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Payless Gives Shoes 4 Kids; the Basic Black Pump of Cause Marketing

This holiday season Payless ShoeSource will donate $1.2 million worth of shoes free of charge to children in North America, and 11 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Now in its fourth year the program… called Payless Gives Shoes 4 Kids… is accepting applications from nonprofits right now at Paylessgives.com.

Having just finished Ross Shafer’s slender volume called ‘Grab More Market Share: How to Wrangle Business Away from Lazy Competitors,’ I wonder if Payless hasn’t come a little late to the party with this helpful if pedestrian program.

Shafer’s premise is that in tough economic times it may be easier and cheaper to out-compete rivals than to win over entirely new costumers by simply doing the things competitors are unwilling to do.

There’s a certain logic to Shafer’s thinking. Now-defunct electronics chain Circuit City spent many years and millions of dollars winning customers. And even if the stores weren’t the same as Best Buy it’s a simple transition for former Circuit City customers to shop now at Best Buy. By doing enough things better, Shafer argues, Best Buy sent Circuit City to the ash heap of retail history.

Payless, Shafer says, shuttered 218 stores in 2009, which he infers came as a result of the fast-growing Zappos.com, now owned by Amazon.com.

Zappos.com faces a number of challenges against a bricks and mortar retailer, none the least of which is that few of us are willing to buy a pair of shoes we haven’t worn. Zappos.com overcame that by allowing you to easily return shoes you don’t like free of hassle and shipping costs.

Zappos.com is famous for its customer service, while Payless is mainly famous for its low prices and stack ‘em deep, sell ‘em cheap merchandising.

One of the main benefits of cause marketing and the kind of philanthropy represented by Payless Gives Shoes 4 Kids is that it can help companies standout from competitors and give them a new story to tell the public and the press.

Something that TOMS Shoes, in comparison to Payless, does very well.

In fact, as I think about it, if TOMS Shoes buy one, give one cause marketing efforts were a sexy slingback, then Payless's philanthropic efforts would be basic black pump.

Nothing wrong with a basic black pump, of course. But it's not what people talk about.

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