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Shoe-Buying Online Not Sole Satisfying

November 02, 2000|JENNIFER LOWE | jennifer.lowe@latimes.com

It began as we sat side by side in a meeting. "Nice shoes," she said. It continued as we left the room, the sudden swapping of shoe stories between shoe kindred.

I told her how I was in the hunt for boots but had gone to Nordstrom only to be disappointed. The one boot I wanted that wasn't a spike heel or 3 gazillion dollars was gone in my size.

"Me too!" she said.

Then, in almost the same breath, we said we'd race home to our computers for solace. We would find those shoes online.

If there's one kind of customer the Internet might not satisfy, it's the Imeldas of the world. Shoes have to be touched. You wiggle your toes in them, sneak glances at other feet while trying them on, even sniff them. Shoe departments out of certain sizes or colors ought to have riot police standing by.

So I punched up Nordstromshoes.com to find that boot. But staring at shoes online was oddly unsatisfying, and I grew anxious. I was determined to find that boot. I hopscotched among sites and spent hours before the screen--more time than I had in the shoe department. Finally, unable to find what I wanted, I stumbled upon a different boot and was so thrilled to find it in my size that I was swept into a wild frenzy of shopping. Instead of one pair of shoes, I bought three--although I would be disappointed in the end.

Nordstromshoes.com is a huge, colorful site, which you can access through its own address (http://www.nordstromshoes.com) or from the Nordstrom home site (http://nordstrom.com). It probably is the best a Web shoe store can be in terms of inventory--it claims to have 30 million pairs of men's, women's and children's shoes.

Shoes are arranged by category, such as the boot shop, or they can be found by scrolling down a list of brand names. . You've got a choice of clicking on What's New, for most brands, or just seeing all the shoes. (I found the site a little tough to read, though; because of all the menus, the actual space where the shoes appear is small.)

I knew what I wanted. I typed "Skechers boot" into the search window. (OK, Skechers is known for its teen-oriented tennis shoes. But the boot they had was cute and inexpensive. And did I say it was black?) Nothing. I clicked on the Skechers name but got mostly tennis shoes. Someone had to have it.

I switched to Shoebuy.com, recommended by a friend. I found seven women's dress shoes, 81 casual shoes, plus some of the ugliest boots I've ever seen. But no Skechers. Bummer, too, because shipping here was free.

Dejected, I jumped back to Nordstromshoes.com and began the arduous process of exploring the boot shop for something else. Because the site is so huge and brings up a dozen or more shoes at a time on the screen, reloading each page takes some time--especially for those of us connecting at 50,000 baud through America Online. And then, click on a specific boot for more details, enlarge it or view it from a different angle (very nice feature), and the seconds tick by as the page reloads.

It was here I spotted a basic pair of black boots, not too much money--$79.95--though a brand I normally bypass. I zipped back to Shoebuy.com (no shipping fee, remember) and searched for "Naturalizer." Nothing. I guessed there would be a Naturalizer.com, and there was. But was this boot there? No. Then I tried Skechers.com, saw a few boots but was no longer certain whether those were the right ones (they were beginning to blur).

Back to Nordstrom. I hadn't seen the Naturalizer in their "Boot Shop," but it came up under the manufacturer category. And the site told me more quickly than my in-store saleswoman--who disappeared into the stock room for 10 minutes--if it had my size. And easy pull-down menus or pop-up windows showed size availability.

If it could be this easy to check a size, what else might Nordstrom.com have? Gone was the anxiety; in its place, I felt empowerment. I didn't need just boots! Look at all these other great shoes!

Boots, bam! Black wedge Mary Janes, bam! A "cafe" flannel mule shown in crocodile red. (Wouldn't you think "cafe" was brown? I was betting on it, since there was no picture.) Bam!

So what if shipping cost $12.95 for all three. Wasn't this better than waiting in a shoe department? Plus, you can return Nordstrom catalog items at Nordstrom stores and not pay return shipping. The first pair arrived in two days, but the other two came separately over the next week, sent directly from the manufacturer.

But I'm sorry to say the mule experiment failed; the shoes don't match my brown pants. The Mary Janes gapped around the sides of my feet. And the boots, sadly, were by far the biggest disappointment, narrow and a little stiff.

"You can't buy shoes online!" says another friend, who, on the other hand, thinks nothing of dropping a few hundred bucks on a Web-purchased last-minute airline seat. "It's so personal."

I'm sure she's right. I guess I'm going back to the mall.

*

Jennifer Lowe is deputy food editor of The Times.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Skinny

* Shopping for: Shoes

* Sites visited: http://www.nordstromshoes.com, http://www.shoebuy.com, http://www.skechers.com, http://www.naturalizer.com

* The good: Visiting four or five online stores in the time it would take to peruse one shoe department and stand in line at the mall restroom (unless you get sidetracked).

* The bad: Not being able to try on shoes. And when they arrived, not being able to try the next size up or down was a letdown.

* Bottom line: If you want to replace a pair of shoes and know the exact size, go online. Otherwise, you're taking your chances. I won't order shoes again right away. But Imeldas never say "no" to shoes.

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