Sunday 21 January 2018

Shoe shop's toy story plays havoc

John Cradden

School shoes, not to mention children's shoes in general, tend to have short, brutal lives often lasting only a few months, never mind a full school year.

This makes buying new school shoes an expensive business, particularly since many parents will opt for more expensive brands like Clarks.

Indeed, Clarks are almost a by-word for school shoes as far as many parents are concerned, because they are sensible, well made and last longer than cheaper brands.

But judging by comments from some parents online here and in the UK, they may have alienated quite a few of them over the last couple of years since they introduced miniature toys that are found inside the soles of their most popular brand of school shoe.

Clark's Yotoy shoes, which retail at about €50, come in a girls' version called Daisy Explores and a boys' version called Jack.Nano.

The girls' shoes have a small doll in one sole with her hair accessories hidden in the other sole. The boys' shoes have a Jack.Nano doll in one sole and a car in the other.

The toy can be removed by lifting the insole, while the toy is visible from the heel.

This clever marketing ploy by Clarks has clearly worked wonders. Since they were introduced a couple of years ago, the shoes have outsold other brands by a considerable margin, according to a BBC report.

However, many parents and teachers in the UK and Ireland are said to have complained about the shoes, with some schools ordering pupils to leave the toys at home.

If that wasn't enough, Clarks introduced a new range of toys for its Yotoy brand this year.

One parent on a UK online parenting forum recently complained that her kid was being teased by her classmates for having last year's pair with the old toys, which still fit her and were in good condition.

"We now have tantrums in the morning because of those silly shoes," she said.

Of course, the reality is that older kids want to be just like their friends, but it's another example of companies like Clarks ruthlessly exploiting "pester power".

"There is no doubt that pester power is strong and hard on parents, but at the end of the day the parent holds the purse so it is up to them to decide which shoes are bought," says Rita O'Reilly of Parentline, a confidential helpline for parents.

Ms O'Reilly suggests that harassed parents could arrange a pleasant day out shopping for shoes with their kids and, to help resist the pestering for Clarks toy shoes, buy cheaper shoes and a separate toy instead.

This may be easier said than done, according to some parents.

"If I hear 'Everyone has. . .' once more this year I'm going to scream," says Teresa Heeney, a mother of two teenage school children in Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Ms Heeney says that, until recently, national schools had relaxed their uniform policies, "so kids could pretty much wear what they like on their feet".

Some "we haves you haves" parents will always buy designer shoes for kids up to age nine anyway, says Ms Heeney, but from nine to 14 is when the problems start, as shoes become more of a status symbol.

"Boys will only wear Nike or Adidas or similar. But girls are a real pain. It's Converse or Babychams or Keds or Uggs, all brands I never heard of until this year.

"Of course there are the generic versions of all of these but the kids will have no problem pointing out if yours aren't real."

Ms Heeney says she has managed to withstand pester power -- until now.

"I never usually gave into this but have had to submit and buy some just so my daughter doesn't feel left out. Morally I don't agree with it, but it can get quite personal for the child."

After the age of 15, confidence seems to allow them to wear what they want, says Ms Heeney, "so it's just longer lasting material that wins out".

However, it seems that schools that enforce a stricter uniform policy have a role to play in combating pester power.

Ms Heeney notes that her daughter's school has returned to insisting on black or brown shoes this year, "which is great because even though there will still be the designer element, it won't be so obvious".

Sharon Kavanagh, from Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, reports little peer pressure to wear the right school shoes. "Just black school shoes, and runners for PE," says Ms Kavanagh, who has two young pre-teen girls. "Nobody passes any comment on them, no peer pressure."

In terms of the pressure to buy certain brands, Ms Kavanagh says she is no pushover.

"I am very good at steering away from brands and towards cheap stuff when it suits, but we will generally come to a choice together."

Dermott Jewell, chief executive of the Consumers' Association of Ireland, says that parents and schools need to join forces to combat pester power.

"You can see where it is crucially important that both parents and schools work together on these issues, as others can have little power to act at all."

"Pester power is a marketers delight, especially as it is so easy to generate."

Irish Independent

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