Payless Builds Fake High End Store. Tricks Influencers into Paying $600 for $20 Shoes.

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Payless, a shoe store known for its low prices and practically continuous buy-one-get-one sales, opened a fake pop-up store in a major mall. Dubbed “Palessi,” Payless invited influencers to attend the grand opening of the store – stocked only budget-friendly Payless shoes – to see how much they would be willing to spend if they thought the store was high-end.

The Payless stunt was very comprehensive. According to a report by CNN, it included a website and Instagram account for the fake store, Palessi.

While the social media influencers examined the shoes and made purchases, Payless interviewed them, collecting footage for an ad.

“I would pay $400 or $500,” said one shopper as she held a pair of sneakers that usually sells for $19.99. Another attendee referred to the Payless shoes as “elegant and sophisticated.”

Over the course of two nights, around 80 influencers, all of whom received a small stipend for their attendance, came to Palessi in a Los Angeles mall. In total, they spend approximately $3,000, initially paying prices that one would expect to find in a high-end store.

One shopper forked out $640 for a pair of boots, representing a markup of 1,800% when compared to the usual price.

After the stunt played out, Payless gave the influencers their money back and allowed them to keep the shoes they selected.

Payless said the goal of the social experiment was to showcase that Payless shoes aren’t just affordable, but fashionable too.

“The campaign plays off of the enormous discrepancy and aims to remind consumers we are still a relevant place to shop for affordable fashion,” said Payless CMP Sarah Couch.

Payless has been battling falling sales as competitors like Zappos, which is owned by Amazon, and startups like Allbirds capture attention from shoppers. The company actually filed for bankruptcy in 2017 but managed to reemerge four months later after closing approximately 700 stores.