When it comes to online purchases, the footwear industry is lagging far behind the rest of the retail industry. With less than 10% of shoe purchases taking place online, far below 50% of total transactions, the industry is in need of a solution.
There are obvious advantages that come with online shopping: unlimited choice of stock, shopping from the comfort of your living room, flexibility in price and material quality comparisons based on educated shopping decisions. So why are customers staying away from purchasing shoes online?
Ultimately, we are afraid that shoes don’t fit. We prioritize comfort and functionality. Even though most of us think we know our shoe size, we are not confident enough to trust it when ordering shoes online.
The first thing we do after trying on shoes is judge them in a mirror, ensuring they match your outfit. This interactive ‘dressing-room’ component is absent online. Shoes are physical products and, as such, we like to feel the fabric, smell the leather and pore over the finest details that tell us everything we need to know about the product.
Over the last three years, a variety of technologies have been applied to try and solve this problem. Startup companies that offer smart sizing solutions and virtual try-on are emerging and offering online multi-channel retailers different tools to allow their customers to buy confidently, while reducing the burden that brands face to produce returns.
Current technological solutions can be divided into two main categories: feet and shoe 3D modelling and scanning. On one hand, where volumetric fitting is applied based on the shape and volume of the feet and shoe, and on the other, there are comparison-matching techniques which generate the recommendations from a shoe which you already own.
While exact shape is key to a good fit, there are endless parameters that need to be considered when running the fitting process, some of which are almost impossible to track, such as material, lacing, heel size and knitting patterns. In other words, fitting shoes is more an art than a science and there is no single mathematical solution to it.
The second approach is the data driven one. In these cases, companies collect vast amounts of data about all of the shoes they can; models, designs, stock keeping units (SKU), and create a comparisons structure that describes the relationship between all of these models sizes. The concept in these systems is to ask the customer for a shoe that he knows he likes, and compare it to the shoe he wants to buy.
Although this type of system is very straightforward and easy to use, there are inherent flaws, including the fact that it is very hard to know the exact name of the shoe model you currently own and need to use as reference, and the fact that you may continue to wear the wrong size after reference to a wrong sized shoe.
Even though these two models exist, there still isn’t a uniform method that truly ensures shoes bought online will actually fit. The need for a solution that will keep the simple and easy to use experience, but will also include the required accuracy lead to the development of a new unique approach, which combines the two technologies into a single solution.
This approach is based on combining the advantages from each of the two existing methods. The fit-to-feet system is also based on data aggregation, although in this case both feet and shoe models are stored in large cloud databases.
Once a customer is scanned into the system, their feet are compared to tens of thousands of other anonymized feet models, all of which are linked to shoes they actually bought and liked. This combination of state of the art 3D imaging with cognitive machine learning algorithms is the key to the unmatched accuracy levels achieved with the system.
Footwear brands and retailers today are familiar with the challenges and costs involved with this problem. They are constantly trying out different technologies to provide their customers with the confidence and best user experience possible. By using this approach, consumers gain accuracy levels which help create actual size recommendations, resulting in increased confidence and reduction of returns.
I have no doubt that this trend will continue and within two to three years all retailers will have chosen their solution of choice. In my point of view, accuracy will be the key differentiator and will allow certain companies to thrive and others to fail based on the actual value created for their customer and brands.
So, when you next go to buy a pair of shoes, what will you chose? I encourage you to give the online shoe shopping another chance and explore the value of technology-driven shopping first hand, or foot!
David Bleicher is CEO of Invertex