All posts in “e-commerce”

Amazon to sell Apple TV, Google Chromecast after two-year ban

Amazon will soon sell Apple TV devices.
Amazon will soon sell Apple TV devices.

Image: karissa bell/mashable

Congrats, Apple and Google. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is ready to play nice, in a way. 

Amazon will begin selling Apple TV and Google Chromecast devices after a two-year ban on the e-commerce giant, CNET reported Thursday. Those products compete with Amazon’s own streaming services via Fire TV devices.

“I can confirm that we are assorting Apple TV and Chromecast,” an Amazon spokesperson told Mashable in an emailed statement previously shared with CNET. 

The Apple and Google devices aren’t currently available on Amazon, but CNET spotted product listing pages for three versions of the Apple TV and two Chromecast options. 

The move could be an olive branch from Amazon to the tech giants as they fight over content offerings on their competitive devices. 

It’s been a long and complicated war. Amazon had removed Apple TV and Google Chromecast from the site in late 2015. At the time, the company argued that its customers “would be confused and frustrated” if they purchases devices that did not offer a way to stream content from Amazon Prime Video, The Verge noted

In September, Google removed YouTube off Amazon’s Echo Show devices and later did the same for Fire TV. 

Meanwhile, Amazon has still not made its Prime Video app Google Cast-compatible so it would be available on Google Chromecast. It did, however, recently release the app on Apple TV

Beyond these fights, tech giants now have another battle to juggle together. Also on Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to kill net neutrality. That means internet providers can now charge companies and consumers for faster internet access.

So, good luck everyone. 

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Lily raises $2M from NEA and others for a personal stylist service that considers feelings, not just fit


One of the reasons recently IPO’d Stitch Fix became so popular among female shoppers is because of how it pairs the convenience of home try-on for clothing and accessories with a personal styling service that adapts to your tastes over time. But often, personal stylists bring their own subjective takes on fashion to their customers. A new startup called Lily aims to offer a more personalized service that takes into account not just what’s on trend or what looks good, but also how women feel about their bodies and how the right clothing can impact those perceptions.

The company has now closed on $2 million in seed funding from NEA and other investors to further develop its technology, which today involves an iOS application, web app and API platform that retailers can integrate with their own catalogs and digital storefronts.

To better understand a woman’s personal preferences around fashion, Lily uses a combination of algorithms and machine learning techniques to recommend clothing that fits, flatters and makes a woman feel good.

At the start, Lily asks the user a few basic questions about body type and style preferences, but it also asks women how perceive their body.

For example, if Lily asks about bra size, it wouldn’t just ask for the size a woman wears, but also how they think of this body part.

“I’m well-endowed,” a woman might respond, even if she’s only a full B or smaller C – which is not necessarily the reality. This sort of response helps to teach Lily about how the woman thinks of her body and its various parts, to help it craft its recommendations. That same woman may want to minimize her chest, or she may like to show off her cleavage, she may say.

But as she shops Lily’s recommendations in this area, the service learns what sorts of items the woman actually chooses and then adapts accordingly.

This focus on understanding women’s feelings about clothing is something that sets Lily apart.

“Women are looking for clothes to spotlight the parts of their body they feel most comfortable with and hide the ones that make them feel insecure,” explains Lily co-founder and CEO, Purva Gupta. “A customer makes a decision because based on whether a specific cut will hide her belly or downplay a feature they don’t like. Yet stores do nothing to guide women toward these preferences or take the time to understand the reasons behind their selections,” she says.

Gupta came up with the idea for Lily after moving to New York from India, where she felt overwhelmed by the foreign shopping culture. She was surrounded by so much choice, but didn’t know how to find the clothing that would fit her well, or those items that would make her feel good when wearing them.

She wondered if her intimidation was something American women – not just immigrants like herself – also felt. For a year, Gupta interviewed others, asking them one question: what prompted them to buy the last item of clothing they purchased, either online or offline? She learned that those choices were often prompted by emotions.

Being able to create a service that could match up the right clothing based on those feelings was a huge challenge, however.

“I knew that this was a very hard problem, and this was a technology problem,” says Gupta. “There’s only one way to solve this at scale – to use technology, especially artificial intelligence, deep learning and machine learning. That’s going to help me do this at scale at any store.”

To train Lily’s algorithms, the company spent two-and-half years building out its collection of 50 million plus data points and analyzing over a million product recommendations for users. The end result is that an individual item of clothing may have over 1,000 attributes assigned to it, which is then used to match up with the thousands of attributes associated with the user in question.

“This level of detail is not available anywhere,” notes Gupta.

In Lily’s app, which works as something of a demo of the technology at hand, users can shop recommendations from 60 stores, ranging from Forever 21 to Nordstrom, in terms of price. (Lily today makes affiliate revenue from sales).

In addition, the company is now beginning to pilot its technology with a handful of retailers on their own sites – details it plans to announce in a few months’ time. This will allow shoppers to get unique, personalized recommendations online that could also be translated to the offline store in the form of reserved items awaiting you when you’re out shopping.

Though it’s early days for Lily, its hypothesis is proving correct, says Gupta.

