Shoes, in my experience, are always sold in pairs. Should they be?
I can think of at least two arguments against. One is that sometimes one shoe of a pair wears out or gets damaged and you have to throw the whole pair away. This is particularly likely if your feet are not perfect mirror images of each other. Mine are not — my right foot has some lumps on it, apparently normal and non-dangerous sorts of lumps that sometimes occur with aging. The result is that my right shoes wear out faster than my left. Since I have been buying the same shoes from the same seller for years, I now have two pair — possibly a third if I looked harder — plus a number of unpaired left shoes.
That, of course, suggests the other advantage to selling single shoes. When I get new shoes they are comfortable on the left foot, tight on the right. Eventually, after time to stretch, they are loose on the left foot, comfortable on the right. But if I could buy a right shoe one size wider than the left ...
I suspect few people would like the look of one brand new shoe and one half-worn shoe. If it's dress shoes (or non-sneakers) can your shoes be re-soled? There are still a few (usually fairly expensive) brands that can be re-soled, and still a few cobblers that can do the re-soling. If leather soles, you may get sole protectors, a thin layer of rubber that can be easily replaced when it wears. They may also be able to stretch one shoe, typically up to one width.
There used to be some high end brands you could order in mismatched sizes, I'm not sure if that's still true.
I have a similar complaint about nice socks--I've never seen any non-athletic socks in a large package that aren't an assortment--a six pack of my favorite wool socks comes in 4 different patterns. I suspect this is for people like me who refuse to have less than 2 or 3 of a pattern.
You can always buy 2 pairs of shoes if this is an issue. Buy 2 $50 pairs instead of 1 $100 pair.
It only works because it works! There are few who need different sized shoes for each foot -- I am one of those few, too. It's those damned economies of scale, here in packaging. :-)
[I've used this in class -- complementarity is not a characteristic of the commodities, but rather a characteristic of each person's utility function.]
In my opinion, it's probably due to legacy supply chain characteristics. It's already a logistical nightmare for shoe stores to try to have the right sizes in stock--if each shoe was individual, that increases your supply chain complexity given that the vast majority of shoe buyers need two shoes of the same size.
This is one long tail market where mass online retail economies of scale could solve the issue. But it's also hard to do this for shoes, because most people want to try shoes on before they buy. Shoe fitment is so individual that even different shoes models, within the same brand, of the same size will fit differently. So it's a market that is more resistant to online shopping than others. This is made more difficult in that sneakers are often a seasonal design--"last year's" model gets discontinued so you need to go to the store to try on this year's model just in case the fitment changed.
Single shoe sales is not a difficult problem to solve, from a technical sense. But because the number of people who need different sizes between their feet is small, it's not a problem that makes enough economic sense to solve to be worth the hassle.
For a long time I've been buying shoes that are way too big. You may get some blisters at first. Eventually, things settle down. I've never known such comfort. I can walk a couple of hours with absolutely no foot problems. This is one of my greatest personal discoveries. With this approach, if one foot is a different size, you can get by with no problems.
I believe from the point of view of the customer, being able to buy single shoes would be an advantage. I've had cases where one shoe goes bad.
On a similar theme regarding "pairs", I make my own glasses by buying $1 reading glasses and swapping the lenses to get a pair of lenses than match my eyes. This has also worked smoothly for many years. However, the job of swapping the lenses is a pain. Maybe some enlightened entrepreneur will start selling frames and individual lenses so users can assemble their own glasses.
We clearly need the government to intervene
Good on you youngster (I'm seven years older so respect you're elders, Davie.-grin-), though many made the point that, t'ain't many that would wanna wear one old shoe & one new one, when presenting a hypothesis, experiments/studies resulting in negative data is just as important as positive data. Few, very few, understand that.
I think people who consistently wear out one side before the other are very rare.
I think Brad is right that this is a legacy supply chain issue and that at least for new shoes, mismatched pairs could be sold by mail-order. As he said, people like to try on shoes before buying, but many mail-order shoe companies have easy return policies. atoms.com is specifically aimed at selling unequal shoes. They offer quarter sizes, so that more people would be tempted by unequal shoes.
Selling shoes in singles might also serve the niche market of customers who only have one foot!
Free market to the rescue! oddshoefinder.com allows amputees or people with differently sized feet to buy, sell, or give away single shoes. There are hundreds of listings in different sizes and styles!
1) If you want a matched pair, watch out for opened boxes with mixed sizes. In stores like Costco where all boxes are available to buyers and self-checkout is available, you could get the leftovers of someone's customized buy.
2) Uneven sized feet or those with irregularities can be mitigated by an extra sock, perhaps one or two layers of a short "footie" sock.
You can do this at Nordstrom and a few others stores and brands. It’s called a split-shoe service. There are also exchanges like http://search.oddshoefinder.com/. I suspect this is rare for a store because of logistics and scale needed for matching (supply side). From the demand side, the ability to order custom shoes (at a cost) limits WTP. It is also the case that leather is inconsistent in color to begin with, which is exacerbated by aging. This makes it hard for sequential matching.
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