Riya Finds Business Model in Fashion

Photo recognition startup Riya has dramatically changed course, and is setting up shop today at Like.com as a visual search engine for jewelry, handbags, watches, and shoes. The land of women’s fashion is a bit of a leap for most any Silicon Valley company, but Riya does have the big advantage of jumping into a demographic that is not polluted by redundant tech startups pitching their wares.

Sure, there are lots of shopping search engines (some of whom we’ve written about lately), and an increasing number of them, such as ShopWiki and Become.com, do color search. What Riya is doing is using its photo recognition technology to help shoppers find products that are similar in ways that are harder to input or describe, such as the strappiness or heel of a sandal, or the pattern of a fabric.

For now, the way this works is users can page through pictures of celebrities (kept up to date through a deal with Getty Images), then zero in on a particular bracelet or handbag they like and find similar products for sale (from about 200 online merchants who have signed up for affiliate programs). Users can also input text descriptors like “flower pendant” or choose from categories to get a search going.

The cool parts of the implementation reveal themselves once you’ve started a search. You can refocus any query by selecting an item and dragging the cursor over the part of an image you really like. After you tell the search engine to focus in on either the color or shape of the swatch, it redoes the search to your liking. There are all the best-of-breed features from other vertical search engines — sliders, dynamic checkboxes for narrowing to certain brands and stores that come up in a search, and “breadcrumbs” done visually display using thumbnails to show your search path.

So how well does it work? Riya CEO Munjal Shah showed me a bunch of searches that worked really well, like strappy red high heels and a busily patterned bag, but when we got off-script with a shiny necklace, the results were much more unimpressive. Since the site went live tonight, I’ve had more trouble than I would expect finding a search that returns high enough quality of results to get a screenshot. I do think this is a cool idea but it’s not dazzlingly good yet. We also asked about matching accessories across outfits and inputting our own pictures as search queries — Shah assures us that these features, as well as social tools and expanded categories, are coming soon.

Shah admits that part of the allure of the new product is “the threshold of success is lower.” The claim is, shoppers don’t mind a slightly different handbag than the one Scarlett Johansson was carrying at that movie premiere last night; they find it interesting. With facial recognition, there’s no room for error. (Riya has left its facial recognition search engine at Riya.com, though it has been neglected in favor of the new product for the last eight months.) For those who want to dig a bit deeper, Shah, who is not a bad storyteller, has been chronicling his strategy shift in a series of posts on his own blog.