Measuring up: How the Apple iPad is changing Clarks shoe shopping

Clarks is a high street brand that we all know. Everyone reading this probably went there to get fitted for school shoes, or has been there with children subsequently. The latest in-store innovation for Clarks, founded in 1825, uses the Apple iPad with a new system for foot measuring.

Under the direction of Chris Towns, innovations manager for Clarks, the new iPad gauges have been piloted in Clarks stores across the UK, but will be rolling-out across all stores in 2014. We dropped in on the Clarks store in Westfield London, where Towns introduced us to the new system.

The aim, Towns told us, was to create an experience that was engaging for children, to keep their attention through the process as well as giving easy and accurate results for staff.

The new Clarks system comprises of three parts. There's a stand for measuring length, the iPad in a custom case and finally a clever digi-tape gauge for measuring around the foot to get the correct width.

The iPad is used to start the process with a custom app where you can select a character to take you through the process, it's then inserted into the stand, so that when the sliders are positioned to read the foot length, it's the iPad underneath that's the scale, and records the measurement at the push of the central silver button. 

The new digi-tape foot measurer then provides the width reading which is added to the iPad for the final resultant shoe size.

The great thing about this system is that it's an engaging experience for both the customer and the staff. Although there's new technology involved, this isn't replacing in-store staff. At no point is the human touch lost. 

Towns emphasised this point to us, highlighting that the measuring process still used the same techniques, with trained staff needed to ensure that positioning of the foot is right, finding the knuckles in the feet to ensure the correct width reading and so on.

The thing that struck us the most is that the app Clarks has developed includes the child at every step. This isn't a case of taking a reading and walking off, it's designed to be fun and interesting, evolving the experience so it's not just about reading off the numbers.

The iPad was chosen as the foundation for the system, Towns told us, because of the wide range of applications that it could be used for. Any generic tablet could provide the same interface in theory, but Clarks can develop a wide range of uses for those in-store iPads to expand their functionality.

Firstly, all the foot data can be collected and analysed, building a more accurate sizing system for the future. That can ensure that shoe lasts are being created in the right sizes for the population, based on real data, with the ability to spot developing trends and adapt. 

In the future it could also form the basis of a digital catalogue, in tandem with shoes on displays. The iPad could be used check the stock levels in the store so you avoid that delay when a staff member heads into the stockroom and returns empty handed.

The iPad is also likely to become the point of sale too, letting the transaction take place immediately without having to head to the till.

But critically, the new system is compact. It takes up a lot less space than previous stand-in scanning systems, making better use of shop space, and becoming an interesting display when stowed away, rather than the previous gauge that looked like something you'd find in a hospital.

It's not just about children however. Towns told us that the device could accommodate up to adult size 13, so in the future, this could be easily adapted for adult customers too.

It's certainly fun and effective, an interesting and innovative application of Apple's tablet, but most importantly, when we put Pocket-lint's elite test children through the process, they loved it. The characters on the iPad's display hold their attention keeping them still enough to easily take a measurement.

The only downside might be that we're being pestered for foot measuring each time we walk past the local Clarks shoe shop.



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