I hadn’t realized Payless was closing down completely, including their e-commerce operations. That’s wild. They’re going completely dead.
It’ll be an interesting case study for sure, and I should know: I’ve been buying their shoes for 20 years, regularly: one brand mostly, for working in restaurants. Payless made a variety of shoe called Safe-T-Step. I have tried Docs, I’ve tried a variety of different brands over the years of working in a restaurant, and no brand could compete with the original Safe-T-Steps.
These were shoes marketed at restaurant workers, mechanics, factory floor and warehouse workers, even hospital and maintenance workers. Basically, anyone whose regular workplace might be prone to puddles of water and grease or other slippery substances where such unmarked dangers were a real hazard. The soles of those ugly-ass Safe-T-Step shoes were like magic: they just didn’t slip in water or oil or whatever. And they were really well built. They lasted 6 months of regular everyday 10-hour shift use; I used to walk 3-5 miles per day just walking around the restaurant on my feet. They were comfortable enough, and they were tough…and you never worried about slip and falls in them.
(Caveat: for whatever reason, the magic tread on Safe-T-Steps was terrible on snow and ice.)
But…around about the time Payless was coming out of its first bankruptcy, they started changing the materials in their Safe-T-Steps. They used cheaper rubber compounds in the soles. They used cheaper faux leather in the uppers, which became prone to cracking within a few weeks of wear. The glues they used to bind the shoes together were cheaper, and soles started to peel. I think I gave up on them and bought my last pair in 2011 or so. They were just junk. (It turns out that the Safe-T-Step shoe treads were licensed from a company called Shoes For Crews, who still exist very much, and appear to make much higher-quality work shoes…if I were in that market still.)
Over the years, Payless would tempt me with a sale (I love shoes, btw, cheap, expensive, whatever…) and I’d find a couple of pairs that looked like knockoffs of some Pumas or Skechers I owned. Invariably, they’d manage to last just a month or two before the soles would come apart, or the uppers would crack or tear, or shoelace eyelets would come out.
I also remember one time around 2012, I stopped by a local Payless to see if I could find any “old” Safe-T-Steps lurking on the shelves. The store wasn’t empty; there were customers shopping. But there was a line of like three people waiting to buy while the sole employee working was trying to help another customer find a size before she could dash up to the register to ring those sales.
And the really bizarre thing to me about Payless is that even after bankruptcy, they continued to do their own shipping and logistics in-house for their ecommerce. I mean, I imagine Amazon takes quite a bite to handle that, but even so it has to be less expensive than handling those logistics themselves. I guess I’m stunned that they didn’t shut down all but a handful of their highest-performing retail brick and mortars and then go full e-commerce, partnering with someone like Amazon for fulfillment purposes.