded to our Facebook post in late January, as follows, “ChatGPT for marketing ideas is very solid.”

In retail, you either grow or fall behind. If sales are flat or barely increasing, something needs to change to keep up with rising costs. Emerging technologies, especially artificial intelligence (AI), are now so powerful they could be like having the best employee ever. They can help businesses grow fast while making things run smoother and more affordably.

Your competitors might not be ready to use these new tools, so taking the step to use AI could really set a retailer apart. AI can make shopping feel more personal for customers, make the business run better, and help independent retailers understand what customers really want. Making AI a big part of the business plan could be a game-changer.

As things keep changing in the retail world, using AI will become more and more important. Retailers who start using AI now will be better off, ready to handle whatever comes next and stay ahead of others.

III & IV To Be Continued

Part 2 of Harnessing AI For Growth, including how to use AI in Improving Website Experiences and Cart Abandonment will appear in the April 8, 2024 edition of Footwear Insight Business Report Quarterly. Look for it in your email box.

Alan Miklofsky is a semi-retired shoe industry veteran and contributor to Footwear Insight. This is his eleventh consecutive article for Footwear Insight Magazine. After a 40-year award winning career as a retailer and long-term board member of the NSRA (which included a stint as its Chairperson), Alan is currently a business consultant focusing on accounting and merchandising.

For more information on Alan, visit his LinkedIn page at:

Kim Miklofsky Bayne is a semi-retired digital media strategist and content developer, renowned as a best-selling author in Internet marketing. She excels at crafting customer experiences that stand out across various platforms. With hands-on experience in utilizing consumer-facing AI apps and integrated AI tools, Kim significantly enhances online engagement. Her expertise, spanning traditional and contemporary marketing channels across diverse industries, positions her as a vital resource in developing impactful digital marketing strategies.

You can find out more about Kim by visiting her linked in profile at: