Well, for a change, let me take my mind off weightier topics and move towards what could be a rather mundane affair.
What could be more ordinary than shopping for a pair of shoes?
I did not realize that it could be rather tough to select a pair of hiking shoes. It may be easy in the U.S. to identify a brand based on feedback from friends or reviews from other users, and then drive down towards an outlet mall and pick up the shoes. Probably at a price which is not too different from the online price, but surely at a good discount from the mall prices.
How about Singapore? It is not that easy, based on my own experience.
First, let me come to the identification of personal needs. Since I am kind of hiking almost every weekend in one of the nature parks around the city-state, I felt that my regular walking shoes need to be replaced with a waterproof, tough-looking pair of shoes with strong grip, as it rains in Singapore often and the ground can be wet with slippery leaves lying all over. Further, the gravel on the hiking path is always a bit dangerous, with my own experience of slipping down in wet conditions, and able to upset my balance even in dry conditions. These set of needs is not very different from those of the average hiker in Singapore. Nothing special, and nothing out of the ordinary, though I use special feet inserts in my shoes for better cushioning and balance.
Then came the determination of the brands of hiking shoes based on an internet search of the best ones with user reviews to go by in the selection process. It was not easy to make the list, and so I also consulted with couple of colleagues in the office who are known to be walkers or hikers. I got a couple of brands that way. At the end of this process, I had four brands listed out for me to go and try out:
First, I tried the famous mecca of hiking shoe shoppers in Singapore – the Queenstown Shopping Centre, which resembles (in a minor way) the Sim Lim Tower which is famous for electronics. I went around a few floors, and visited some 8 shops or so. There is a lot to be learnt from the sales techniques (both positive and abnoxiously negative) of the salesmen in shoe shopping stores. In one shop which had almost all the brands (though small in size), I was looking around and then asked for Vasque shoes (I knew it was at the upper end of the price range). The salesman looked at me for a second, and asked me what is my budget. I told him that I would like to get a good pair of waterproof hiking shoes at SGD 150 maximum (INR 6,800, or USD 110 approximately). He smiled and said that Vasque will not suit my budget, neither will Columbia or Salomon. He suggested that I stick with Merrell since it is a mid-range brand with prices some 30% lower than these other brands. He waved me off, quickly determining that I was not going to buy anything, and then moved on to the next customer. He did not offer the Merrell shoes (which he had on display) and convince me to buy one of the same – I was inclined to do so. When I walked out of that store, I told my wife that this was the way shops lose business from a potential customer, who had an urgent need to be fulfilled and the shop did have a suitable range of products, but the salesman put me off. And, we were shopping for two pairs – one for me and another for my wife!
In another shop, which had a similar selection (except for Vasque), I had a positive experience. The salesman attended to my needs, by asking relevant questions and did not focus on my budget or specific brand prices. He pulled out couple of Merrell shoes on display and showed the same to me. He answered my queries patiently. He even offered to bring my size from another shop as he did not have my size available. I liked the guy, and was seriously contemplating concluding the purchase with that salesman. However, I did not as I decided that my evaluation of shoes so far did not prepare me adequately for a “technical” conversation on the characteristics of the shoes which mapped appropriately to my own personal needs.
So, I went back and did more study. I decided to go for Merrell shoes with Vibram sole and Gore-tex waterproof seal, and ankle protection. I also liked one particular pattern of the sole which I felt will provide solid grasp while hiking, and decided to get it.
Someone told me that Mustafa Shopping Centre has Merrell brand and so I went, but did not get my choice or my size. Though I should admit that their prices were some 10% cheaper than those offered at the Queenstown Shopping Centre.
Today, I went to Vivo City and looked up a number of stores. Finally, I chanced upon Royal Sporting House show room which had an exclusive Merrell show case (no other shoe store seems to be having a similar one, though World Of Sports had some limited Merrell choices). Both my wife and I bought Merrell shoes and the shopping experience was very pleasant. There was total focus from two salesmen on meeting our needs, and they were prepared to bring out a series of shoes of various sizes to fit our feet. They were patient and courteous. Further, there was a 25% discount if you bought two pairs, so it turned out to be a good deal with net prices being lower than that of Queenstown Shopping Centre and even Mustafa. And, I was within my stated budget per pair!
We are gong to try these new pairs of Merrell hiking shoes at the Upper Seletar Reservoir tomorrow (which is a Sunday), and I will share my experience of using these shoes in hiking conditions.
Overall, my buying experience proved that it might be better to purchase these kind of shoes and hiking or sports accessories in the U.S., not just because of lower prices (which will be the case), but also because of the quick access anywhere (Merrell is an American brand) and the variety of brands available at one go. In smaller countries, the experiences are limited.
Enjoy your walking, running and hiking.
1st April 2017