Pittsburgh company Shoefitr applies database that uses 3-D for shoe sizing

Pittsburgh company Shoefitr applies database that uses 3-D for shoe sizing

If the shoe fits, it might just be the handiwork of some entrepreneurs in Oakland.

Shoefitr Inc. provides consumers who buy footwear online with the means to determine better how well their purchases will fit. For retailers, it can mean significantly lower return rates.

Founded in 2010, Shoefitr accomplishes the “virtual fitting” in two basic steps. It scans 3-D images of men’s and women’s footwear, and maintains a database of that information. It supplies online retailers with software apps that help customers pick the best fit based on similar shoes customers have worn.

“We have the images of virtually all footwear out there,” said CEO Matt Wilkinson. “We provide fittings for every shoe, from athletic shoes to open-toed shoes.”

Shoefitr has expanded rapidly. It employs 20 people, about double its worker count a year earlier. Wilkinson expects the company to hire as many as 10 people within six months.

Shoefitr outgrew its first offices in Oakland and relocated in the neighborhood in July. The company needed much more space to accommodate the growing roster of shoes it scans, which has stretched to about 700 brands and 27,000 designs.

“We had shoeboxes stacked to the ceiling in the old place,” Wilkinson said.

Andrew Rossi, a distance runner from North Huntingdon, said he used Shoefitr’s app in May when buying running shoes on the New Balance website. He typically wears a size 10, but the app steered him to a size 101/2, based on comparative data.

“They felt great,” said Rossi, 26. “What I liked most about the app was that it was like trying on the shoes in a store.”

The online sale of footwear is more extensive than many might guess. According to Forrester Research, Americans will spend an estimated $8.6 billion to buy footwear online this year, which represents 11.2 percent of the projected $76.6 billion in total footwear sales.

The e-commerce channel has garnered a growing share of the footwear market. People spent $6.9 billion to order online in 2011, a 9.8 percent share of the $70.1 billion market. That rose to $7.9 billion, or 10.7 percent of the $73.6 billion market last year.

Shoefitr’s niche is apps aimed at making consumer shopping and purchasing easier.

For example, Amazon.com has an app that steers a consumer to a specific product, its price and website when the customer takes a photo of that product with an iPhone camera.

Wilkinson’s concept for the business model came from a job he held in Connecticut that involved 3-D scanning to custom-fit podiatric footwear. He and Shoefitr’s other co-founders — Nick End, customer experience officer, and Breck Fresen, chief technology officer — were athletes at Carnegie Mellon University and familiar with ill-fitting shoes.

“We realized it was a growing problem, but we also knew it was solveable,” Wilkinson said.

About 40 online retailers — including New Balance, Brooks and Heels.com — use Shoefitr’s app on their sites. They pay the company a fee and monthly usage charge. Wilkinson said the app cuts retailers’ return rates by an average of 20 percent to 25 percent.

“We already had a pretty low return rate of about 12 percent prior to using Shoefitr,” said Matt Moore, Web content manager at RunningWarehouse.com, an athletic footwear retailer in San Luis Obispo. “But their app lowered it to 10 percent.”

Shoefitr employs about 10 part-time workers in remote locations who visit shoe warehouses and fulfillment centers to gather 3-D data. About three-quarters of the company’s footwear scans are done in the field. The extent of its 3-D scanning gives Shoefitr a leg up on its competition, said Wilkinson.

“They don’t scan all the shoes like we do, and they don’t gather the information about shoes the consumer typically wears,” he said.

Thomas Olson is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or tolson@tribweb.com.