Performance running shoes - shoe fitting technologies
According to a recent study from eConsultancy, 30% of shoes purchased online are returned and more than half of those returned are due to poor fit. In addition, 53% of people are not wearing properly-sized shoes, meaning that a large portion of the 80% of people who experience foot pain do so because they are wearing the wrong size shoe. However, new technology like in-store 3D foot scanning and printing and mobile apps can “revolutionize the footwear industry by disrupting the usual supply chain.” No longer will retailers need to keep products in stock, as they will be able to order customized footwear that will better meet the customers’ needs. In addition, retailers can “anticipate fewer product returns by providing customers with proper fitting shoes, based on comfort and function.”
While not exactly fitting technology to help customers find the right shoe for them, on-shoe mechanisms like Boa's Dial-a-Fit, Nike's HyperAdapt, and Puma's NetFit can reduce the need for finding the perfect fit because they allow the wearer to adjust their footwear to their specific needs at any given time, in any given condition. Finally, startups like True Fit are offering their apparel fitting services to established retailers to help their e-commerce segments decrease customer returns. Treadmill gait analysis is still a relatively common practice, particularly in smaller running stores, but it is quickly being replaced by other technologies. Below is a deep dive of my findings.
3D Scanning and Printing
SOLS has developed a suite of digital imaging tools that uses technologies like “3D printing, computer vision, and data mapping to measure and analyze feet.” The company’s SIZERIGHT system matches a customer’s unique foot anatomy to a shoe, which in turn keeps return rates low for stores and feet happier for customers. Its MAPP3D customization platform can turn a photo of a foot into “fully parameterized 3D geometry customized to a user’s weight, anatomy, and fitness level” so that the perfect shoe can be customized on-demand. Other uses for this technology could be to create custom-fit insoles based on the 3D mapping of a customer’s foot.
Volumental, a Swedish company, has created a 3D foot scanning system for retailers that uses an “advanced AI driven ‘Fit Engine’ that generates highly personalized footwear recommendations.” With just a single click, the Volumental scanner can “produce a complete scan of both feet in under five seconds, to an accuracy of +/- 1mm.” The scan then creates “a detailed 3D model of the foot, including extraction of not just length and width, but 10 separate specific measurements, all sent to the retailer's tablet and shown in a compelling UI.” Retailers who purchase the “Fit Engine” also gain access to the Volumental Cloud Solution, which gives store managers reports and real-time analytics to keep track of inventory, create targeted marketing offers, and follow up on sales. It also provides insights into “regional foot metrics to customer purchase decisions” to allow rapid response to footwear trends.
HP has developed its “FitStation” to deliver “custom-fitted and individualized footwear through innovative 3D scanning, dynamic gait analysis and manufacturing technologies.” The hardware and software system captures 3D scans of the feet, records foot pressure measurements, and analyzes gait to create a “digital profile of each foot.” As of September 2017, it was “the world's first end-to-end solution that provides individual off-the-shelf shoe and insole recommendations, 3D printed insoles and individualized custom footwear.” The technology is currently being piloted in 4,000 retail locations and is producing 3D printed insoles using the custom analysis from the “FitStation” platform and HP’s “Multi Jet Fusion printing technology.” Retailers can use the platform to collect the customer’s “foot length, width, and volumetric data” to compare with available shoes, and even if they aren’t currently in stock, they can sell products “they don’t have to keep in inventory.”
SafeSize uses proprietary in-store foot scanning technology that provides a 3D analysis of the feet, an x-ray of the inside of footwear, and “fully customized medical quality insoles” to create an “in-house developed Personalized Size Fitting Algorithm to create the right match of the foot to the perfect fitting shoe.” So far, SafeSize scanning systems have scanned and advised 12,500,000 people, including 5,000,000 children, in footwear stores in The Netherlands, Sweden, Slovenia, Greece, Germany, and Washington State.
EcoFit is a cloud-based augmented reality (AR) shoe fitting service that allows customers to “find suitable shoes without trying them on.” Customers step onto the “kiosk scale” and the SaaS system “accurately measures the foot size and shape.” Once the scan is complete, the system’s AI technology “recommends suitable shoes for the customer.” The AR component of the service allows customers to browse available shoes with 3D images and virtually try them on without ever touching a real pair of shoes. Customers’ data is collected and stored by the SaaS platform, allowing retailers to gain valuable insight into consumer behavior. Currently, this technology is only available in Asia for demonstration purposes, but could be in retail stores worldwide later this year.
The SizeMe app by Feetz allows customers to take three pictures of their feet to generate a 3D foot model and “SizeMe ID.” Customers can then choose a shoe style or design their own. Once they’ve selected their shoe, they can place their order through the app. Then the company’s “robots custom size & 3D print [their] Feetz (shoes).” Once they are printed, the shoes are assembled and shipped to the customers within two weeks. Feetz shoes are made in the U.S., with printing and assembly occurring in San Diego, California. Prices range from $45 for a custom-made slide to $185 for a custom-made wedge. Both men and women styles are available.
vFit is an app that allows “online shoe buyers the ability to compare the exact shape of their feet to the inside shape of shoes to visualize and determine the best size and fit.” It is currently in use by online retailers such as Zappos, Nike, Nordstrom, and Footlocker. Shoes that are vFit capable are indicated by the vFit logo on the companies’ e-commerce websites. Customers use the vFit mobile app to scan their feet to create a 3D wire frame model so they can virtually try on “thousands of shoes styles from more than 60 retailers.” What’s more, they are able to “to seamlessly transition to the web interface without any interruption of their customer experience” when they are ready to shop for shoes. The website application database stores the customers’ scans for future use as well, or for sending to family and friends who may want to purchase shoes as gifts. vFit scans can be accessed anywhere via smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer.
