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Payless Pulls A Fast One on “Influencers”

The discount shoe chain fooled fashionistas into paying top dollar for their products.

In one of my all-time favorite movies, Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low, Toshiro Mifune’s character, a shoe executive, resists his fellow businessmen’s attempts to make cheaper shoes, saying that customers will always opt for quality.

That was 1963. Today, customers opt for what so-called “influencers” tell them to buy. And some of those trendsetters fell for a prank at the hands of discount shoe retailer Payless.

The discount shoe retailer, struggling in a market that includes competition from Amazon and Zappos, has put together a new marketing campaign in which they pulled the wool (or the leather?) over the eyes of fashion “influencers” by setting up a fake luxury store called “Palessi” and asking the fashionistas what they would pay for Payless shoes. The two-night event drew trendsetters in, and the results were fun to watch.

The “influencers” offered high dollar for cheap Payless product, including one person who paid $640 for a pair of boots, which equals an 1,800% markup! Payless gave the customers their money back after revealing that they could find the same shoes at Payless for $19.99 and up.

Of course, we know where Payless was heading with the stunt. They’ll milk it for as many commercials as they can.

Payless said the social experiment was meant to remind shoppers that Payless’ affordable shoes are fashionable too.

“The campaign plays off of the enormous discrepancy and aims to remind consumers we are still a relevant place to shop for affordable fashion,” Payless CMO Sarah Couch told Adweek.

We know that there’s a correlation between price and perceptions of quality, and we all tend to immediately believe that a more expensive product is going to be better than a cheaper version. This experiment — like others we’ve seen involving fast foot plated in fancy ways and served to gourmands — goes to show that the high fashion set falls into this mentality just as easily as the run-of-the-mill consumer.

It’s a clever marketing strategy. But will it pay off? Will customers flock to Payless for $20 fashion shoes? Time will tell.

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