Will Amazon’s New Virtual Try-on Tool Help Me Pick Shoes?

An example of Amazon's Virtual Try-On tool is shown on a phone screen.

Buying shoes can be a hard and frustrating thing to do. When you have a fat pinky toe like I do, it dictates how I can dress my feet, which determines the rest of my outfit. While they can usually fit into a size eight, fitting and being comfortable are two very different things. That’s why I can’t for the life of me understand why Amazon would want to wade into the treacherous waters of foot fashion.

The e-commerce giant proudly unveiled its new Virtual Try-On feature in the U.S. and Canada on Thursday, a tool in its iOS app that uses augmented reality to help customers check out how a pair of shoes will look like from every angle and even try them on in different colors. According to a press release, Virtual Try-On will be available for thousands of sneaker styles, including New Balance, adidas, Reebok, Puma, and Lacoste, to name a few. Amazon said that the AR tool will be available for Android soon but didn’t specify a release date. Besides shoes, you can also try-on T-shirts and eyewear, the company noted in FAQ section.

Using Virtual Try-On seems simple enough. Amazon says all you have to do is click on the “Virtual Try-On” button on the shoes’ product page and point the camera at your feet. If for some bizarre reason you want to share a photo of shoes you do not own on social media, Amazon cheerfully says you can do that, too.

Now, while I am all for innovative fashion, the company’s announcement was coy when it came to the question I really wanted answers to: Will Virtual Try-On help people choose a shoe size? After all, there’s nothing more annoying than finding a pair of shoes you love only to learn that they don’t fit right, usually because of a fussy fat pinky toe, in my case. As someone who spent two hours online trying to figure out adidas’ unique sizing system for its Superstar classic white sneakers and, of course, got it wrong in the end, believe me—I know what I’m talking about.

I found my answer at the very end of the company’s FAQ section.

“The Virtual Try-On for Shoes experience helps you visualize how the shoes will look on your feet from every angle; however, it is not a sizing tool. Fit information on the product detail page can help you pick the perfect size,” Amazon wrote.

Considering that these are the same product detail pages that caused me to glare daggers at the delivered Superstar white sneakers that did not fit me, I beg to differ.

“We’re excited to introduce Virtual Try-On for Shoes, so customers can try on thousands of styles from brands they know and love at their convenience, wherever they are,” Muge Erdirik Dogan, president of Amazon Fashion, said in a statement. “We look forward to listening and learning from customer feedback as we continue to enhance the experience and expand to more brands and styles.”

At the end of the day, I have serious doubts over whether Amazon’s new Virtual Try-On tool will really “better inform purchasing decisions,” as the company claims. Just because I like the way the shoe looks when rendered in theory doesn’t mean I’m going to buy it, especially if I’m not familiar with the brand and its sizing. In those cases, the best thing to do is to go to a store and physically try on the shoe, a foolproof way to keep blisters at bay.

I could see how a tool like this could provide value to people who have experience with a brand, be it Adidas or Reebok or what have you, and simply want to shop around for different colors and styles. But this segment doesn’t represent all consumers, and Amazon should be clearer up front about what Virtual Try-On can do. No need to annoy people by being opaque.

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