Feet It is a mobile app that allows customers to create a foot ID by measuring their feet using the app’s “powerful measuring algorithm” that produces accurate measurements to within one-half shoe size. Customers can also use the app to shop curated brands, order custom-made shoes, and receive discounts at specific retailers. The app is available in France, England, Japan, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Russia, India, Germany, China, Canada, Australia, Italy, Belgium, Brazil, and the United States.
Find Me A Shoe’s Try Me is an Indian mobile and desktop app that uses a proprietary algorithm to provide customers with shoe recommendations based on precision measurements. Customers use the app to create a one-time digital foot profile to enable the use of Find Me A Shoe’s online virtual fitting service or they can take their measurements to a partner retailer to shop in person. The company provides curated recommendations, personalized fitting, and permanent foot profile storage. The app’s goal is to be an “end-to-end footwear size and fit recommendation application that aims at giving all footwear shoppers an easy footwear shopping experience online.” What is unique about Try Me is that unlike other virtual fitting apps, this one does not use purchasing history or analytics to power footwear recommendations.
The Boa is a dial system that allows wearers to customize their shoe fit by turning a dial on each shoe to adjust the fit millimeter by millimeter. Each Boa System contains a “micro-adjustable dial, super-strong lightweight laces, and low friction lace guides” that have been “engineered to optimize fit and provide precision, adaptability, and control.” Once the dial is set, it won’t move, even during harsh weather or working conditions. The L Series Boa System is specifically designed for running shoes, with the L5 featuring a lightweight, low-profile dial that has the smallest diameter in the L Series. The L6 provides "maximum impact protection, resistance to accidental opening and dirt contamination", and was "designed with a soft-touch grip [that] enhances form and function." In addition to running, there is a Boa System solution for golfing, snowboarding, cycling, hiking, hunting, fishing, utility, and more.
The HyperAdapt technology by Nike is a self-lacing shoe that that comes equipped with “a sensor, battery, motor, and cable system that adjusts fit based on an algorithmic pressure equation.” When a foot is inserted into the shoe, the footwear tightens automatically “until it senses friction points.” There is also a “pair of buttons near the tongue to adjust fit as needed.” Tinker Hatfield, Nike’s Vice President, believes “the HyperAdapt is the first step in a revolution in adaptive footwear and thus worth every red cent.” The shoe was essentially designed to help professional athletes protect their feet, since according to Hatfield, “Most of the athletes we observe—scientifically and otherwise—their feet are ruined... Take pro basketball players... If you’re playing for three hours, there might be only an hour of it when you actually need your sneakers tight. The rest of the time, when you’re standing around for free throws, jump balls, sitting on the bench, you should loosen your shoes up. But NBA players don’t do that, so day after day after day they’re torturing their feet, and they’re becoming less and less healthy.” The HyperAdapt senses the need for looser shoes and automatically adjusts.
Puma has introduced its NetFit technology that is “a unique customizable lacing system that offers infinite performance and style options.” The netting, which resembles an ankle-high sock, allows runners to lace their shoes to achieve their best fit. There are five different lacing strategies that are offered based on an individual’s preferences and foot anatomy, which are “standard, stability, wide foot, narrow foot and heal support.” Shoes with NetFit technology are available for $140 and are considered “a performance innovation that allows for athletes at every level and across a range of sports to create their own, perfectly customized fit.”
True Fit is a startup that has the singular goal of reducing e-commerce returns by ensuring a perfect fit every time for apparel and footwear. It is currently partnering with retailers such as Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Nordstrom, Clarks, Ugg, Finish Line, Deckers, Asics and more to “guide online customers to order the right size and style for their measurements. True Fit uses an algorithm based on self-reporting and purchase history to figure out what items fit the way a person likes.” The company offers four products, but the only one related to sizing is Confidence Engine, which generates size guidance for visitors to e-commerce sites without requiring them to create a profile or perform other actions. It also provides “instant personal fit ratings and size recommendations” to previous customers who have purchased from the store in the past.
With the use of 3D scanning and printing gaining widespread use in the footwear industry, technologies such as gait analysis are quickly becoming obsolete. However, companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods, 3 Rivers Running Company, Philadelphia Runner, Milestone Running, and other small running shoe companies still use treadmills and iPad recordings to analyze gait. This process typically involves running on a treadmill for a short period of approximately 30 seconds while an iPad or camera records how the feet respond in shoes with little-to-no cushioning. A software program then assesses the footage to help shoe sales people to “correctly identify an appropriate shoe for” the runner. With many 3D scanners now able to analyze gait as well as provide precise foot measurements, the treadmill gait analysis may not be around much longer.
Although treadmill gait analysis is still in practice in many smaller running shoe companies, 3D scanning and printing, mobile apps, on-shoe mechanisms, and startups devoted to helping customers find properly fitting shoes are quickly making gait analysis programs obsolete.