The right pair of shoes is the cornerstone of any running kit. Style, fit and specific needs are elements weighed when determining your running partner for the next 300 to 500 miles. But what about cost—is the price tag a factor?
Of course it is. And Imran Khoja, founder of ShoeKicker.com, a new shoe price aggregator site, thinks he’s solved a common runner complaint.
“I was on a run with a friend and was complaining that my fifth pair of Mizuno Wave Inspire 9’s were toast, and I couldn’t find new ones anywhere,” the Boston-based entrepreneur, designer and project manager said. “We thought there had to be some way to find them online. But, when I realized there wasn’t, I created this site with a group of friends. It’s basically Kayak.com for running shoes.”
Khoja emphasizes his aim with the site is not to take business away from independent retailers. He also believes it shouldn’t be an issue based upon the model.
“Pricing is pretty set for the first season of a shoe, and we want people to go to their favorite store to have the complete try-on and purchase experience. While we are happy to have that business coming through us, we want the running stores to have that sale,” says Khoja, who ran cross-country for Williams College. “Once a model is a year-old, prices become a free-for-all. That’s when ShoeKicker helps people find savings.”
Mark Sullivan, the executive editor of Running Insight trade magazine, sees the site and concept differently.
“I feel like run specialty stores go out and build and create demand by doing events in their communities, holding races and having programs in their stores,” Sullivan says. “And I look at a site like this and feel it just takes consumers down a bad path of buying based upon price instead of knowledge.”
Part of the reason Sullivan doesn’t like it is because the price suggestions lead users to a wide array of online retailers—including big box retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods or mall-based conglomerates like Foot Locker. (A sample search for an ASICS GEL-Kayano 20 in men’s 10.5 produces a list of 13 retailers and prices in ascending order, starting with: 1. East Bay, 2. Foot Locker, 3. Running Warehouse, 4. Zappos, 5. City Sports and 6. Dick’s Sporting Goods.) Khoja says ShoeKicker fits into the scene by “helping people be able to quickly and easily get a snapshot of the entire landscape of the internet and the price for the pair of shoes they need at the savings they want.”
“I think these guys are harvesting and riding on the back of all the work done by the specialty run stores,” Sullivan says. “I hate it, and think it’s predatory.”
Customers don’t actually purchase shoes through ShoeKicker. Instead the site provides a list of options and shoppers choose where to make their purchase. ShoeKicker’s profit comes from getting a percentage of the final sale from their marketing affiliates. Khoja also said he is not creating backend affiliate deals for ShoeKicker’s benefit.
Khoja admits the business model is at odds with the value they are trying to deliver in that they are getting a percentage of the lowest price. Also ShoeKicker’s development team decided not to capture customer information, at least for now, because they “decided to err towards a great and approachable experience.”
“We want to be like your favorite affable, responsive, encyclopedic and quirky running store salesperson,” says Khoja, who also admitted there’ve been mixed reactions to the site and he’s already been threatened with lawsuits. “We’re not trying to piss anyone off. We’re runners using technology to solve a problem and deliver a good consumer experience. If people can save some money, maybe they can buy another race entry.”
ShoeKicker launched today with 14 online vendor affiliations and roughly 10,000 pairs of shoes in their aggregator database.