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*This article is a reprint of an article published in 31VENTURES on December 10, 2015.
ViSenze, a Singapore-based AI startup company attracting attention from retailers around the world, develops visual search and image recognition solutions based on technologies such as deep machine learning and computer vision, with a focus on retailers. The company has made headlines in Japan as well, where it was introduced by a major apparel manufacturer. It is expected to be an accelerator for the spread of visual commerce.
This time, the three interviewed at 31VENTURES coincided with the visit to Japan of ViSenze's co-founder and CEO, Oliver Tan. The three participating members were Oliver Tan, Toshifumi Nakata of Mitsui Fudosan's "&mall" Business Office, and Hiroshi Notoya of 31VRNTURES.
He spoke frankly about the connection between Mitsui Fudosan and ViSenze, the future that will be changed by the image analysis function, and the outlook for "&mall," where ViSenze is scheduled to be introduced.
Toshifumi Nakata / Senior Manager, &mall Business Office, Commercial Facilities Division, Mitsui Fudosan Co.
Hiroshi Notoya / Senior Manager, Business Group, Venture Co-Creation Division, Mitsui Fudosan Co.
ViSenze and Mitsui Fudosan, which actually have close ties
The Asian Entrepreneurship Award (AEA) is an innovation award that Mitsui Fudosan, together with the University of Tokyo's Industry-Academia Collaboration Promotion Division and others, has hosted since 2012. ViSenze actually won second place in the 2017 AEA.
Notoya of 31VENURES explains the significance of holding this award as follows.
Noh valleyThe Asia Pacific Innovation Awards are designed to create a new ecosystem of innovation in the Asia-Pacific region. Focusing on cutting-edge technology, the awards are not based in Silicon Valley, not based in Berlin, but in Asia. The awards have been held annually since 2012 with the hope that comprehensive support through industry-academia-government collaboration will attract young entrepreneurs to Kashiwa-no-ha (Kashiwa City, Chiba Prefecture) and provide an opportunity to advance their businesses.
After learning about AEA from the National University of Singapore community, Oliver entered AEA in 2017. At that time, he says, the timing was right for him to start looking specifically at expanding his business to Japan.
Oliver.I thought that AEA would have a large number of Japanese participants and audience, and I decided to enter. With this in mind, I decided to enter.
As of 2019, image search is gradually becoming more accessible, but two years ago it was even more veiled than it is now. winning a prize at AEA was an honor and of course I was happy, but more importantly, I felt it was significant to connect with Japanese companies that showed interest in early-stage technology, such as Mitsui Fudosan Co. I feel that it was even more significant to be able to connect with Japanese companies such as Mitsui Fudosan that are interested in early stage technology.
Noh valley: ViSenze started doing business with Japanese companies on the occasion of the AEA, and &mall was one of them. A short time after the awards, we posted a report about the awards on our internal portal and received an inquiry from the then manager of &mall and Mr. Nakata's team.
rice paddy field in the middle of a field: Since it coincided with the launch of &mall, we felt that a new initiative was needed to polish &mall's services. There are not many examples of major Japanese companies collaborating with overseas startups, but the &mall team had a hunch that "this is it! The &mall team had a gut feeling that this was it, and contacted the AEA representative to introduce ViSenze. That was the beginning of this project.
&mall" will soon introduce ViSenze.
A more sensory shopping experience
operated by Mitsui Fudosan, is an online store where users can purchase items from approximately 200 stores located in Lalaport, Lazona, Diver City, etc. Since its opening in November 2017, the number of users has been increasing, and with the 2019 renewal, ViSenze's image recognition technology. The new site will add image search to the previously text-only search method, and will display products similar to the one you are currently browsing across stores.
Mr. Nakata, who is in charge of building the renewal website in the&mall Business Office, stated the following about the aim of introducing ViSenze.
rice paddy field in the middle of a field: I believe that the image search technology provided by ViSenze has a role in eliminating the barriers between the experience of online shopping and real life. Mitsui Fudosan operates commercial facilities, so we have always thought about increasing the value of our visitors. However, we believe that ViSenze can provide a "realness" that has not been possible through e-commerce, and contribute to the self-realization of our customers.
Oliver.I think that "&mall" is an interesting concept: an e-commerce mall that is in symbiosis with real stores. Offering both offline and online services allows us to understand people's movements more clearly and to create interesting sales promotion plans, which increases the number of things we can do.
Thorough customer journey
Oliver points out that there is still much that service providers can improve on the current customer experience (CX) of online shopping.
Oliver.The structure of both the real and online shopping experience remains the same: consumers must search for products on their own. Millennials and younger are accustomed to "quick" experiences and will quickly leave if they don't find what they want.
To look at the Where, When, and How consumers choose. And it is important for service providers to give them choices of Where, When, and How. What is common regardless of the method, however, is to remember the premise of what is the experience that excites the consumer.
rice paddy field in the middle of a fieldAs you can see from Mr. Oliver's story, ViSenze is "customer-driven. While some startups end up being technology for technology's sake, ViSenze puts CX at the top of the list. I think that's why that service was created.
Noh valley: There is a question that I remember intensely from the AEA episode. The judge asked ViSenze, 'Do you plan to develop something for other industries, not just retail?' Oliver said 'no.' Oliver said, 'NO. Because the details of a product are very deep. Some navy is close to black, some is close to blue, and stripes vary in thickness and width. If we don't pursue this, the value of EC will not increase.
Oliver.: The consumer's mind is complex. Especially for women who have a wide variety of fashion items, one centimeter difference in high heel height is not the same thing. So attention to detail is very important.
Image Recognition Solutions Connect the World
Mr. Nakata of &mall has set another goal of partnering with ViSenze as "expanding our knowledge.
rice paddy field in the middle of a fieldI think it is still not common for major Japanese companies to partner with overseas startups. However, by partnering with a company that is expanding globally, you will be able to learn about live examples from overseas. What are the trends overseas, what are the issues, and what kind of UIUX is being accepted? I think a side benefit is that we can keep our antennae up to the world's trends.
Oliver.I think that Japanese companies and Japanese people have a language complex. On the other hand, images are "non-verbal. If you show an image of Mickey Mouse, everyone in the world knows it is Mickey Mouse. Using image recognition solutions, Japanese companies can expand their business opportunities, and consumers can broaden their experience.
Finally, Oliver mentioned what good technology is.
Oliver.Good technology is the one that has the impact to change the market. However, it is not something that can be achieved in one shot. It is a process of working together with customers and competitors to solve problems one by one.
Competitors are not the enemy. When it comes to market analysis, the existence of competition cannot be ignored, but the presence of competition is a good thing for society. Competition increases quality, and competition creates new technologies. And when competition starts, collaboration soon follows, and new innovations are born.
We appreciate the support of Mitsui Fudosan and 31VENTURES. The retail industry is very complex and consists of many elements, including supply chain and customer experience. No company can solve all of these problems on its own. Service is refined through collaboration and knowledge of other companies' case studies. In this respect, I have high expectations for 31VENURES' community management in the future, as this type of community can easily generate synergies with other companies.
Image recognition technology will make the world borderless. Innovation will be born not by keeping knowledge inside, but by getting it out and connecting with the outside world. The interview was full of thought-provoking stories, and we look forward to seeing the renewed &mall with ViSenze's features! （Nisibu Marie)
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