April 10, 2013, 12:17 PM

New technology helps shoppers find products based on their pictures

Cortexica’s Visual Fashion Finder compares shoppers’ photos to images from a retailer’s catalog.

Amy Dusto

Associate Editor

Lead Photo

A sample of the images returned when a customer searched with the Visual Fashion Finder using a photo of a similar blouse.

Consumers are one step closer to being able to snap a picture of any item, anywhere, and buy it instantly with the launch of a new tool from image recognition technology provider Cortexica Visual Systems Ltd. The Visual Fashion Finder allows shoppers to submit through a retailer’s mobile app or web site photos of products taken from their smartphones and search for similar items based on visual attributes such as color, pattern and texture, Cortexica says. And if retailers allow transactions on their mobile apps or sites, shoppers can click through to buy, it says.

The Visual Fashion Finder debuts next week for a select group of retailers, which Cortexica declines to name until then. For now, consumers can search for products in only one retailer’s catalog at a time, depending on which app or mobile site they are using to access the tool, Cortexica says. The vendor is considering adding an aggregated search feature that would work across all its retailer clients, a spokesman says.

Cortexica hosts all the product images and details that retailers submit to it in a web-based database. It then creates for each image a small file that notes only the product’s key attributes. When new images come in, it compares all those small files quickly to determine which items are exact or similar matches, the spokesman says. The database can connect with any type of mobile web site or app and serve up related product search results, Cortexica says.

Retailers pay a monthly fee to host the images, based on the number of products they submit and the number of searches customers make, the spokesman says. A few hundred images and searches might cost a few hundred dollars per month, while 10,000 images and searches might cost $10,000 or more per month, he says.

The Visual Fashion Finder fits with the trend of mobile commerce collapsing all shopping channels—mobile, web, stores and catalogs—into one, says Julie Fergerson, vice president of emerging technologies at Internet security firm Ethoca. However, she says, “Right now, I’m not sure that consumers would know how to use it or that there’s a compelling reason for consumers to use it.” The tool may be more useful for retailers after the number of consumers using image recognition technology reaches a tipping point, she says. “Just like all the other new and exciting mobile things popping out, retailers should take a step back and study it first.”

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