Nothing Replaces The Human Connection
Over the past four weeks I have attended a sourcing trade fair (Functional Fabric Fair) and two industry conferences, one hosted by the Running Industry Association (RIA Summit) and the other hosted by the National Shoe Retailers Association (NSRA Footwear Forum). As you may know, Formula4 Media also publishes Textile Insight and runstyle in addition to Footwear Insight.

The presentations at each of these industry events gave me a bird’s eye view of what’s on the minds of designers and what’s on the minds of the brands and retailers. While sustainability is certainly front and center with the designers, there is still much work to be done, including “designing” for sustainability, third party eco-certifications, associated product costs and take-back programs at retail, just to name a few. At the RIA Summit, Artificial Intelligence was discussed at the opening night presentation. At NSRA, there were presentations on how to motivate anyone to go the extra mile; making good leaders great; and how to unlock your retail freedom (read: management style).

Two particular comments from those presentations resonated with me. “Giving genuine compliments is like handing out $100 bills.” And, “If you give someone your time, you mean something to me.” Powerful stuff.

But nothing can replace those impromptu one-on-one conversations – that human interaction – be it in the aisles, meals, social functions or at the displays. Case in point, someone who I wanted to talk with ended up next to me on the lunch buffet line. And then there was a conversation with another about boats. I also shared an uber ride to the airport with an executive I had just met and learned about our shared passion for vintage autos. All memorable human connections and why attending conferences puts things on an entirely different level.

While thinking about the AI presentation, I messaged ChatGPT “describe a great customer service experience at a shoe store.” This is what it generated: “A great customer service experience at a shoe store goes beyond just finding the right size and style. It’s about creating a memorable and enjoyable shopping journey for the customer. As you enter the shoe store, you’re greeted with a warm smile by a sales associate who genuinely seems happy to assist you. They ask if you’re looking for anything specific or if you need help finding your size. Without pressuring you, they offer their assistance and assure you they’re there whenever you need them. As you browse through the aisles, you notice the store is well-organized, making it easy to find different styles and sizes. The displays are appealing, showcasing the latest trends and highlighting any ongoing promotions or sales. If you have any questions about a particular shoe or brand, there are informative signs and pamphlets available, or you can simply ask a staff member for assistance.

When you find a few pairs you like, the sales associate offers to measure your feet to ensure you’re getting the perfect fit. They attentively listen to your preferences and provide helpful recommendations based on your style and comfort needs. If a particular shoe isn’t available in your size or preferred color, they offer to check if it’s available at another store location or if it can be ordered online with expedited shipping. Once you’ve made your selections, the checkout process is smooth and efficient. The cashier is friendly and thanks you for your purchase, offering you a discount on your next visit as a token of appreciation. Before you leave, the sales associate reminds you of the store’s return policy and encourages you to reach out if you encounter any issues with your new shoes.”

I do believe that ChatGPT incorporated Footwear Insight’s Gold Medal Service Awards criteria that we have used for the past nine years! Finally, in this issue of the magazine, we asked consumers in our Trend Insight survey, “if you could change one thing about your in-store footwear shopping experience, what would it be?” See page 32. Their responses stress the “human” connection.

Jeff Nott, Publisher