Artificial intelligence (AI) in retail is having a moment. Spurred by growth in automated merchandising, recommendation engines, and customer behavior tracking, spend with respect to AI-driven commerce services is expected to top $8 billion by 2024, research firm Global Market Insights reports. And according to the McKinsey Global Institute, said services will impact between 3.2 percent to 5.7 percent of global retail revenue.
Computer vision stands to disrupt the industry perhaps more than any other category, and you needn’t look further than ViSenze for evidence. The Singapore startup, which offers an image recognition platform that enables store customers to search for products by image instead of keyword, counts Urban Outfitters, Uniqlo, Zalora, Rakuten, and “major” original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) among its stable of customers, and says it’s linked over 400 million products from 800 merchants and brands on its global affiliate network.
After three years of steady growth (200 percent) that saw the number of users conducting searches with its products exceed 300 million (and search volume surpass three million queries a day), ViSenze is raising venture capital to further “develop [its] capabilities” and network and “[expand its] global reach,” according to CEO and cofounder Oliver Tan. The company today announced that it has raised $20 million in a series C round co-led by Gobi Partners and Sonae IM, with participation from “a number” of new investors including Tembusu ICT, 31Ventures Global Innovation Fund, and 1-800 Contacts CEO Jonathan Coon’s Impossible Ventures, as well as existing partner Rakuten. It follows on the heels of a $10.5 million series B raise in September 2016, and brings the company’s total raised to $34.5 million.
“Visuals have incredible power and influence over buying decisions; therefore, having visual search capabilities within mobile devices delivers a modern, smarter way to ensure discovery by consumers,” Tan said. “The partners participating in this funding round share our mission to simplify the way people search and discover products that inspire them.”
ViSenze — which was spun out from the National University of Singapore’s Next research center in 2012 — claims its infrastructure can index and process of “billions” of images, and generate search results in less than a second for newly uploaded product images (and less than 200 milliseconds for existing images). That scalability — along with computer vision models trained continuously to improve recognition accuracy — are the reason its customers see 50 percent higher click-through rates and up to 5 times higher conversion rates, ViSenze contends.
The company offers four distinct enterprise solutions: Search by Image, Shoppable UGC, View Similar Recommendations, and Shopping Assistant. With Search by Image, Shopping Assistant, and View Similar Recommendations, shoppers select or click on a photo and ViSenze’s API analyzes its contents, using data it gleans to identify — and serve up — visually similar products. Meanwhile, Shoppable UGC returns tag values describing recognized objects and items (“shoes,” “open heels,” “jeans”) even styles (“business minimalism,” “casual”) to add context to searches.
It’s a little like Google Lens, Google’s image analysis tool on Android, which recognizes over 1 billion objects in Google Shopping. In the same vein, Bixby Vision on Samsung’s flagship smartphones can spot clothing, shoes, movies, home decor, books, and other things and pull up similar products on Amazon, Lowe’s, Sam’s Club, Walmart, and Nordstrom.
The difference with ViSenze’s solutions, of course, is that they’re vendor-agnostic.
“The ecommerce markets across the world continue to expand and shoppers are becoming more mobile-centric. As ViSenze helps their clients to capture this group of consumers and adapt to their shopping behavior, the opportunity to scale its business significantly presents itself,” Dan Chong, managing director at Gobi Partners, said. “ViSenze has emerged as a leading innovator in the visual search and image recognition space, and we are confident that ViSenze will continue creating disruptive innovation to dominate this rapidly growing market.”
ViSenze has a workforce of over 80 employees spread across office in the U.S, South Korea, and Japan, it says — triple its headcount three years ago.