U.S.-based startup Neatsy AI is using the iPhone's depth-sensing FaceID selfie camera as a foot scanner to capture 3D models for predicting a comfortable sneaker fit.
Its app, currently soft launched for iOS but due to launch officially next month, asks the user a few basic questions about sneaker fit preference before walking through a set of steps to capture a 3D scan of their feet using the iPhone's front-facing camera. The scan is used to offer personalized fit predictions for a selection of sneakers offered for sale in-app -- displaying an individualized fit score (out of five) in green text next to each sneaker model.
Shopping for shoes online can lead to high return rates once buyers actually get to slip on their chosen pair, since shoe sizing isn't standardized across different brands. That's the problem Neatsy wants its AI to tackle by incorporating another more individual fit signal into the process.
The startup, which was founded in March 2019, has raised $400K in pre-seed funding from angel investors to get its iOS app to market. The app is currently available in the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Canada and Russia.
Neatsy analyzes app users' foot scans using a machine learning model it's devised to predict a comfy fit across a range of major sneaker brands -- currently including Puma, Nike, Jordan Air and Adidas -- based on scanning the insoles of sneakers, per CEO and founder Artem Semyanov .
He says they're also factoring in the material shoes are made of and will be honing the algorithm on an ongoing basis based on fit feedback from users. (The startup says it's secured a US patent for its 3D scanning tech for shoe recommendations.)
The team tested the algorithm's efficiency via some commercial pilots this summer -- and say they were able to demonstrate a 2.7x reduction in sneaker return rates based on size, and a 1.9x decrease in returns overall, for a focus group with 140 respondents.
Handling returns is clearly a major cost for online retailers -- Neatsy estimates that sneaker returns specifically rack up $30BN annually for ecommerce outlets, factoring in logistics costs and other factors like damaged boxes and missing sneakers.
"All in all, shoe ecommerce returns vary among products and shops between 30% and 50%. The most common reasons for this category are fit & size mismatch," says Semyanov, who headed up the machine learning team at Prism Labs prior to founding Neatsy.
"According to Zappos, customers who purchase its most expensive footwear ultimately return ~50% of everything they buy. 70% online shoppers make returns each year. Statista estimates return deliveries will cost businesses $550 billion by 2020," he tells us responding to questions via email.
"A 2019 survey from UPS found that, for 73% of shoppers, the overall returns experience impacts how likely they are to purchase from a given retailer again, and 68% say the experience impacts their overall perceptions of the retailer. That's the drama here!
"Retailers are forced to accept steep costs of returns because otherwise, customers won't buy. Vs us who want to treat the main reasons of returns rather than treating the symptoms."
While ecommerce giants like Amazon address this issue by focusing on logistics to reducing friction in the delivery process, speeding up deliveries and returns so customers spend less time waiting to get the right stuff, scores of startups have been trying to tackle size and fit with a variety of digital (and/or less high tech) tools over the past five+ years -- from 3D body models to 'smart' sizing suits or even brand- and garment-specific sizing tape (Nudea's fit tape for bras) -- though no one has managed to come up with a single solution that works for everything and everyone. And a number of these startups have deadpooled or been acquired by ecommerce platforms without a whole lot to show for it.
While Neatsy is attempting to tackle what plenty of other founders have tried to do on the fit front, it is at least targeting a specific niche (sneakers) -- a relatively narrow focus that may help it hone a useful tool.
It's also able to lean on mainstream availability of the iPhone's sensing hardware to get a leg up. (Whereas a custom shoe design startup that's been around for longer, Solely Original, has offered custom fit by charging a premium to send out an individual fit kit.)
But even zeroing in on sneaker comfort, Neatsy's foot scanning process does require the user to correctly navigate quite a number of steps (see the full flow in the below video). Plus you need to have a pair of single-block colored socks handy (stripy sock lovers are in trouble). So it's not a two second process, though the scan only has to be done once.
At the time of writing we hadn't been able to test Neatsy's scanning process for ourselves as it requires an iPhones with a FaceID depth-sensing camera. On this writer's 2nd-gen iPhone SE, the app allowed me to swipe through each step of the scan instruction flow but then hung at what should have been the commencement of scanning -- displaying a green outline template of a left foot against a black screen.
This is a bug the team said they'll be fixing so the scanner gets turned off entirely for iPhone models that don't have the necessary hardware. (Its App Store listing states its compatible with iPhone SE (2nd generation), though doesn't specify the foot scan feature isn't.)
While the current version of Neatsy's app is a direct to consumer ecommerce play, targeting select sneaker models at app savvy Gen Z/Millennials, it's clearly intended as a shopfront for retailers to check out the technology.
When as ask about this Semyanov confirms its longer term ambition is for its custom fit model to become a standard piece of the ecommerce puzzle.
"Neatsy app is our fastest way to show the world our vision of what the future online shop should be," he tells TechCrunch. "It attracts users to shops and we get revenue share when users buy sneakers via us. The app serves as a new low-return sales channel for a retailer and as a way to see the economic effect on returns by themselves.
"Speaking long term we think that our future is B2B and all ecommerce shops would eventually have a fitting tech, we bet it will be ours. It will be the same as having a credit card payment integration in your online shop."