Fashion recognition apps and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

This week, Macy’s updated its mobile app to include visual search – commonly referred to as “Shazam for x” – with the help of UK visual search company, Cortexica. Last month, Neiman Marcus partnered with Slyce to launch a visual search and shopping app for shoes and handbags: Snap. Find. Shop. The fact that big retailers are getting in on the visual search game through fashion recognitions apps is significant. Instead of relying on websites such as Pinterest and Shopstyle to drive traffic and ultimately sales, these retailers are finally recognizing the potential for revenues via fashion discovery via visual search.

In reality though, just how far along is visual search? Back in 2010, Google (yes, Google!) launched the now shuttered Boutiques.com to experiment with discovery and visual search. I used it a few times and was excited with the potential. I remember though that some of the links would lead to “404” errors or sold-out merchandise. Furthermore, the find-similar-items feature did not exactly yield relevant results. And this is Google we’re talking about. Since then, I have not looked that much into visual search. Fast-forward to today and it is still a work in progress though a lot more money has been spent in the space. The idea is that eventually, you can snap a picture of an item that you like on someone (a little creepy, yes, but apparently this happens) and immediately search for a similar item online and buy it. But that is still very much in the future. You can read a great write up on the current state of visual search here.

Meanwhile, on November 12, 2014, the European Space Agency managed to land Rosetta’s Philae lander module on a comet, Comet 67P – there’s perspective for you. We can use technology to land objects in outer space but replicating human vision with algorithms is still sort of a moonshot.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. Google: raises A.M. Turing award, the Nobel prize for computing, to $1M; launches Youtube’s new streaming music service, Music Key beta for $7.99/month, price includes subscription to Google Play Music; invests in socially responsible e-commerce, VIDA through Google Ventures in a round valued at $1.3M
  2. Apple: finally allows for easy de-registration of iMessage but too late for a lawsuit; releases new wireless version Beats by Dre Solo2 headphones for $300; in talks with Alibaba for a potential payment alliance for Chinese market
  3. Hiring and firing: Reddit CEO, Yishan Wong, suddenly quits over office space disagreement with board; Uber hires Google’s former head of same-day delivery service
  4. Acquisitions: Microsoft to acquire Israeli cloud security startup Aorato for around $200M; Yahoo to acquire video ad company BrightRoll for $640M in cash
  5. Tencent: Q3 revenues disappoint at 4% below estimates; launches online voice call app; and reaches a distribution agreement deal with Warner Music for mainland China

In retail:

  1. Alibaba Group reaches record-breaking sales of $9.3B during Singles’ day, China’s equivalent to the US’ Cyber Monday/Black Friday
  2. Amazon and Hachette finally ends dispute over e-book pricing, reaches multiyear agreement which will allow Hachette to set consumer prices on its e-books
  3. Macy’s: Q3 sales drop by 1.4% compared to Q3 2013 while earnings rose to 61 cents, up from 14 cents last year; enters same-day delivery wars in time for holiday shopping
  4. Other earnings this week: Burberry reports 12% drop in first half profits, blames currency movements and difficult luxury environment; JC Penney sales fall in Q3, reports loss of 62 cents a share; and Salvatore Ferragamo Q4 earnings and revenues meet estimates, core profits up by 6%
  5. Gap‘s Banana Republic and new creative director Marissa Webb (formerly of J. Crew) finally unveil #TheNewBr with the Summer 2015 collection
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