I don't think anyone would dispute that it is an effective method of moving unwanted stock, but I do think that the higher up the premium chain one ascends, the greater the risk of some degree of brand tarnishing. There is a reason that you don't see defective Lobb or Edward Green shoes offered for sale as "seconds". If the shoe doesn't meet their standards, it doesn't bear their name. Period. That communicates something to the consumer. And yes, I know that those brands are a good deal north of AE in price, but then again you don't see sloppily-made Carminas being dumped on the market at half price, and bearing the Carmina brand name, either. And Carmina are not so very far away from AE.
I suppose the question rests on where AE wants to be as a brand (as distinct from a business) and how they want their brand to be perceived. Practices such as sale-of-the-day marketing and selling defective shoes bearing the same brand name as mainline shoes don't enhance the brand name within a premium context - though they may very well prove to be a successful and profitable approach to running a business. WalMart is successful and profitable.
Finally, I am not sure that these two propositions can comfortably co-exist: 1) That the general public is largely unaware of the endless sales, notwithstanding that they are prominently displayed on the web site and directly communicated by e-mail, and 2) the public is very much aware of the difference between seconds and mainline shoes, such that deep discounting of the former will not impact their appreciation of the latter.
Anyway, I do appreciate those who have shared their thoughts on the matter.
Very interesting discussion. I must admit, I have not been able to read all the responses, but thought I would add in with my own story.
I know that for me, I began buying "nice" dress shoes only about 5-6 years ago. Prior to that, it was cole haan loafers and one pair of black florsheim cap toes that I wore with all suits. Then, my wife stumbled into an AE outlet during one of their tent sales. She called me and said "they have a black cap toe shoe for $99, do you want me to get it?" At the time, I only knew Allen Edmonds as the best shoe I knew the name of. Looking back, I shudder to think about those lousy shoes I wore for years, even to my own wedding!
After I had those Park Aves for a few months, I decided to go into the outlet store next time I went by it. I did that, and came away with two more pair of calfskin AEs, paying in the $150 - $200 range for each. I remember thinking that this was really expensive for shoes, but supposedly they are worth it, and hopefully will last a long time. I did not even understand that I was buying "seconds" I just knew that the box had a couple different prices on it, and I paid the lower of the two. I also knew that my business partner has a dozen pair of AE calfskin shoes that he has had for 15-30 years, across multiple resolings, and he swears by them. I had not yet heard of this forum or AAAC, and I had no idea what the AE sale calendar looked like.
Shortly thereafter, I did a google search for Allen Edmonds, primarily to find out how I should care for them. I stumbled into AAAC and this forum, and began learning about shoe trees, horsehair brushes, and this special leather called shell cordovan. About 2 months later, I went into the outlet store again, and checked out a pair of shell cordovan AE MacNeils. At the time, I was still not sold on paying roughly $400 on a pair of shoes, even if they are shell cordovan.
A few weeks later (about 3.5 years ago), I received a personalized email from the outlet store manager about a sale coming up, and that shell cordovan would be on sale. It roughly coincided with my birthday, and I ended up buying 3 pair, the Randolph, Bradley and Macneil, all in burgundy shell cordovan. After that, you might say I was hooked. I began selling all my calfskin shoes, and replacing with their shell counterparts. I then started branching out to Alden and C&J for RL.
Today, I have 3 pair of Alden shell, 3 pair of C&J for RL shell, 3 pair of AE calfskin or Chromexcel and 14 pair of AE shell. (+1 pair of Rancourt shell boat shoes). AE is the vast majority because I like their styling, I know how the lasts fit me, and I find them to be a very good value, both in firsts (on sale) and on seconds (also on sale, if I can), and I like supporting american businesses. I find the quality to be almost on par with Alden and Rancourt, though below that of C&J (but, priced accordingly). Doing this, I am able to afford a very nice shoe wardrobe while still doing what I need to financially to allow my wife to be a stay-at-home mom and support our 2 young kids.
Finally, to those who are discussing nice shoes (particularly shell cordovan versions) being an "addiction" I will say that it absolutely is, and I don't see an end in sight. My first 3 pair of shells held me over for about a year... in the past 9 months, I have purchased 7 more (and I am actively looking for my next pair...). In fact, today is the inaugural wearing of one of my most recent purchases, the black Cambridges.