“We’ve seen between 10x to 20x conversion rates,” she claims. “That’s what’s very exciting and promising, and why these big retailers are talking to us.”

The pilots tests are paid, but the pricing details for Lily’s service for retailers are not yet set in stone so the company declined to speak about them.

The startup was also co-founded by CTO Sowmiya Chocka Narayanan, previously of Box and Pocket Gems. It’s is now a team of 16 full-time in Palo Alto.

In addition to NEA, other backers include Global Founders Capital, Triplepoint Capital, Think + Ventures, Varsha Rao (Ex-COO of Airbnb, COO of Clover Health), Geoff Donaker (Ex-COO of Yelp), Jed Nachman(COO, Yelp), Unshackled Ventures and others.

Syte.ai’s new API makes visual search accessible to more online fashion retailers


Earlier this year, Syte.ai, which develops visual search technology for fashion brands, raised $8 million from investors including top Asian tech firms NHN, Line Corp. and Naver. Now it’s unveiling a new API that makes adding visual search accessible to more e-commerce sites.

Called Visual Search for All, the white-label feature can be integrated into retail websites or apps within 24 hours and lets shoppers upload photos saved on their phones, like screenshots from Instagram, to find similar products for sale. It is based on the same technology as Syte.ai’s search tools for large fashion brands and publishers, which shows shoppers relevant items when they hover a cursor over part of an image (some of Syte.ai’s clients include Marks & Spencer and Kohl’s).

Syte.ai co-founder and chief marketing officer Lihi Pinto Fryman says once it indexes a brand’s product feed, Visual Search for All can be added to a site’s search bar in less than a day by adding a line of HTML. Clients pay a monthly license fee based on the number of image-matches likely to be used.

In comparison, other visual search tools can take weeks or months to implement and train to work with a brand’s product feed, says Fryman, and are often unaffordable for Syte.ai’s target customers, including smaller retailers that sell to millennials and teenagers.

Facebook Messenger and Line users can try out Syte.ai’s technology by sending images to its chat bot, Syte Inspire.

Target launches its own mobile payments system with debut of ‘Wallet’


As promised earlier, Target today launched its own mobile payments system with the introduction of “Wallet” in the Target app. Wallet, as the name implies, allows Target shoppers in-store to both check out using their smartphone as well as take advantage of their Cartwheel digital coupons and discounts with only one scan of their barcode.

Already, Cartwheel savings in Target’s app had worked like this – that is, after adding the discounts on selected products to your Target account using the Cartwheel feature, shoppers could present a barcode to be scanned at the point-of-sale to take advantage of the savings. The only difference between that and today, is that shoppers can now also choose to pay using their Target REDcard at the same time.

Target’s REDcard is available as both a debit card that links to customers’ bank accounts and a store credit card, and offers 5 percent back on purchases to encourage its use.

According to the retailer, the advantage for consumers is faster checkout – up to four times faster than “other payment types” it says, a jab at traditional payment methods like chip-and-PIN cards, for example, which are notoriously slow. (Of course, the retailer benefits, too, by pushing users to REDcard where it saves on credit card processing fees.)

In the near future, Target Wallet will also support the ability to add and pay with Target GiftCards as well, the retailer says.

Target isn’t the only major brick-and-mortar retailer with its own payments system. Walmart previously launched Walmart Pay; CVS has CVS Pay; and Kohl’s has Kohl’s Pay, for example. (Perhaps we should give Target credit for not naming its solution Target Pay.)

In addition to saving the company money by shifting consumers to store cards, in-house mobile payment solutions give retailers access to the consumer data they would have otherwise given up, had the shopper checked out with a mobile payment solution like Apple Pay, where that data is not shared.

“Wallet in the Target app makes checkout easier and faster than ever,” said Mike McNamara, Target’s chief information and digital officer, in a statement about Wallet’s launch. “Guests are going to love the convenience of having payment, Cartwheel offers, Weekly Ad coupons and GiftCards all in one place with Wallet.”

The new Wallet feature is available on both Android and iOS versions of the Target app.

Amazon brings Echo and Alexa to Canada


Amazon has finally brought its line of Alexa-powered Echo speakers to Canada. The release of Echo hardware has been long awaited by America’s northern neighbor, which could only watch and wait as Echo went through two generations in the U.S.

Echo Dot, the second generation Echo and the Echo Plus with integrated smart home hub are all on sale in Canada as of today, compete with full Alexa voice assistant support. The Dot is $49.99 for a limited time (regular $69.99), the Echo is $99.99 (normally $129.99) and the Plus is $169.99 ($199.99 normally).

The launch also comes alongside amazon opening a dedicated smart home devices store in Canada, and offering access to Amazon Prime Music for Canadians, with over 1 million songs available to stream free for Prime members.

A lot of Canadians are already using Alexa and Echo, having procured them from US retailers or third parties who will ship across the border, but this has always involved workarounds like having a US Amazon account. Echo finally being available to Canadians officially is a big step, and is likely to strike a chord with customers. Google Home launched in the market earlier this year, too, so now consumers have some variety in their smart home speaker options.

Devices are on sale now, but will start to ship at the beginning of December