Thinking TOO much out of the box!

A prominent businessman went shoe shopping at a local store.  After selecting a pair of shoes of size 8, he asked the new saleswoman to pack it.  However, he soon realized that he had left his wallet back home.  So, he told the saleswoman that he would take the shoes and make the payment the next day.

Although the saleswoman could gauge the credibility of the businessman, she was reluctant to deliver the shoes without payment.  At the same time, she was also not ready to lose a sale.  So, she stood there frozen for a few minutes unable to decide.  She then went back into the storage room, packed the shoes, and then handed the box to the customer.

The next day, the customer arrived at the store with the shoes he had purchased, and while making the payment for it, enquired to the saleswoman, “After opening the box I found one shoe of size 8 and the other of size 7.  Maybe you packed them by mistake?  Could I get shoes of size 8, please?”

Great outcome, isn’t it?  Neither did they lose the customer nor the sale.  Expectedly, the ‘thinking-out-of-the-shoe-box’ saleswoman gets a promotion!

Good story, but an uninspiring ending.  Why? 

Let’s change focus from the saleswoman and point it towards the customer for a different perspective.  We get two scenarios—either he was ethical or unethical. 

  1. If he was ethical, he would have come back to pay/exchange, regardless of the shoes being the same or of the different size. 
  2. If he was a fraud, unintending to pay, it is highly unlikely that he would have bothered to come back and return the mismatched shoes.

Clearly, the saleswoman’s actions doubled the risk (losing two pairs of shoes) against the same returns (sale of one pair).  Yet, she is rewarded because the store manager is blinded by the positive outcome.

This is a common blind spot that many institutions experience.  Most tend to easily believe the outcome without paying attention to the steps that led to the outcome.

A mature organization is one, which forever champions the value of right approaches, regardless of the results!

Outcome, Adapted, Customer


  1. Awesome!! What would U do instead, if U were the salesperson n didn’t want to lose the esteemed customer?

  2. Probably, the store manager rewarded because the intention was right!
    Acquiring a new Customer is more expensive than retaining one (may be in this case more than the cost of 2 pair of shoes)

  3. Here there is third case:
    A common perception of saleswomen these days.. seeing the business man, she is confident that he is not fraud. Which means he is capable of paying and his intention is to pay ASAP.. But what if the business man is too busy to come back and what if his boss gets to know that the stock and sales are not tallying..
    In this case what she did is correct..
    But there is a risk there as well – Risk of losing trust.. business man could have bought the same shoe next day if he don’t need that immediately.. he asked to pack that immediately because he need that then and there.. or he might have taken that to gift it or send that to some other remote place.. in these cases customer might get angry and the store looses a big customer..

  4. Read it as **what if her boss (Saleswoman’s boss) gets to know **

  5. Well, a wise person once said, “Integrity Is The Most Valuable And Respected Quality Of Leadership. Always Keep Your Word.” It speaks volumes. Inspiring Read.

  6. I would think this situation in totally different way.

    To be more professional and be transparent!!
    1. I could suggest few ePayment commonly available options.
    2. Phones are with facility where you can save your debit cards and make payment.
    3. Giving a transparency to the accounts/counter about the situation and make a decision as a store and not as an individual.

  7. 1) The shoes bought were likely black, the situation however is not black and white. What were the business values of the shoe store? Customer obsession, or no policy exception come what may? Was the frontline employee empowered to take such decisions, or was she trained / expected to escalate such situations to her manager? What was the risk appetite of the business? Depending on the context, the approach can be perceived as correct or not.

    2) If we assume the businessman needed the shoes urgently, then the saleswoman’s actions didn’t solve the customer’s need. A prominent businessman was probably worth taking a risk for considering his potential lifetime value as a customer.

    3) What could the saleswoman have done differently? Packed the right pair of shoes and extended him the credit while making him feel important. Then requested if she could click a picture of him shopping at the store, for posting on the store’s social media pages. Letting him know that he being a prominent local business figure would have a great branding impact for the store. The businessman would likely oblige given the give and take situation, and also be on the hook to definitely ensure he settles his dues, as now the whole town knows about his shoe shopping escapade!

    4) When organization is the product i.e. equities traded on stock exchanges, the world at large only seems to care about the results. Approaches get studied as after the fact case studies. Only rare organizations can continue to appreciate approaches regardless of the results.

  8. Good job done by sales women ,if she is smart enough she would also present in innocent way it was a mistake by her side because some shoes were repacked wrongly .
    She could have asked him to pay next day and take the shoes by checking how much he really to wear them the same day . If he would have come the next day to pay might as well take it also next day .
    She got the deal in smart way .
    In any case if the customer wanted to return the shoes even that would have been possible within 24 hrs of purchase .

  9. Very good example as in every action there may be chances of two outcomes, one can be best side and one can be worst side. For manager the action & decision of women was best because he has seen his positive impact only but if we see the probable outcome of her decision, the organization might had double loss due to her decision.

Leave your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Thinking TOO much out of the box! - Arun Nathani Blog