Home Featured The Future of Footwear: Stepping up to a Sizing Standard

The Future of Footwear: Stepping up to a Sizing Standard


ShoeSize.Me shares their first exclusive with WhichPLM today, in which they advocate for footwear brands to collaborate in order to get sizing right. ShoeSize.Me is a Swiss technology business specialising in data-driven solutions for footwear e-commerce.

Footwear sizing has been the pebble in the shoe of industry players – both footwear brands and retailers – for as long as shoes have been sold online. Despite being addressed from different angles, with various attempts to tackle the inconsistencies, from 3D scanning devices to customer-generated aggregated feedback, the sector has yet to find a proper solution.

The main reason is that the fitting factor varies in importance for different types of shoes. Certain categories using elastic materials allow for more tolerance if the shoe doesn’t fit perfectly. When selling lower priced shoes and for fast fashion brands, the right fit seems to be a minor problem due to the quick turnaround of the products. However, athletic shoes and high-end footwear, where models and style carry on for multiple seasons, the right fit and sizing become essential concerns. All these sizing aspects when taken online, where a customer only has a few pictures and a couple of product description lines to guide them, make choosing the appropriate size a baffling task.

Although the past two and a half decades since mass e-commerce took off with the launch of Amazon and eBay in the mid-90s, for the previous 100 years or so, shoes have been fitted and sold by shoe sellers offline with a unique method. Traditionally, expert sellers would consult the customer for other shoes they had bought and wore well, to decide on the size that would fit them best for the current desired model. Because even if customers know their usual size, if that size doesn’t fit them, they will buy another size. People wear shoes according to how they fit and feel, rather than strictly according to their appointed size. Factors like pain sensitivity or callouses heavily influence customers’ choice of a particular size or another. And shoe sellers across conventional stores worldwide knew this, which is why in their decision of which size to offer, they would consult first what other models the customer wore well.

However, in online shopping, for a lack of a better option, a customer is faced with the difficult decision of simply picking a size they think would fit – really a wild guess given that each footwear manufacturer uses different lasts and sizing scales to build their models. The choice becomes even more daunting if the customer wants to purchase from a brand using thirds of size, like Adidas. The result is that shoppers order multiple sizes of the same pair, just to try at home, relying on the free return policies most e-shops have put in place.

However, the highly permissive return policies cause direct financial implications for online footwear businesses, hurting their bottom line. Retailers lose millions in revenue every year due to returned products. In the US alone, return deliveries costs are estimated to surge to $550 billion by 2020. Moreover, UPS and other major shipping companies are raising pricing by up to 7% this year. Reducing costs related to returns is more important than ever. The way shoe sizing is currently handled in online shopping has to evolve for the benefit of both consumers, as apparently half of women in the UK wear the wrong size, and for businesses to improve their bottom line affected by wrong size selection.

Footwear brands have a great opportunity to collaborate and get sizing right, however no single brand can do this individually. When companies employed traditional, in-store methods of measuring lasts and fitting customers, no relevant data was gathered or organized. With the rise of e-commerce, where in the US only close to 25% of all shoes are sold online, structured data is being built for the first time. Big data is used to create statistical models about size and fit for millions of shoe models around the world. The sector is quickly providing the required product and purchase information to tackle inconsistent sizing across markets and scale systems.

This unique opportunity, enabled by the rise of the e-commerce, was identified over six years ago by ShoeSize.Me, a technology company that built a big data platform to structure and correlate footwear sizing globally. Now, a partnership with the American Footwear Distributors and Retailers Association (FDRA), aims to bring together all footwear brands to drive forward normalizing sizing across markets. The collaborative project to map and connect all shoe types and models from footwear manufacturers around the world is set to be the first step towards size normalizing.

The benefits, for both manufacturers and footwear retailers, range from a significant drop in product returns due to wrong sizing and the elimination of double-size orders. E-commerce businesses would be positively impacted by repeat customers as well, the holy grail of business growth, as currently 80% of first-time customers who return a product will not purchase a second time with that online retailer again, a Clear Returns study showed. Additionally, an increase in shopper confidence in selecting the right size and finalizing a purchase drives conversion rate growth.

And that is just the beginning. The long-term objective of a global partnership among footwear brands is to align their sizing information globally, throughout the industry. One day, shoe shopping should happen size-free, where consumers are not required to select a size anymore. A digital sizing standard could be the first step to achieve that vision.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.