Visual big data, cloud reshaping relationships between e-retailers and brick & mortar shops
Online clothing retailer Zalando announced Wednesday that the company it trialling a cloud-based visual search technology that connects customers with the pair of shoes they’re looking for, a technology it’s calling FindSimilar. Iain McCready, chief executive officer of Cortexica Visual Systems, the company that developed the technology, said cloud-based visual data analytics is transforming e-retail by giving customers a more curated shopping experience, helping customers find exactly what they want, quickly.
The software developed by Cortexica essentially takes a photo of any sort of footwear and then analyses it against a database of images. Working like a ‘visual search engine’ it displays a range of shoes with similar characteristics such as shape, colour and design and allows the consumer to choose from a tailored selection.
The company said the technology works by replicating the way the brain processes images and finds similarities, and when embedded into an app or fashion website offers a curated shopping experience.
“Shape is particularly important when searching imagery of shoes, handbags or fashion accessories. When purchasing clothes or shoes online, shopping by pictures is the easiest way for consumers to find what they are looking for,” the company said.
It claims that this is the first time computer scientists have managed to programme a system to recognise shapes in the way that it does.
“Staying one step ahead of fashion is a constant challenge for many but we believe our technology helps consumers to do exactly this,” said Iain McCready, chief executive officer of Cortexica. “ Once the search engine is embedded in an app, the software has the ability to help shoe shoppers narrow their search and make better choices, this could result in them finding similar and often better items available elsewhere.”
“To date there are very few apps available for shoes and this technology promises to transform the market. Several leading UK shoe brands and retailers are already testing our software. When implemented, the technology is expected to boost m-commerce and increase transaction rates,” he added.
Zalando, an online retailer of high street brands piloting the shoe-finding technology said it has been pleased with the results so far.
“FindSimilar allows us to provide our customers with a completely new and very convenient way of online shopping – when they see a style they like on the catwalk or on the streets, they can directly choose from corresponding products in our shop,” said Christoph Luetke Schelhowe, who is responsible for the customer experience at Zalando.
“Customers often recognise what they are looking for only when they see it,” he said.
One of the key trends witnessed over the past few years has been the steady yet seemingly assured domination of e-commerce over brick & mortar sales outfits for most retail goods. Still, some of the key reasons retail customers continue to visit physical stores include the instant gratification and assurance received when trying something on, and critically, access to sales advice – both geared towards connecting a customer with a product as quickly as possible.
But, rather than eschewing the technology platforms that in one sense continue to cannibalise their brick & mortar retail margins, fashion retail outfits have turned to using mobile applications and cloud services as a way of luring customers back to their physical shops, largely by offering personalised discounts and alerting customers about general sales using a combination of mobile location data and previous sales information. E-retailers are looking for ways to bring some of those other benefits of brick & mortar – immediate gratification, sales advice – to the online world.
These companies are also partnering with emerging players to help re-balance brick & mortar with online retail. Beyond big data an entire ecosystem of cloud services has seemingly emerged around maintaining this balance in the fashion sector.
In London alone there’s Skadoosh, a Shoreditch-based startup that lets users track fashion items and customise alters for when those items go on sale in-store and online; Grabble, which does much the same, linking users to a fairly robust network of thousands of retailers; and Mallzee, which is apparently like the application Tinder but for shopping.