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a1What’s one of the biggest expenses that online retailers face when selling shoes? Returns.

I’m sure you’ve all gone to a shoe store, thinking you knew your shoe size, only to find that the size 10 in Brand A fits the same as a size 9 1/2 in Brand B shoes. Luckily you are at the store to try these on and are able to purchase the shoe which fits your foot the best regardless of its stated size.

Online, however, things do not work this way. If you order a size 10 and it doesn’t fit, you must then ship the shoes all the way back to the shipping facility and then either take a chance on a different size or simply ask for a refund.

The high rate of returns within the e-commerce shoe space is causing many companies to shy away from developing an online presence. One company, Shoefitr, founded in 2010 and soon thereafter funded to the tune of $1.3 million, has been slowly changing the way people buy shoes online, offering a service to online retailers and customers that matches their a2most comfortable shoes with various other styles available to them online.  They do this all via a database of 3D scanned shoes, and in fact have been helping companies like Cole Hann, Nordstrom, and REI sell shoes online for some time now, to what appears to be great success.

This past week, both TechCrunch and Pittsburgh Business Week broke the news that Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce platform, had acquired Shoefitr for an undisclosed amount. This doesn’t actually come as a surprise, as Amazon seems to be on a mission to make online shopping as effortless and carefree as shopping at a store font.

Amazon is no amateur when it comes to 3D technology. In fact they offer several customizable and made to order products thanks to partnerships with various 3D modeling and printing companies. With their recent interest in 3D printing, this begs the questions of whether or not Amazon themselves may enter the space of 3D printed shoes, or if Shoefitr will simply be integrated into the company’s shoe buying experience by providing suggestions on sizing, hoping to avoid the high return rates seen within the industry. Maybe we will even see their recent patent aimed at 3D printing within delivery trucks put to use in some kind of long-term, mobile 3D shoe printing initiative. Of course this is only a far-fetched guess, but could be something the future may eventually hold.

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It’s pretty likely that over the next several months we will begin seeing at least portions of the Shoefitr platform integrated into the Amazon shopping experience, or the shopping experience of their Zappos subsidiary. By utilizing the vast amount of 3D scanned data that Shoefitr has collected over the last 5 years, Amazon would now be able to provide suggestions to customers prior to an order being confirmed. The question is how far will they take this technology? Could they expand it to clothing brands as well? Could they even use it to manufacture custom shoes or clothing for individuals on a per-order basis? They already dove head first into the 3D printing space to some extent. What if they could allow users to enter one or two of their best fitting shoes, a3suggest the best sizing for their foot, and then 3D print the inner boot of a shoe to fit the customer’s foot nearly perfectly? The customer could then have this inner boot retrofitted with one of their favorite styles if those brands were to participate.

Such a shopping experience is likely still years away; however, through this acquisition, combined with Amazon’s likely interest in expanding their 3D printing footprint, this kind of experience may be here sooner rather than later. Platforms, like Shoefitr, which utilize 3D scanning technology to help online shopper feel more confident about their orders, while at the same time reducing the expenses associated with returns, seem to be the future of online shipping.

Let us know your thoughts on this acquisition and what it could mean for online shopping in general. Discuss in the Amazon Acquires Shoefitr forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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