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Seeing Is Believing

Visual search engines make it simple for shoppers to find your products.

Visual recognition and search company Riya has applied its matching technology to a new fashion shopping site called Like.com. The idea is that, when a shopper finds a fashion item he or she likes--a particular handbag or pair of shoes, for example--the search engine finds related products by examining the actual image. To get matches, users can do a keyword search, browse products or even browse items worn by celebrities.

Riya's technology works by studying one image and finding others that match it. E-tailers add their merchandise to Like.com simply by adding item images, or they can work with their affiliate networks to get listed. E-tailers are charged for Like.com's service by the click, but a few merchants use a cost-per-acquisition model.

"Like.com is very new," says Sucharita Mulpuru, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It's unclear how it will change online shopping, but I am confident that it will be another layer retailers and comparison shopping engines will likely incorporate, if only because it's a really neat technology."

Listing merchandise on Like.com has paid off for CoutureCandy.com, a Santa Barbara, California, fashion products e-tailer. "CoutureCandy.com is constantly trying to improve user experience in categories like apparel, and efficient search is critical," says Matthew Hunter, 34-year-old president and co-founder with Eric Jones and Jill Johnson, both 37. "Visual search is incredibly powerful. However, right now, Riya is the only company offering true visual search. So we're really at the beginning of this new approach."

CoutureCandy.com works with Like.com through its affiliate network, Commission Junction. "We provide them a feed with our current inventory," Hunter says. "They process it, create a digital signature for each product photo and add each item to their search index."

As Like.com continues to get local and national press coverage, it's beginning to appear in natural search results under many retail-related terms. The company has also added a browser toolbar so users can start their search from anywhere on the web.

Melissa Campanelli is a marketing and technology writer in New York City

Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at mcampanelli@earthlink.net.

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This article was originally published in the April 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Seeing Is Believing.

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