Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Finding the right fit in footwear for your customers can bedevil the best of specialty outdoor retailers.
We’ve all been there — the customer loves the look of the shoe, it has all the tech and features they need, and you carry their normal size. But when it comes time to try on the shoe and walk around the store: “Eh,” they say, “it just doesn’t feel right.” The toebox is too tight, the heel cup is too loose, the medial post is arched too high …
There is no one-size-fits all in footwear. A men’s size 9 can translate a hundred different ways depending on the shoe last shape and foot. Even two size 9s from the same brand can fit differently as more companies move beyond using just one last. The problem is compounded with increasing online footwear sales, as customers aren’t in the store to feel all the intricacies of a shoe.
Enter Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Shoefitr, founded 2010 as the brainchild of three college athletes who struggled to find the right fit in shoes. The company’s virtual fitting software uses 3-D imaging technology to scan the inside of a shoe, then compares it to a fast-growing database of footwear.
In late 2014, Shoefitr launched on outdoor retailer REI’s website to help customers determine whether a shoe would fit, without having to try it on in the store. Even in the store, the technology can aid customers in narrowing down their search. REI is now one of 70 websites in eight different countries in which the software appears. Backpacker magazine will also feature Shoefitr’s fit visuals and notes in its April 2015 Gear Guide.
Using its scanned data, Shoefitr produces visuals to show exactly where a shoe will be loose or tight. When shoppers either answer a few questions or identify a shoe that they know fits, the software can gauge what other shoes have similar fits and then offer recommendations to the customer. The scans even take into account the deformation of a shoe that occur in a shoe’s length and width when it’s weight bearing.
When a retailer or a brand partners with Shoefitr, all of their shoes are scanned and integrated into the system. Brands and retailers can either ship all of their shoes to Shoefitr, or integrate their brand or retailer warehouse with Shoefitr to give them the necessary access to scan their inventory. Once all of the shoes are scanned in the Shoefitr application is then integrated into the partner’s website.
“As far as the cost of these partnerships, I’d say it’s pretty reasonably priced,” said Nick End, one of the company’s co-founders, along with Breck Fresen and Matt Wilkinson. “I calculate that we charge about one-third of the return on investment (ROI) that a retailer would see. But we work with retailers and the cost is really determined by the size of the retailer and the volume of shoes that retailer sells.”
The cost is paying off for retailers, End said. “If a shopper were to order the same size in every shoe in the market, she would be wrong 45 percent of the time,” the company sites. End claimed that Shoefitr has been reducing return rates by as much as 20 percent and also increasing conversion rates on their partners’ websites.
Based off that success, End anticipates increased adoption of the technology, especially in the outdoor and sporting world where fit is so crucial to performance. Since Shoefitr first launched with Running Wearhouse in 2010, the software has also expanded beyond athletic footwear to include both fashion and casual footwear.
As Shoefitr works with more inventory databases, it also sees greater potential in helping the customer find the right shoe and complete the sale.
“I know that about for about 20 percent of the size recommendations that we give, that size that we recommended is out of stock,” End explained. “We could remedy that experience by finding one that is in stock. For that to happen we need deeper integration with these retailers and more touch points.”
Shoefitr wants to work with more brands, too. Upon scanning a shoe into the system, it can help to improve manufacturing by finding more precise, quantitative insight into the footwear’s fit and any differences from pervious production runs. Already, the company has used this capability to optimize footwear for professional athletes.
Now that REI is on board, it’s likely more footwear brands and specialty retailers will take a look to see if Shoefitr is the right fit for their business.