Online apparel shopping service, THE ICONIC, has launched their new Snap To Shop service. It allows you to take a photo of some clothes, either in a store or on someone, and then use that image to search against THE ICONIC's inventory to find a similar garment or ensemble. I spoke with the company's CTO, Zoe Ghani, about what tech they're using to make this possible.
Snap To Shop, said Ghani is a new way for customers to access THE ICONIC's inventory of 50,000 products across 800 brands.
"Most people will have this experience. They will see great fashion in a magazine, on the web or on a friend or in a shop window. I can take a photo of that, upload it to the app and the algorithm will search the catalog for similar looks that I can buy straight away," said Ghani.
If you're accustomed to using Shazam to identify a song and then buy it or listen to it using your preferred music service, then Snap to Shop will feel familiar.
Ghani said the the company has a constant dialog with customers. From that feedback, they knew there was a need for this service. They took that requirement into one of the company's monthly "Pet Project" days. During these days, staff get to work on passion projects where they can work on ideas they have for improving the business. These can range from software mods to business process improvements.
"This is how the Snap To Shop feature came about," said Ghani.
The customer challenge of identifying something in THE ICONIC's catalog from an image was examined with the company looking for either in-house or external solutions to the problem. Ghani said this investigation led them to online retailer Alibaba. They combined the Alibaba algorithm with their own user experience and app to create the user experience they wanted to deliver.
Whenever THE ICONIC develops a new feature or service, they deploy it as what Ghani called a "minimum viable product". This is a way of dipping their toe in the water to see how customers would react and use Snap to Shop.
"One of the fun things about technology is that we really don't know how the user will react or use a feature - they might use the feature in a way we never expected. You can start with one type of functionality and end up with something completely different. With this technology, we're weathering for how customers discover the feature. At the moment it's accessed through the search button".
This approach, said Ghani, allows them to refine how the feature is access and used. At the moment, once you tap on search within the app, you'll see a message telling you the feature has been added and a camera con at the end of the box where you enter your search query. I tried it on a few different items and search results, while a little mixed when it came to matching with my photos, came back quickly.
Ghani said they are also closely monitoring the quality of the search results and then tracking the customer's response and whether the search led to a purchase. As Snap To Shop is new, this is all part of the journey THE ICONIC is on. If the customer experience proves positive, then they'll invest further in boosting the feature's capability.
The Pet Project days give technical people an opportunity to be creative and keep abreast of what the latest technology can do. Ghani introduced the idea when she came to THE ICONIC after seeing it work well in past workplaces. The only constraints of what can be worked on is that it must be abut making the customer's or staff's life better, make you team better or make your workalike better. It doesn't have to be code. One the day I spoke with Ghani, she was running a design thinking workshop as her Pet Project day initiative.
Another team was working on capturing a metric the company had not previously captured effectively while another was looking at making improvements to the engineering process. The day starts with a quick sharing session where each participation has about 30 seconds to tell people what they're working on. At the end of the dat there's an informal "show and tell" where progress is reported. The days have been expanded to include external parties who could share what they're doing and how THE ICONIC could use that tech. That's how the Alibaba technology was introduced into the company.
With the online shopping business becoming increasingly competitive, companies are looking for new ways to engage customers and deliver a better experience. Ghani says she's hoping for a day when she doesn't have to think too much abut shopping. Instead, some system will know what's in her wardrobe, knows what appointments and events are in her calendar and then make intelligent suggestions on what she needs to buy to complement what she already has and what she is planning to do.
"Things I love would show up at my door".