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Innovation

The Iconic’s visual search tool is a sign of things to come

Pureplay online fashion retailer, The Iconic, has developed a new visual search tool that allows customers to search for clothing, sportswear and accessories simply by uploading a photo or taking a snap in its app.

Called ‘Snap to Shop’, the tool aims to make it easier for customers to find the item they’re looking for on The Iconic’s website, which features a range of more than 50,000 products and 800 brands.

Indeed, with unlimited shelf space, many online retailers now find themselves facing a ‘discoverability dilemma’, where huge assortments become difficult for customers to navigate, so they end up leaving without making a purchase.

More and more retailers are turning to visual search technology – using an image to search for similar-looking items – rather than the traditional keyword search, or category refinement, to solve this problem.

Asos launched a visual search tool earlier this year – though it is not yet available in Australia – and Temple & Webster CEO Mark Coulter has long talked about embedding visual search technology in the furniture retailer’s app – though this has yet to occur.

The Iconic claims it is the first retailer in Australia to offer visual search technology to customers, with Snap to Shop currently available for iOS and Android devices.

“With two out of three of our shoppers purchasing via…mobile devices this year alone, we know there is a strong demand for a mobile-first and more personalised shopping experience,” said The Iconic’s chief technology officer, Zoe Ghani.

“We’re thrilled to be offering our customers a new way to engage and discover products within The Iconic catalogue with ‘Snap to Shop’ visual search technology.”

How it works

Customers using The Iconic app can upload or take a photo of clothing they see during the day – whether in real life, on social media or in a magazine – and then browse visually similar items available for purchase.

The tool is based on technology developed by The Iconic in partnership with Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Alibaba Group, which uses an algorithm to visually match photos to products in The Iconic’s range and machine learning to continuously improve search results over time.

Ghani told Internet Retailing that the tool works by first identifying the object (is it a shirt, a dress, pants,) and then prioritising the object (if there are multiple objects in the image, which one is the user most likely interested in), before identifying the object’s shape, colour, pattern and brand to serve product recommendations.

According to Ghani, early data shows customers are using ‘Snap to Shop’ as a supplementary experience when relevant.

“Being able to quickly match items from the offline to online world (or find a better deal for a certain product on The Iconic) will garner more traction – and therefore the tool’s effectiveness as it continues to ‘get smarter’ through machine learning – as the weeks roll on,” she said.

The tech advantage

Ghani said the launch of ‘Snap to Shop’ is one of the advantages of having a 100-strong tech team in-house.

“Innovation for us happens on a daily basis this alone differentiates our tech team. The fact that our tech doesn’t crash on record breaking sales days and knowing we can deploy 50 changes every day to our live shopping environment are huge achievements,” she said.

“We can interview one of our customers on any given day and have a solution to market in just a few weeks – this is also a massive achievement.”

Ghani said The Iconic is currently experimenting with three different product recommendations algorithms in addition to ‘Snap to Shop’.

“Visual search is just the beginning of what we’re working on at THE ICONIC to ensure our customers have the latest shopping tech at their fingertips and we’re excited for what’s to come in 2018.”

Explaining why the retailer partnered with Alibaba to develop the tool, given its in-house tech team, Ghani said The Iconic tries to figure out the best way to solve each individual issue, either by building, buying or partnering.

“We knew our customers were looking for image-based search technology in Australia. The quickest way for us to get this function up and running (adopting a lean methodology approach) was to work with a third party partner,” she said.

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