From a small office in Yokne’am, an Israeli start-up is supplying the technology for the largest-ever experiment in augmented reality (AR) technology to Shop Direct, the UK’s fourth largest retailer.
Using the company’s technology, Shop Direct has now digitized images of about 1,000 pieces of furniture. Using an app and a smartphone, customers can see exactly how the furniture would look in their living rooms or bedrooms without having to enter a showroom. Moreover, Cimagine said, Littlewoods.com shoppers can visualize these items in their homes from any angle or distance, at 10 times higher resolution than the industry standard.
The technology from Cimagine, said Jonathan Wall, e-commerce director at Shop Direct, is just one example of the win-win relationship the firm has with Israeli start-ups and with the tech scene in general here.
“Israel has been very helpful to us on both ends,” said Wall, “and we’ve learned a lot from Israel’s tech ecosystem and its start-ups about both business and new technology.”
The project, said Wall, is the world’s largest-ever experiment in AR-based retailing.
With sales of some £1.7 billion, Shop Direct deliver 50 million products every year to five million active customers through its brand including Littlewoods, Very.co.uk, ISME and K&Co. Now engaged almost solely in online retail, Shop Direct contends with the same issues all online sellers have to deal with, from getting customers to pay attention to its ads to encouraging customers to complete purchases to securing their personal and financial data.
Israel, Wall told The Times of Israel in an exclusive interview, has been an invaluable partner in all of those areas. One of its Israeli partners, MyThings, was able to leverage information Shop Direct had on customers to target them with the right offers online, especially on Facebook. According to MyThings, the campaign resulted in 2.5 times more first-time sales based on the Shop Direct data, among other positive results.
Speaking in Tel Aviv this week, Wall said he was planning to meet with no fewer than 15 start-ups this week, shopping for financial technology, big data algorithms, and security solutions, among other things.
“Fifteen is nothing,” said Wall. “Last time I was here a few months ago, I met with 25 companies.
“Obviously we are big enough to search for technology anywhere, and of course we have many contacts around the world, such as in Silicon Valley,” said Wall. “But we find that Israeli start-ups are much more interested in meeting our needs. In California, the start-ups are gearing their tech for the substantial local US market, but since there is no real market in Israel, the entrepreneurs here are much more conscious of the technology we are looking for.”
The AR tech supplied by Cimagine, is Shop Direct’s biggest find so far, said Wall.
“Furniture is a third of our business, but selling furniture is a long process, because there is a major commitment factor in each purchase,” said Wall. “Cimagine’s user-friendly and retailer-friendly technology makes it much easier for customers to visualize what they are purchasing, which leads to increased purchases… Their software as a service solution was easy to integrate and the team was open to accommodating our customers’ needs.”
Shop Direct works very closely with the UK-Israel Tech Hub, which was established three years ago to enhance tech ties between the two countries. Headquartered in the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Hub is the only government-sponsored tech connection program of any country to have a full-time presence in Israel.
“They are a great example of how business bridges are being built between our two countries, because they have a good sense of what tech is available and where to find it,” said Wall. “I realize that as a customer-facing company, we are more vulnerable than others to the political issues in this region because of our work with Israel. We obviously don’t take sides in the conflict, but even if we were to be targeted because of our work with Israel, I don’t think we would end our relationship with Israel. For us, the benefits far outweigh the risks.”