Reebok Must Refund $25 Million to Buyers of Bogus 'Toning Shoes'

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Reebok's promise sounded too good to be true: It claimed its EasyTone and RunTone shoe lines could shape your legs and tone your butt into a cute apple bottom. The claims sounded scientific: A trim spokeswoman touted a 11% gain in leg strength, and a tempting 28% improvement in your derriere over regular running shoes.

On Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission ordered the sneaker company to pay $25 million in partial customer refunds -- calling the inflated fitness claims bogus. Consumers who bought shoes or apparel in the company's tone line after Dec. 4, 2008, can file a claim (with a proof of purchase) for a $25 to $50 refund.

"The FTC wants national advertisers to understand that they must exercise some responsibility and ensure that their claims for fitness gear are supported by sound science," David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in the statement.

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Reebok is not the only shoemaker playing the toning card. In the last three years, brands like Sketchers Shape-Ups, MBT and FitFlops have offered products that claim to tone your bottom half with footwear that retails for between $60 and $100. Last year, sales for toning and wellness shoes were $1.1 billion, according to Matt Powell, chief retail analyst with Sports Business News -- a massive increase from the $350 million the sector earned in 2009.

While the FTC has made footwear companies knock off the shady science guarantees about more shapely legs, the shoe varieties continue to be popular, and they are comfortable, according to reviews on Zappos.com. Sports Business News anticipates the overall dollar revenue for the market segment drop 40% to around $650 million for 2011, but for now, unit sales are down only 5% as oversupply has packed the aisles with discounted toning kicks.

"[Reebok] will have to change its marketing story where benefits are not touted," suggests Powell. "They are comfortable and there is enough demand and consumer interest. But marketing story has to change."
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