I got 3D models of my feet to see how fit-tech is revolutionizing shoe shopping

Along with helping Fleet Feet get its customers a good fit, Volumental’s AI technology leads to lower returns and more captured emails
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Fleet Feet/Volumental

· 4 min read

You’ve probably used a Brannock Device, even if you didn’t know what it’s called. Invented in 1925, it’s the gizmo that measures foot length and width. Although revolutionary at the time, and still popular in stores, more sophisticated measuring devices are challenging the device’s supremacy.

One gaining, in every sense, a foothold in shoe retail is a 3D foot scanner from Volumental, a Stockholm-based startup whose retail partners include Hoka, Red Wing Shoes, and New Balance.

To see one in action, on a recent morning I headed to an NYC Fleet Feet, the running store that has been using the devices since 2018 in its locations, which today number about 260.

And what I’d learn would be more than just the dimensions of my feet. Among the device’s biggest selling points are ancillary benefits, including capturing customers’ email addresses and reducing returns.

Foot traffic: Located on the second floor of The Shops at Columbus Circle, the bright, airy store commanded an apt view for a running store: the southwest corner of Central Park, near the New York City Marathon’s finish line.

There, Clarke Babcock, operating partner at Fleet Feet New York City, instructed me to remove my shoes and socks and roll up my pants to mid-calf. (I’ll pause while you catch your breath.) I stepped onto Volumental’s device, which resembles a bathroom scale, with pillars at the corners that help capture the scan.

“The Brannock Device is like the grandfather of the Volumental,” Babcock said. “It’s taking what the Brannock Device does, blows it up, and it just gives you more information.”

A gif shows the author stepping on a Volumental device that created a 3D image of his feet. The  gif also shows a Fleet Feet executive displaying the scan on a laptop.

Moments later, the scan was complete, and Babcock showed me an image of my feet on a tablet, looking as if they’d just been sawed off at the ankle. My left foot measured a size 11.1 and my right foot 11.4 (varying foot sizes are common, Babcock explained); both were 2E width. Aspects it measured that the Brannock cannot include arch height, instep height (the top to the bottom of the foot), and heel width.

Seeing your feet in 3D is oddly mesmerizing—and sometimes contagious.

“It’s definitely an attention-grabber,” said Babcock, adding that when one person on a family outing gets fitted, the rest often follow suit.

Babcock’s tablet showed models and sizes of shoes in the backroom most likely to fit. Because actual foot size and shoe size differ, recommendations fell into the 12 1/2 to 13 range. (The reasons my shoe size is so much bigger than my foot size, it turns out, are because my foot is rather tall—more SUV than sedan—and I use custom orthotic inserts.) Those recommendations were based on data from more than 5 million foot scans Fleet Feet has captured, and the shoes those customers purchased, driven by AI-driven technology Volumental calls Fit Engine.

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Then Babcock headed to the back room to search for my next pair of running shoes.

One step beyond: “Because the Fit Engine has done its job, whether Clarke [Babcock] has been there since Tuesday or he’s been there for six years doesn’t matter,” Brent Hollowell, CMO at Volumental, said later in an interview from Stockholm. “You’re going to have a very efficient sort of outfitting session because he’s going to pick the sizes that are most likely to fit.”

Customers can opt to be emailed an interactive 3D model of their feet, and 71% do (myself included, as evidenced by the visuals with this story), according to Hollowell.

“That’s unheard of,” Hollowell said. “The average retailer is getting maybe 20%– capture.”

Plus, retailers often pay dearly to get consumers to sign up for emails, offering 10%–20% discounts; with Volumental, it’s gratis.

Other benefits Volumental touts among stores that use their device:

  • 18% average decrease in returns.
  • 20% average increase in sales.

Stores pay a $499 monthly fee to lease each device, which includes the software, according to Hollowell.

“It’s basically $15 a day,” said Hollowell, “which is like an hour’s wage for that kid that you have sweeping your back room who’s texting his girlfriend for half that time.”

Kicks starter: Back at the Fleet Feet store, Babcock emerged from the backroom with three pairs of running shoes, including models from New Balance and Altra, which both fit great. But the real Goldilocks fit—and spiffy, too—was the Brooks Glycerin, size 13 EE, which I bought and have been happily wearing for the last couple of weeks.

“The first time you show a customer their feet in 3D…is just such a wow moment for the customer,” Alex Tallman, director of retail experience and education at Fleet Feet, said in an interview later. “So there’s a whole lot of retail theater involved, but it also is a very practical tool that really supports our outfitters and their expertise to be able to make the best recommendations they can.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.