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Don’t Judge a Shoe by its Maker

After 63 years in business, the Payless name became the Achilles heel to their brand. But no one expected the brand to prove less is more by fooling the industry’s top retail influencers.


Discount turned designer

In an effort to draw positive attention to their brand, the bargain shoe retailer went undercover as a fictitious European luxury label called “Palessi,” opening an exclusive, six day pop-up boutique at the former Giorgio Armani location in Los Angeles’ ritzy Santa Monica Place.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Payless Shoesource Chief Marketing Officer Sarah Couch explained that, although the publicity stunt took place in a brick-and-mortar setting, the shoe company had hoped the campaign would help energize the brand’s online presence.

“We felt like this campaign would be a great way to get a lot of people to consider Payless again, and to realize it’s more than just a shoe store in the mall,” Couch said.


Cosmetic overhaul

To prepare for the event, the team created a Palessi website and Instagram account loaded with pictures of models and stilettos. They also hired an interior designer to ensure that the store would fit in with its neighbors—Louis Vuitton, Barneys, Michael Kors and Tiffany & Co can all be found inside the luxurious Santa Monica mall—and brought in gilded mannequins and lavish statues of angels, giraffes and lions to reflect the brand’s theme of Italian opulence.

To top it all off, every shoe received a Palessi label along with a hefty price tag of up to $1,800.

When opening day arrived, fashion influencers arrived in awe. Every aspect of Palessi confirmed a bias of a luxury brand.


The “gurus” were impressed with the Payless disguised shoes.

“Palessi is just such high quality, high fashion, taking your shoe game up to the next level,” said one man wearing spiked necklaces, holding a knee-high boot. “It looks really well made.”

Others called the line “elegant,” “sophisticated” and “versatile.”

“For me to experience this as an Italian designer is amazing,” said another man.

When the ploy was finally revealed, influencers were surprised to be speaking so highly of Payless shoes. Many said they were planning to visit the Payless website or would at least consider the brand the next time they needed to buy footwear. This revelation was the purpose of this experiment.

The takeaway

As evidenced by this social experiment, a few cosmetic updates have the power to completely transform brand and consumer perception, driving home the idea that customers are not solely purchasing products, but they’re also buying into the experience.


By KIRAH BRADLEY| Contributing Writer