How SafeSize uses AI to help retailers, consumers find the perfect fitting shoe

(Source: SafeSize)

SafeSize, a footwear retail tech company is solving a major pain point for the world’s US$380 billion shoe industry: helping customers find perfectly fitting shoes in both online and physical stores. 

Using its proprietary technology that matches a consumer’s 3D foot scan and personal preferences with the world’s largest database of 3D-scanned shoes, SafeSize offers highly accurate and personalised shoe recommendations for adults and children – a solution now embraced by more than 20 million consumers worldwide. 

Retailers including major brands such as Decathlon, Sports Direct, Adidas, Marks & Spencer, Intersport, Hoka and Puma have deployed the SafeSize solution online and in more than 2500 physical footwear stores across 50 markets worldwide. They say SafeSize’s technology is proven to increase sales, reduce returns, and improve customer satisfaction. 

Several key issues triggered the concept of SafeSize, founder and CEO Angelos Stavrakis tells Inside Retail.  

“Consumers struggle to find the right shoes for their needs, both in physical stores and online. Most consumers choose shoes based on price, brand, or colour – often ignoring the fit and comfort – which results in about 70 per cent of people suffering from injuries or discomfort caused by the wrong choice of shoes,” he explains.

Besides that, retailers have been transforming into an omnichannel business model with online shopping becoming increasingly popular. “Physical stores have not yet adapted to the new omnichannel reality needed to attract customers,” says Stavrakis (pictured right).

“Meanwhile, global shoe production and distribution has a massive negative environmental footprint. The supply chain in the footwear industry results in excessive shoe production, often leading to products ending up in landfills, and returns of shoes that don’t fit increase the CO2 emissions linked with the unnecessary transportation of products.”

A decade ago, when SafeSize was born, AI was not as tangible or prominent in our daily lives as it is today, but it already had many applications in various fields, he explains. 

“Creating our virtual fitting technology required the development of a complex machine-learning algorithm as well as the development of a very large customer and shoe database. When you embark on such an endeavour, you cannot predict all the difficulties you will encounter, and in a way, ignorance is bliss.”

A significant challenge was accessing the data required to test and train the algorithm, so SafeSize had to develop the technology to 3D scan the consumers’ feet and sell its solution to hundreds of stores worldwide. 

“Along the way, we realised that the data we needed for shoes was not available or collected and mapped out as we wanted it. So, we developed the technology to 3D scan the inner shoe dimensions. However, access to thousands of shoes from different brands, styles and categories was not an easy task, as large, established companies were not willing to collaborate with a small tech company.”

Over time, SafeSize has earned “significant recognition” in the global shoe market, and Stavrakis says it is a testament to the hard work and successful development of the concept that customers who start working with the company remain loyal for many years. 

How the SafeSize solution works

For physical stores, SafeSize has developed a technology called ScanMate 3D that can create a 3D image of a foot in less than two seconds, with millimetre accuracy. For online consumers, an app called FitMate 3D enables the user to scan their feet at home with their mobile phone by following a simple and fast process.

When it comes to footwear, the challenge is considerable – largely because shoe sizes can vary significantly by brand and model. So SafeSize developed a unique technology that 3D scans the inner dimensions of all the shoes available in the market. Every year more than 2 million shoes are scanned at one of the company’s nine shoe scanning facilities across Asia, Europe and America. 

SafeSize is now the only company in the world that has an extensive database of 3D inner dimensions of sport, fashion and kids’ shoes – a treasure trove of information that even the manufacturers themselves do not have. 

With the foot and footwear both scanned, SafeSize’s virtual fitting / AI algorithm comes into play. It takes into account the 3D foot scan together with a customer’s personal preferences and matches it with the world’s largest 3D shoe database. Customers can virtually ‘try on’ a shoe within seconds, with SafeSize’s software suggesting a size and model that best suits a customer’s feet. 

“The customer saves the digital foot profile created which can be used in the future to buy shoes easily and quickly either online or in a physical store,” says Stavrakis. “The AI-powered algorithm is constantly learning and adapting to each individual’s buying behaviour, personalising the recommendations it provides.”

SafeSize’s solution works on all types of shoes in the market – from sneakers to high heels and sandals – and there is a tailored solution for children’s shoes. The majority of children wear tight-fitting shoes for several months of their life between ages three to 10, either because the initial sizing was wrong or because the foot outgrows the shoe without the parents realising it on time. This can lead to serious developmental problems. 

“For children of this age group, we have developed a recommendation algorithm that suggests the perfect fitting shoes for the healthy growth of the foot inside the shoe. The SafeSize solution also provides a growth prediction algorithm so that parents can know when their children are expected to need new shoes.”

Moving forward, SafeSize plans to continue to invest in its product innovation and expand its fast-growing international footprint, with a key focus on strengthening its presence in the Asia Pacific market. The company recently opened an office in Sydney – joining offices in the Netherlands, China, Greece and Slovenia – and will soon open in North America.

The Digital Sales Assistant

At the same time, the company is working on the development and launch of a new product – the Digital Sales Assistant – which is now undergoing testing with two large footwear retail chains in Europe ahead of an international rollout during the coming months.

“This is an innovative retail solution specially designed to transform the in-store footwear shopping experience,” says Stavrakis. “Powered by AI, it is designed to enable a self-service shopping experience as it has the ability to provide consumers with personalised recommendations and help them select the perfect fitting shoe from the store’s available stock.”

Stavrakis says the solution can help retailers reduce their operating costs and boost customer satisfaction. 

“But we are not stopping there. We have ambitious plans to leverage our wealth of foot and shoe data. We have started working with several major footwear brands to help them produce better and more relevant shoes for their markets – decreasing overproduction and landfill waste – and to lower the CO2 emissions linked to product returns and unnecessary transportation of shoes.”