Most online shoppers can live with a slightly ill-fitting T-shirt or sweater, but a shoe that doesn't fit properly is effectively useless. It's a problem that has haunted online shoe retailers like Zappos, but Amazon may have found a solution with its latest acquisition.

Amazon has bought Pittsburgh-based startup Shoefitr, which uses 3D technology to help people virtually choose the correct shoe size without trying on the footwear. It looks a sensible move for Amazon, which sells millions of shoes on its site and through Zappos, which it acquired for $850 million in 2009.

Shoefitr uses 3D technology accurate enough to measure the thickness of human hair that it developed in-house to scan every shoe on the market both inside and out to have the most accurate information. Users are prompted to enter the size and model of their current shoe and Shoefitr compares this with its database of scanned shoes to recommend which size that user will need for any particular shoe. It takes into account lots of different variables such as shape, sole thickness, weight and so on, giving you comparisons against your current pair.

Obviously it's not a perfect system, but Shoefitr claims its technology is helping reduce the number of shoe returns by 25 percent. This could be a huge help to Zappos, which has an average return rate of 35 percent and a rate which rises to almost 50 percent for loyal customers.

Shoefitr already works with some of the biggest names in both sports and fashion footwear, including Brooks, Cole Hahn, Ecco, New Balance, Puma and Toms, among others. It's unclear how the Amazon acquisition will affect the relationship between Shoefitr and these existing customers.

Shoefitr was founded in 2010 by Matt Wilkinson, Nick End and Breck Fresen, who were all college athletes. The three friends initially concentrated on fitting running shoes before branching out. No details of the acquisition fee have been released but it is believed that the Shoefitr team will relocate from Pittsburgh to Amazon's headquarters in Seattle.

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