For most people, buying a new pair of shoes is as simple as going to the store, giving the salesperson your size and walking out with a bag in hand. Sure, there’s a trial and error process in which you try and discard perhaps a few pairs before finding the right fit, but that’s how it’s always been done.
It gets a little trickier when you’re buying shoes online — one size doesn't always apply to shoes made by different companies. In this case, the trial and error process takes a few days, as opposed to a few in-store minutes, as you return and receive shoes in the correct size.
Findmeashoe.com aims to change all that. The US-based fledgling business-to-business company claims to have created a “2.5D scanner”, purportedly the world’s first, to scan your foot and find you the perfect shoe. A 2.5D image is a "pseudo-3D" image rendered from a two-dimensional photograph.
The company will officially take pre-orders for the scanner starting May 15. Anand Ganesan, the company’s CEO, says the firm is in the process of tying up with a few prominent footwear brands, for whom the scanners will be customised. “We are behind the scenes; our role is in helping the brands help their customers,” says Ganesan.
At the first glance, this appears to be the case of offering a solution where no problem existed, but the seeds for the idea were sown when Shabari Raje, the company’s Chief Product Officer, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro back in 2014-15. “When I returned, I nearly had no toenails because I was wearing shoes one size too small; no one to tell me what kind of shoes I should wear when going on such a long trek,” Raje says.
Around the same time, she met Ganesan. The duo realised that this was a problem that potentially affected several Indians, who as Raje puts it, typically have much wider feet.
They didn’t arrive at a solution immediately — it took them nine to 12 months. “We bought a scanner from Eastern Europe, which we deployed in Bengaluru malls. We interacted with nearly 20,000 customers over nine months and realised the problem was a lot more widespread than we initially imagined. That’s when we realised this needs a solution,” he says.
Their first option was to purchase a readymade scanner from abroad and deploy it in India to help e-commerce and offline retailers."We looked around the world — in the US, in Japan — but couldn’t find anything that worked properly, so we built our own solution,” Ganesan says.
"We have raised $1.5 million so far. Investors include Ventureast, Techstars (US), Target (US), Astarc Ventures, Thinkuvate, and Matchstick Ventures (US)," he adds.
According to Ganesan, the time was ripe for a change in how one measured feet for shoe purchases. “The ubiquitous foot ruler you see in stores was patented in 1927, and that was it. Since then, the computer was invented and now we have phones that are a million times more powerful, but this method hasn’t changed,” he says.
Raje says the process is even more difficult for women, given the sheer variety of shoes on offer, unless one is sure of the type and brand; but even otherwise, the process is flawed. “When you measure your foot in a store, it only gives you the length of the foot — not how narrow or wide your foot is … Even the baseline fitting that people do is an issue,” she says.
That’s where Findmeashoe comes in, with the smart scanner that can measure all contours of a customer’s foot to recommend the right shoe for them.
The company has online and hardware-based solutions. According to Ganesan, the online solution “is as simple as opening a web application on your smartphone or tablet and taking a photograph of your foot”.
While this may sound simple enough, it was not so at the start — Raje says they built an app that took three images of one’s foot to create an accurate rendition, but many brands, who are Findmeashoe’s main customers, baulked as it added several steps to a customer’s shopping experience. “That’s when we went back to the drawing board and arrived at a simpler solution.”
This, of course, is what Raje refers to as the DIY (do it yourself) scanner. All one needs is a device, a sheet of paper, and a wall construct. The scanners Findmeashoe builds for brands or retailers will be more sophisticated and accurate versions of these DIY scanners and a unique “Foot ID” per customer. Over time and multiple purchases, this Foot ID will mature to a point where the ID will be enough for shoe recommendations. These scanners will be either sold or rented to brands or stores, and there’s how Findmeashow aims to make its money.
The company’s long-term aim is to bring cohesiveness between the company’s manufacturing size system and the way feet are measured in-store. “Our aim is to eventually reduce the time spent by customers in buying shoes — online or offline,” Ganesan says.
First Published: IST