There’s never been a better time to shop online for running shoes and gear. For reasons we’re about to explain, the experience has just hit a new level — more options, more informed opinions, more ways of conferring with someone who knows what they’re talking about. (No disrespect to online reviewers with names like “ShoeGuy76” who may or may not be a bot.) In many ways, online shopping has matched or even surpassed the experience of going to an informed brick-and-mortar specialty shop.
That said, it’s still not as simple as just Googling “running shoes” and magically finding your perfect pair. There are some tricks to getting exactly what you need without spending a fortune. We spoke with Doug Smiley, the senior product line manager for high-performance run footwear at Under Armour, to find out how to do it like a pro.
In the old days, shopping online was just that: You went to your e-retailer of choice, browsed the available options in your desired product category, made an educated guess about the best option for you, and clicked that “Buy Now” button.
Today, you need not wander alone through the vast online wilderness. Instead, you can set up a videoconference with your favorite run shop, or ask your questions through a shop’s social media channels. “One of the big advantages now is that if you live in a city with a good specialty shop, you might be able to do it through Zoom or on Facebook,” Smiley says. As a result, it’s less like charting your own path through some strange enchanted forest; instead, think of it as having an expert guide you toward the best possible selection for your needs without leaving home. “They can put you on the right path,” Smiley says. As with so much in life, the more detailed your questions, the better.
Not sure what to ask that running expert? Start with what you already know — the type of shoes and gear you’ve already used, and what you liked most and least about them. Visuals help (hence the videoconferencing), because you can show someone how your previous shoes wore in. “Even before you can get to your run specialty shop — pulling the shoes up, looking at the outsole of the shoe,” Smiley says. “Seeing where there’s excess wear. If there’s wear on the heel, you land hard on the heel [when you run]. It starts with your own personal experience with the type of shoe and brand of shoe.”
Again, a lot has changed in the past few years, even months, where online shopping is concerned. Once upon a time, reading reviews meant slogging through hundreds of replies on some online retailer’s website, which often ranged from the absurdly brief to comically over-detailed to just plain irrelevant. (“Never arrived.”) And while we love running publications, the reality is one writer or editor’s needs and tastes might not align with yours.
Today, you can find a host of well-regarded websites for all kinds of runners, who will factor in all kinds of considerations that might be relevant to you. (Smiley recommends Believe in the Run, where reviews are often a conversation between different types of runners, one of which will likely appeal to you.) This new reality makes sense, since a road runner in the Northeast has different needs than a trail runner in Arizona (and that’s not even considering running styles, shoe sizes, etc.) As Smiley notes, “Everybody’s a sample set of one.” Today’s online reviews are more in-depth and smarter than the ones you were wading through way back when. The end result is a more personalized type of review, even if you’re not actually talking one-to-one with another person.
As Smiley notes, running shoes and gear are a little like a car. People tend to find the brand they like, and stick with it no matter what. (Also, you can’t exactly easily test and return, say, a family hatchback, any more than you can a worn-in set of trainers.) That means brands are incentivized to provide both honest information and personal relationships with customers, knowing that doing this hard work upfront likely leads to rewards down the road.
Let’s take Under Armour as an example. You can download Under Armour’s shop app to your phone, get a ton of detail there, and filter your searches by what kind of running you plan to do. This isn’t just for shoes, either — it’s for every imaginable piece of gear. Moreover, you actually can test a range of experiences, even online, thanks to generous satisfaction guarantees and a brand’s commitment to making sure you leave happy (and come back when it’s time).
At the end of the day, shopping online still offers unparalleled convenience. You can find specialty sizes, if needed. You can compare prices. And you can do it all in your living room if you so choose.
Just remember you’re always voting with your dollars — spending a few bucks more at a local run shop helps ensure they’ll be there when you need them, providing you with knowledge and resources the big online retailers can’t match. These days, a lot of run shops are offering local delivery for online orders or even curbside pickup. Progress doesn’t always move in a straight line, but this much is sure: When it comes to picking up some new shoes, a fresh singlet or a new hydration pack for race training, 2020 is a golden age for online shopping.
Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” and set your next goal — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.