MADRID -- You're going from bar to bar having cañas and tapas on a Sunday afternoon, and you spot the cutest purse on the girl across the cafeteria. You stop and ask her where she got it, but it was a gift and she doesn't know. You ask if you can snap a photo. You attempt the next day a nearly-impossible, wordy Googling of the rectangular bag, draped in bottle caps, covered in fruit, but to no avail.
This was the lightbulb moment for software designer and defense ministry developer Sira Pérez de la Coba, when she imagined her extreme search engine Shot&Shop. This quirky bag became the creative inspiration behind turning homeland security face and object recognition software into a shopper's dream.
Pérez's objective soon became "to make a search engine that helps you in the situation," whether you're passing a store window running late to work or you're searching for the perfect gift for your more-than-challenging Spanish mother-in-law or just shoes to match those bridesmaid dresses. The Shot&Shop website could be used every day by the avid or picky shopper. Imagine when you finally find that something you were searching for, but its origins -- whether on a celebrity in a fanzine or a chica on the metro -- are unknown, or the store's out of your size, or "Oh this, I bought it in New York two years ago."
In the moment, you snap a picture of something on a camera to upload later or on a cell, to search for now or later. The Shot&Shop website automatically brings up a listing of the various stores selling that product on those that are "visually similar," from that angle, with prices. "The limit is where your eyes can see," Pérez says. Eventually, the technology will even become Perez Hilton's dream, as it will capture snapshots in videos.
Pérez explains that visual similarities can lead to cross-product filtering. First, in the current beta form, images will be filtered by shape, color and texture. Eventually, it will filter material, like the unusual bottle cap purse. "The technology is ready to be prepared to do this," Pérez says. "Technology designed as a service."
The search engine is only the first step. Next will be the creation of a client-modified wish-list with suggestions. It resembles for fashion what Pandora has done for music. "With business intelligence, we are learning from the users their preferences," Pérez says that they can then "provide suggestions."
Spain is only just at the cusp of the e-commerce world. The number one smartphone-using country in Europe is as active as any in buying tickets and planning trips online, but larger companies have only started to sell goods and products online within the last year or two. While El Corte Ingles, Inditex and other Spanish giants have opened their virtual shops' doors, smaller businesses simply haven't had the time, know-how or money to set up e-shop. It also doesn't make shopping easier that most of Madrid is still closed on Sundays, compounded with a smaller focus on service, leading to often intimidating lines winding round the stores.
Shot&Shop will also gather data for these retailers. It provides potential cross-brand selling for shops local or large, with a first focus within the Iberian Peninsula. The customers get the clothing options they desire, with price and style comparison, while the stores and clothing brands collect data of what their customers are looking for, along with geo-location tracking.
Pérez and her all tech-savvy team are looking to create shopping without borders, but they are not interested in taking away the human component. "Of course we believe it's an offline tool," she says. Customers still should "go to a shop to try it because you have to get a feeling" for the fit and look. While Cher on Clueless had a high-tech closet, Pérez doesn't think there can ever be a technology that can simulate the true instinct felt in a dressing room. "We don't pretend to avoid the offline," she says. They just want "to provide the best experience (alongside) social shopping."
For the last year, Pérez has turned her public defense work into her own brand Visiza, which creates turn-key, photo-recognition projects for the security and now retail industries. Shot&Shop has joined the third class of Wayra, Telefonica's tech and communications brain incubator located in the Gatsby-esque headquarters on Gran Via. At the end of their six months of free office space, funding, and mentors, Telefonica has first dibs on buying the start-ups. It will be no surprise when Shot&Shop and its revolutionary, patent-pending technology is the first the telecom giant will rush to buy.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com