Digital Retail Innovations Q&A – Slyce

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Following the launch of the Digital Retail Innovations 2018 Report (sponsored by Webloyalty) a series of Q&A’s with the leading figures behind some of the key entries in the report are being published.

Here is a Q&A with Ted Mann, CEO of Slyce, which features in this year’s report for its work with Tommy Hilfiger and other retailers.

 1.How did the original idea come about?

The original vision for the company was to be the ‘Shazam of stuff’. Slyce went to retailers to see if they would be part of this but they preferred to licence the technology and have it in their own apps. We built the technology and got the clients on board including Neiman Marcus, JC Penney, and Home Depot who have stayed with us.

From 2012 we were refining the technology and until two years ago the major use case was of people seeing a product, taking a picture of it and then buying the product. Tommy Hilfiger came to us with the specific vision – to empower people who visit its fashion shows. To enable them to come to a show, take a picture, and then shop-the-look.

It was a brand undergoing a transformation and had made a decision to invest in fashion shows and it wanted to offer ‘see now buy now’ with customers no longer having to wait six months after a show before they can buy the products. It wanted to remove all the friction and have the primary app built around the camera with visual commerce and user generated photographs (what we call wild photos).

Slyce CEO: Ted Mann

2.What has been the level of take-up of the service and what are the key ways retailers are using it?

The usage was incredible, with the volumes of transactions making the shows profitable (as well as the pop-ups it also runs). Tommy Hilfiger also live streams its shows and people can shop that way too. It’s clearly a valid use case to shop-the-look but it’s also about creating the whole experience. Across the whole business usage has gone up over 20% month-on-month for the past three or four years.

As more and more retailers started to use it the early adopters saw increased usage as they tested it and found various problems to solve. For many retailers it was not about converting sales. At Home Depot 70-80% of photos are taken by its employees as Slyce can then show them where the products can be found in the store. It is also used at the till when there is no barcode on the product. At Bed Bath and Beyond people go around the store taking photos that add products onto their wedding list

3.What about competition in this area?

There is competition but we realised early on that if you deliver bad results then people lose faith. Other visual search companies are inaccurate and so people abandon them. With artificial intelligence and machine learning it’s all about training the data so we’ve built the data sets to be specific for the retailer.We build a customised black box that knows all the [retailers’] products. In contrast, many other solutions are built on open source data.

With Slyce, if the system returns a highly confident result then we pass it onto the customer but if we are not so confident then we instead send it to a person. We still have this as a fall-back. If a result has been referred one time then it won’t happen again. It’s inevitable that newer categories will not have as robust data sets but the system learns.

4.Have there been any surprises along the way?

The pace of innovation has been surprising. Slyce is a mobile-first product and the trend is for on-device processing, which has helped us. What’s interesting is that most large technology companies are embracing this trend vigorously. It means it does not hit the cloud, which gives speed and accuracy as well as greater privacy.

We also did not expect visual search integration at camera level in mobile phone operating systems. ‘Scan & Go’ type solutions could utilise this and we’re looking to do this with retailers. Visual search would solve a lot of problems with these types of applications such as certain items not having barcodes. There is not one silver bullet, it’s about loading various ones up.

It has also been surprising how the adoption rates of visual search have been faster than expected. Pinterest, eBay and Samsung are leading to large scale adoption, which is taking place faster than voice.

Tommy Hilfiger’s Shop The Look with Slyce

6.What can we expect from Slyce in the future?

We have European expansion in our plans for 2018. We’ll see applications in the UK and EU. It’s a big area of focus. Also we are going into new categories such as grocery and furniture as well as marketplaces where we will power their visual search.

Glynn Davis, Editor, Retail Insider 

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