Zappos, MapMyFitness will tell you when you need new running shoes

The fitness tracking app's community of runners can now track the wear of their most important gear -- their shoes -- and buy new ones directly from the online retailer within the app.

Zappos and training app MapMyFitness are teaming up to ensure runners are never logging miles on worn-out shoes.

The two companies on Thursday announced a new feature called Gear Tracker in the MapMyFitness app for Apple iOS users. The feature lets users estimate when their shoes are too worn to run in and then gives them the option of buying a new pair of shoes directly from the fitness tracking app. The companies expect to bring the same feature to Google's Android before the end of the year.

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Zappos/MapMyFitness

For Zappos, Gear Tracker allows the Amazon-owned e-tailer to tap into MapMyFitness's nearly 28 million users, half of which are avid runners. MapMyFitness, meanwhile, gets to add a feature often requested by its users. Avid runners are often warned about worn-out shoes leading to injuries or a poor running experience.

Zappos' head of mobile, Aki Iida, said the idea was to experiment with new ways to utilize the technology of the rapidly growing selection of fitness tracking wearables, like FitBit, and smartphone fitness apps, like MapMyFitness. The fitness apps category is picking up speed, according to app analytics company Flurry, which found that the use of fitness apps grew by 62 percent in the first half of this year, outpacing the growth of the app industry in general.

"We thought, wouldn't it be cool if we had some shoes that had some magical kit in there that would tell you the wear and tell the user 'hey, it's time for a new shoe,'" Iida said.

While Zappos didn't create a magical kit, it decided to start with a data-driven approach by partnering with MapMyFitness. Gear Tracker asks users to record the type of running shoes they wear, so as they log their runs, the app can determine when it's time for them to buy replacement shoes. Running shoes tend to wear out between 300 and 500 miles, which means an average runner will buy two to three shoes a year, according to Zappos.

Based on the data collected, a shoe meter will indicate the health of the shoe, turning yellow and then red as the time nears for replacement. When it's time, the app notifies the user.

It's a simple way for Zappos to get into the fitness tracking game without having to invest in new technology. There are already products out there -- using sensors to detect wear and tear -- that might have more accuracy, like Moves, a wearable that tracks how hard your foot hits the ground, and Mino, an insert that helps determine when shoes are worn out.

But over time, Iida hopes Zappos can build up a database of information logged from users it improve the accuracy of these estimates, and determine what types of shoes wear more easily than others, or which running shoes are more popular than others. He said the challenge with this approach are unknown variables such as changing terrain and weather, but Zappos will continue to tinker away at the formula in hopes of improving the data over time.

Running shoes have been an important part of Zappos' business and are one of the company's larger product categories. Zappos currently sells 8,500 styles of running shoes.

Runners, specifically those looking for Nike shoes, helped build Zappos in its earlier days. Before the company carried a wide selection of running shoes, the No. 1 search request was Nike, Iida said. After signing a deal to sell Nike shoes in 2007, Zappos saw "a pretty big difference in our performance," he said.

"It was a little bit late in the game, to be honest," Iida said. "When we signed with Nike it was a really big deal for us."

The partnership with MapMyFitness lets Zappos experiment with another venue for e-commerce. For MapMyFitness, an app athletic gear company Under Armor purchased last year, it's about increasing its engagement with its community of runners while also delivering a frequently requested feature among its users.

"We have a lot of users that log all of their runs, but there's also a lot of people that only log on the weekend, or only track runs when they are training for a certain event, or more casually," Chris Glode, the general manager of MapMyFitness said. "This gives them an opportunity to be more diligent about tracking."

While the company has been testing a version of the tracking feature on its website since 2006, it had yet to incorporate the function into its mobile app. The ability to track gear is the one of the top requests from MapMyFitness users. While the app tracks other activities like biking, hikes, and walks as well, runners account for over half of MapMyFitness' user base and more than half of the activities logged are runs.

Glode said Gear Tracker is also a way to educate its users. While the most elite runners understand the correlation between poorer running performance and injury, and worn shoes, casual runners may not, he said. In the future, Glode envisions expanding the tracking to other categories like bicycling, a sport in which cyclists need to know when to replace chains, gripe tape or tires. This could mean an extension of its partnership with Zappos or with other retailers, depending on the product.

For now, MapMyFitness is invested in making the Zappos-powered Gear Tracker for shoes a prominent function in its app.

"It will be front and center," Glode said. "We think this is going to become a very core part of the experience."

Correction, August 15 at 1:22 p.m. PT: This story misspelled the name of MapMyFitness General Manager Chris Glode.

 

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