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For Footwear, Comfort Starts With Delivering the Right Fit

The feeling of comfort is subjective, especially in footwear.

However, companies such as Heeluxe Inc. are employing data and biomechanics to provide footwear brands a roadmap to ensure their customers have a comfortable experience with their product.

At FMNII’s Footwear Innovation Summit in Los Angeles Tuesday, Dr. Geoffrey Alan Grey, founder of Heeluxe Inc., a biomechanical research and development company that focuses on feet, shared insights from his company’s library of data and revealed there’s a lot more to comfort than a pillowy underfoot feeling.

There’s more to comfort than cushioning

Yes, cushioning is a large part of what makes a shoe comfortable, but Grey said it’s time to start looking at the other areas that can make shoes comfortable. “We need to up our game and we need to find different ways that we’re going to quantify a shoe’s fit,” he said.

Heeluxe measures fit through the Mach 5 Sensor Sock. By partnering with industry leading experts in wearable technology, the company created an easy to use system that produces reliable data on how a foot interacts with a shoe. The socks are embedded with sensors and a small transmitter that produce data on how the shoe is going to fit by measuring specific areas of the foot in 30 seconds.

In order to achieve optimal fit, Grey said brands must consider two factors: Who is your customer and what is the activity that they are going to be doing in your shoes?

For detailed analysis, he said the socks can be worn during an activity such as running, cycling or dancing by a brand’s core customer—say, a 40-year-old female—to better understand how the shoe can move comfortably with the foot in motion.

“We have collected so many volumes of data from all the different fit or shoe categories that I know we can start to make some assumptions now about shoe performance,” he said.

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Online returns are a fit issue

Everyone loses in an online return. Grey reported that about 20 percent of footwear purchases made online are returned, and that number skyrockets to 44 percent for children’s footwear. And about two-thirds of footwear returns will result in a refund, meaning someone—either the retailer or consumer—is having to eat the shipping costs for an unsatisfactory purchase.

“We analyzed every pair of running shoes that was returned over a three-month period to a very large online retailer,” Grey said. “What we found is that almost 80 percent of the running shoes that were returned was due to poor fit.”

Women are out of luck with unisex footwear

If the footwear industry really wants to better serve the market, shoe designers need to design footwear specifically for women’s feet.

“Men’s and women’s feet are shaped differently. We have tested a lot of unisex shoes in our lab and generally they fit women like crap,” Grey said. “The majority of time, women are getting the short end of the stick here.”

When a woman wears a unisex shoe, Grey said the shoe tends to be too loose around the heal. “She’s going to get blisters,” he said, adding that pressure will be two-times harder on the ball of her foot, and her feet are going to get squeezed.

Fit can improve your online rating

Americans are generous with their online ratings. Grey said the average rating on Amazon for footwear is 4.1 stars out of five, adding that consumers will give a positive score even if they are not 100 percent satisfied with the shoe. “Because maybe someone else will like the shoe,” he quipped.

However, one way to earn a high score for the right reasons, Grey said, is to ensure shoe design has a loose forefoot fit. “A loose forefoot fit is the thing that absolutely influences customer satisfaction,” he said. A tighter fit is going to be a higher amount of pressure, and that’s going to be correlated with a lower score.

“The thing about this is, that it is true for every single category. It doesn’t matter if you’re making high heels. Doesn’t matter if you’re making basketball shoes,” he said.

Woven shoes with recovery may be the next million dollar idea

Every shoe’s fit changes after its been worn. Cushioning wears down. Leather thins out. But Grey said this fit issue is especially true for the flood of woven footwear in the market.

“Woven materials do tend to stretch out and then that’s also going to change [the fit of the shoe] dramatically. It’s not like a pair of stretch jeans you can throw in the dryer and they shrink back to size,” he said. “It’s a big problem.”