Shopping with a mobile device’s camera

Retailers are testing the Slyce app now, with a full launch planned for January.

Amy Dusto

Slyce is a new app from Canadian company Business Instincts Group that allows consumers to take a picture of any item and find where they can buy it, or something similar, online, the company says. Retailers and brands may sell items through the app by feeding Slyce their product catalogs or by allowing the app to access their order management systems directly, says Erika Racicot, one of Slyce’s co-founders.  

“Slyce enables e-retailers to engage with potential customers and their friends, at their moment of interest, to quickly, securely and efficiently transact, irrespective of their physical location,” says Robert Klein, president of business consultancy RSK Strategic Inc., which specializes in marketing in the technology industry. “It also enables all e-retailers, from mom-and-pop to large organizations, to target consumers based on their interests at a specific moment.”

The app returns a Pinterest-like array of 30 to 40 images for each search, starting with the most relevant results at the top, Racicot says. Brands and retailers that sign up to provide their product information, including images, to Slyce receive preference in search results, she says. For example, if sportswear brand Puma signed up for Slyce and a customer snapped a photo of a pair of Puma shoes, she would receive only Puma results in the app. But if Puma was not working with Slyce, she would see Puma shoes along with similar brands and styles of shoes.  “A lot of value will come to smaller brands that don’t necessarily get this exposure,” Racicot contends.

“It enables specialty retailers to quickly and efficiently attract potential new customers,” Klein says.

An undisclosed number of retailers and brands are currently testing an Android version of the app, Racicot says. An iPhone version will launch for testing in August and the public release of the app to retailers, brands and consumers is slated for January. Slyce will take a fee of each transaction a retailer makes off of a Slyce search; the fee will depend on the size of the retailer, she says. Eventually, the app will allow users to store payment information to facilitate easy in-app purchasing, she says. For now app users are linked to a retailer’s site checkout page to complete a purchase.

If a shopper taps through search results and purchases an item, he may tag a picture of it and share it with other Slyce users and on social media, Racicot says. That helps improve results for similar searches in the future. Additionally, if a customer is the first to provide an image of an item that she then buys via Slyce and tags the image with information about the name and brand, she’ll receive a small percentage of the fee that Slyce collects on each transaction for that item that uses her image, Racicot says. The commission is meant to encourage users to provide feedback that improves the results.

Slyce can have problems identifying the item in a photo, she says. For starters, if the picture is too blurry to analyze, a consumer is directed to retake the photo. But sometimes the app has trouble identifying, for example, that a shoe on one person’s foot is the same as the shoe on another person’s foot, she says. (Flatter items, like watches or TVs, are easier for the app to identify right away.) The more users that click on and tag photos, and the more images added to the app’s database, the better the app learns to identify items, Racicot says.

The app also has a “cheeky” solution for customers that take ambiguous photos, such as of a landscape, she says. For example, if a customer takes a picture of a city street, she says Slyce will return pictures of concrete with links of where to buy it online. “It’s not realistic, but we want to provide a fun and engaging experience for users,” she says, “and be able to identity everything as well as possible.”


Android, Erika Racicot, image recognition, iPhone, m-commerce, Mobile, mobile app, mobile commerce, mobile shopping, Robert Klein, RSK Strategic Inc., shopping app, Slyce, smartphones