I just bought a pair of size 42 men’s Scarpa “Helix” Italian rock climbing shoes in Hyper Blue for $99 at REI. This purchase is remarkable and highly unlikely. I had to climb over lots of psychological hurdles to get the right shoes for me. The experience made me think about Behavior Design hacks for better strategies, particularly for products and brands with low awareness.

Unknown

I’m a novice climber still working on my first punch card at Climb So Ill, so I don’t have brand preferences or experience to rely on. All these performance gear brands are new to me. Brand shortcuts aside, REI had a nicely curated collection of shoes to limit the choice set. This purchase should have been as easy as a 5.8 rock wall. It wasn’t.

Filters

The literature in psychology, behavioral economics and behavior design is chock full of goodness on the power of filters, nudges and default options. Theory met reality today in the shoe aisle.

The most powerful filter was gender, suggested by social convention, the store layout and the salesman: “Here are the ladies shoes and over there are the unisex and men’s shoes. Let me know if you need any help. Try on anything you like.” There was also a powerful nudge with the mention of unisex shoes and the encouragement to try on anything I liked. REI is cool like that.

I’m a woman. I shopped in “ladies shoes” without a second thought. My choice was anchored in my gender identity and spatially filtered by the store design. I found a pair of size 41.5 women’s Scarpa “Helix” climbing shoes in orange and set that as my default.

Feelings

I’m also a fashion rebel. “Unisex” was a nudge to think about these shoes as just shoes. Feet are feet. I buy unisex Converse shoes on Amazon all the time. But in a store, I have to literally walk over to the men’s section and publicly break a social norm. The walk was only four steps. No one was looking. It’s Women’s History Month. I hesitated. Then I angrily shook myself for even giving it a second thought.

But norms are norms. Breaking them requires thought – an executive command to override habitual behavior and social convention. And then there’s the emotional tax of feeling uncertain and uncomfortable. I unpacked all of this baggage on the walk to check out the shoes. No turning back. I was committed to shopping men’s shoes in the name of fun, fitness and feminism.

Fit

Climbing shoes fit funny. The sizes vary. It’s not as bad as trying to buy jeans, but it’s close. So I grabbed several different pairs of unisex/men’s shoes in 41, 41.5 and 42 and smuggled them over to my ladies nest to try them on. A pair of Five Ten brand “Rogue” shoes felt terrific. Should I go Rogue? Hmmm. They were size 42. I wondered if it was the shoe style/brand or something more basic, like the size. I tried the men’s version of the Scarpa ladies shoes I had set aside as my default. They felt just as good, only better. Why? Because they were the right size.

The most basic human filter was the best.

I love my new shoes. They feel great. They’re adorable. My post-purchase rationalization has kicked into overdrive. I’m new-shoe happy – a special kind of joy.

Dare

Filters and feelings can get in the way of a great fit. What if you dared to change the filters for your brand on the path to purchase? Can you make your customers new-shoe happy?

My experience confirmed powerful insights from Behavior Design, the art and science of hacking how people think and choose stuff. Advertising is all about changing consumer behavior. My journey towards better behavior-change briefs started with a new pair of shoes.