Some lessons from the beta program

by LAURA SHUMAKER July 08, 2015

By working with many beta customers over the last month, we've become confident that our algorithm consistently generates last shapes and patterns that correspond to how the designer intended each pair of shoes to fit. Basically, for a broad range of foot dimensions, we know how the shoe will end up feeling on the customer's foot - where it will have space, where it will be snug, and where any issues are most likely to occur.

What we didn't expect (though perhaps it's obvious in retrospect) was the huge range in climbers' desires for how their shoes would fit. Because there are so many resources on how to fit shoes properly (gear reviewers discuss this, REI and other retailers discuss it, manufacturers put out information urging customers not to undersize too much, etc.), we built a fitting algorithm that was fairly rigid. It takes dimensions, makes assumptions about how much one's toes should be curled for a given last shape, and produces the last model that fits these inputs.

It turns out we shouldn't make that assumption about toe curl. For downturned shoes, there is a fair amount of consensus, but different climbers have in mind a HUGE range of different fit styles when ordering flat shoes. For different climbers, "flat shoes" can mean anything from all toes gently curled, to little toes curled/big toe flat, to all toes flat but touching the end of the shoe, to space beyond all the toes!

Clearly, a critical part of our ordering system will be a way for climbers to communicate exactly what they mean when they say "flat" or "downturned." We're working on how to help SFT customers make this preference clear. Some possible options are:

1. Have a trained person take the measurements for each order. This person could inspect a customer's feet in their previous shoes and make notes on the fit and special requests. (This would probably mean partnering with gyms or gear shops around the country and training their staff to become representatives for SFT).

2. Request that each customer photograph their feet in their previous shoes, using their thumb to indicate where the end of their big toe is in the shoe. These photographs would be submitted with the customer's measurements when they place their order.

3. Have a series of diagrams showing how feet can fit inside shoes, and allow the customer to choose the one that best describes their desired fit.

If you've got suggestions on what would be the most convenient way to communicate these preferences, we'd love to hear them. Feel free to comment below or to email



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