Of all the things a traveler might expect to take away from a trip to China, frustration with ordering shoes online is probably not high on the list. But after a two-year teaching program overseas, it’s one lesson Carolyn Horner and Eve Ackerley brought home.
“In the village, being tall women, they didn’t have our clothing or shoe sizes available, so we had to order things online,” Ackerley says. But if the new clothing didn’t fit, they had to walk 30 minutes to the nearest post office to return the items. Shoe purchases proved to be among the most difficult to get right. Knowing other shoppers must be encountering similar challenges, the pair returned to the United States determined to develop a simpler way for people to size their feet. Market research and hands-on visits to local shoe stores brought the mission into even tighter focus.
“In the kids’ section, the shoe boxes were accompanied by screaming children and frustrated parents,” Horner says. The two realized the real problem wasn’t shopping for adult shoes — it was kids’ shoes that needed their help. Other issues also quickly came to light: “Specifically with the children’s shoe market, sizing variability between brands is really common,” Horner says. The inconsistencies result in a high rate of returns as parents try to find the right footwear, and a dismaying 70 percent of kids ultimately wearing shoes that don’t fit.
The Jenzy app created by Ackerley and Horner gives parents a better way to shop for their children’s shoes. Users take a photo of their child’s foot next to a card, such as a library card or a warehouse shopper’s card, to give the application a size reference. “Once you take the photo, we have their child’s foot measurements and our proprietary technology can recommend the size and brands we offer in our store,” Horner says.
Horner and Ackerley knew they would need to be able to provide precise size recommendations based on measuring a child’s foot through a photo. “We needed to require only one photo to do that, and we had to be accurate within plus or minus four millimeters, which is half a child’s shoe size,” Ackerley says. Prior to launch of the platform, she says there was a second component that needed to be mastered. “Once we had the measurements, could we put them into the correct size shoe?”
Linking sizes to styles and manufacturers is important, because a size recommendation for a sneaker may be very different from the size a child needs in a boot or another type of shoe.
“The core of Jenzy is finding brands that care about making well-made, durable, podiatrist-approved footwear for kids,” Horner says. She and Ackerley started by talking with moms and asking which brands they loved. The team reached out to a number of those manufacturers and asked if they would be willing to share sizing information for the Jenzy platform. Those that were open to the idea worked with Ackerley and Horner to help them understand more about the shoes and how to ensure a proper fit.
Horner says the industry average for returns is 30 percent. “That’s frustrating for the customer, and it’s also frustrating for the brand, which has to eat the cost of shipping typically.” Even within a brand, a child could be wearing an eight in one style of shoe and a nine in another; but Horner says Jenzy’s sizing technology and matching algorithm has been successful in minimizing returns, bringing the figure to less than 5 percent. “That’s definitely an incentive for brands to be on our platform but also for customers to download our app and shop with us.”