[App Fridays] Can visual search replace the humble search bar? OliveTheory’s [this.] believes so
Instead of typing, how about clicking a picture to search for products? Is visual search the next frontier for e-commerce? Here is OliveTheory's attempt at it.
Imagine using your smartphone to click a picture of an interesting armchair or table that you spot somewhere. You want to buy that piece of exquisite furniture and refer to that picture as you type keywords into search bars of different e-commerce platforms. What if there was a more seamless way to accomplish this?
‘[This.]’ by OliveTheory is a visual search app that helps users find furniture and home décor products based on pictures they click. The app then helps consumers find those products across different e-commerce platforms or get them custom-designed based on their preferred specifications.
Google, Amazon, Facebook and other tech giants and niche players like ViSenze are looking to explore the potential of leveraging visual search to influence e-commerce purchases. Let us explore this sector and OliveTheory’s app, [this.] in this week's App Friday story.
Story so far
Home Craft Online is the parent company behind [this.], and has been around since 2012. Earlier called bedbathmore.com (now OliveTheory), it was positioned as a discovery-based e-commerce platform for home-related products from both Indian and international brands.
Amit Dalmia, Founder and Managing Director, OliveTheory, has over 15 years of experience in running businesses across varied fields like IT, power and energy and consumer products. Talking to YourStory, he described OliveTheory as an amalgamation of discovery, visualisation and gratification platform focused on the home interiors space.
An alumnus of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Amit was earlier part of the founding teams of home furnishing brand Portico New York in India; iBall, an Indian IT peripherals company; and Viaton Energy, a renewable clean energy initiative. As a serial entrepreneur, some of his successful exits include Netcraft, a web development and information technology-enabled services (ITeS) venture, and Crenser. another ITeS companies working with structural engineering fabricators.
OliveTheory currently consists of a 50-member team and they rebranded from their earlier vision to become a vertically integrated discovery and e-commerce platform. Amit notes,
OliveTheory brings together home enthusiast consumers with leading brands, stores and professionals comprising of interior architects and designers.
While [this.] was launched recently to the public, Amit noted that his team spent close to a year working on it, to train the algorithms to identify a diverse range of home decor products. They are also in the process of applying for patents for the underlying technology of the platform. [this.] monetises through multiple channels, such as direct sales of their own products, charges for customisations and affiliate revenue sources from their search results. OliveTheory is bootstrapped at this stage, but Amit notes that they may have some developments to share in the near future.
An overview of [this.]
The home screen opens up with the smartphone's camera enabled and different control buttons spread on the top and bottom corners of the screen.
Search bar: Located on the top right corner, one can search across different categories of products, check prices and buy them.
Eight control buttons: The bottom of the screen has eight on-screen buttons, which are all self-explanatory. Users can hit the camera button to take a picture of a product they like. As real world products can be placed in complex environments, the app then requires users to draw a box and focus on the product.
After about two seconds of processing, the app then throws up possible matches from different e-commerce platforms. Users can rely on filter to sort between local and international sellers and also in ascending or descending order of prices.
Another option was what was described earlier as ‘Find this for me’. If users are not satisfied with the search results, then they can rely on this option to reach out to the OliveTheory team, which will understand the requirement and try to source the product and get it made from scratch. Explaining this, Amit notes that their platform can identify and map about 4,00,000 products.
First impressions and sector overview
With a minimalistic feel, [this.] is a well-designed and executed app for people who have keen interest in home decor. Other users like me who think bean bags and foldout couches are ideal home furniture can also find something interesting and learn about home decor.
I tried snapping pictures of multiple products from bean bags and office chairs to sofas and couches in different lighting conditions. The app was able to find close matches in most cases, but results for low-light scenarios were sometimes off the mark. But on the whole, [this.] is a great attempt at a B2B2C visual search app.
Visual search is touted to be the next frontier in e-commerce. Players like Amazon and Flipkart are mainly looking to leverage the power of visual search in categories like fashion. The goal is to enable their machine learning algorithms to identify similar products based on different benchmarks, like patterns, theme and colour. Palo Alto-based Houzz is another player in the visual search space and it focuses on furniture. In September 2016, the startup had announced the launch of its visual recognition tool. In March 2017, Houzz founder Adi Tatarko had spoken to YourStory about Houzz’s India expansion plans.
Amazon’s Alexa and other assistants, on the other hand, are aiming to make e-commerce conversational. Are we slowly moving to a world of e-commerce which doesn’t rely on typing in a search bar but instead visual discovery of products in an online environment?