· 4 min read
The shoe store experience, as the bipeds among you know, has a fairly consistent sequence: Enter the store, browse models on the shoe wall, pick a style that catches your eye, and ask the salesperson to bring you a size 9 1/2 in oxblood red to try on.
But Kizik, the self-described “hands-free” shoe brand, recently opened its first brick-and-mortar store, and—as befits a brand that’s a palindrome—it’s running the shoe-shopping sequence in the reverse order.
Footloose: The store, by The Lionesque Group, an MG2 Studio, is in the Fashion Place mall near Salt Lake City, about 30 miles from Kizik’s headquarters in Lindon, Utah. A corner location that’s aquarium-like with two frameless glass storefront windows, the store features a floor-to-ceiling digital screen that plays the oddly mesmerizing moment of feet slipping into the shoes.
Although most styles look like typical sneakers, they have a spring mechanism built into the heel, and the video shows models stepping into them like mules. The heel compresses as the foot slides in, then once the foot’s secure, the heel snaps back into the upright position. Its parent company, HandsFree Labs, holds more than 170 granted or pending patents on the technology.
While Kizik was introduced in five Nordstrom locations earlier this year, “it’s been almost exclusively an e-commerce brand,” Monte Deere, CEO of both the 6-year-old brand and HandsFree Labs, told Retail Brew. The opportunity for people to engage with the shoes IRL, Deere continued, is that “this is an experiential technology that we have—an experiential shoe—and when people can touch it and try it on, we think conversion will be better in person.”
That’s why the store makes a point of keeping inventory of at least one style in every size in the retail area, and the sales staff are ready to position a shoe on the floor and encourage shoppers to step into it when they enter the store.
“And if [a shopper is] amenable to it, we find out if she’s a size 8 and put a size 8 on the floor,” Deere said. “And she steps into the shoe and we get that smile that we always get like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know a shoe could be like this.’”
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“That’s when you’re going to really feel the ‘Aha!’” said Melissa Gonzalez, founder of The Lionesque Group and a principal at MG2.
And it’s only then, in the inverse of typical shoe shopping, that customers choose styles and colors that store associates fetch from the back room.
Stand-up routine: While the try-on-first approach may seem like it’s facilitated by the store associates alone, elements of the design encourage it, too.
Along with the prominent video element demonstrating the step-in feature, decals on the floor reminiscent of those that teach dance steps are throughout the store and shoppers are encouraged to place shoes on the decals and step into them. (The store has seating to take a load off, but Kizik prefers when customers try them on standing up to emphasize their uniqueness.)
Wall text also reinforces the message.
“When you step in, things are always looking up,” proclaims text in the adult section, while the kids’ section boasts, “Look Ma, no hands.”
Kizik plans to open up to five more stores in undisclosed locations in the upcoming year, said Deere, who called them “test-and-learn” stores. To that end, modular fixtures can be reconfigured, like a shoe wall made of pegboards.
The design also features playful colors, primarily blue, from the palette of the shoe line itself.
On the other foot: Other brands are also trying to lure consumers with slip-on shoes.
- Nike made an investment in HandsFree Labs in 2019 that included IP rights to the technology, which was deployed in Jordan slip-on shoes for kids that Nike introduced earlier this year.
- Skechers makes a range of slip-in sneakers, including a collab with Martha Stewart.
As for the new Kizik store, after about a week of being open, the brand was observing something that measures enthusiasm among purchasers that they never see with e-commerce.
“More than a third of our customers who come into the store are walking out with their [new] shoes on their feet—and these are adults,” Deere said. “We didn’t really expect that.”