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Investments in Visual Search Heat Up as Donde Raises $6.5M, Facebook Acquires Startup

Text is over—at least that’s what visual search startups are hoping.

From emojis to GIFs, visual elements are how people communicate these days, but more than that people increasingly seek out the best tools for any particular task. Shazam and Soundhound, for instance, show that people want search options specific to the medium—i.e., tracking down popular songs based on an audio clip of that music in lieu of typing oft-unintelligible lyrics into a search engine.

Translate that approach to fashion. People need a better way to speak the “language” of fashion. Do shoppers even know how to describe many of the technical and design elements that go in a garment? Visual search offers relatable tools for discovering on-target products. Someone who might not be able to tell you the difference between a scoop neck and ballet neckline can certainly pick out from a picture or graphic the option she likes best.

Months after Spanish startup Donde integrated its visual search software with fast-fashion chain Forever 21, it’s now secured $6.5 million to help more e-commerce companies make the leap into a visual-first approach. Donde says its technology helps retailers add a wealth of structured data to their e-commerce catalogue photos, improving the automated recommendations a presented to each customer based on her attribute preferences and interests.

Visual search enables “merchants to think like their customers,” Donde founder and CEO Lia Zakay said in a statement announcing the funding news.

Matrix Partners led Donde’s Series A funding round, which drew participation from previous investors including senior executives from AliExpress, Google, Mobileye and Waze.

Just last week Facebook acquired the startup whose artificial intelligence-based visual search technology powers the IKEA app. GrokStyle was based on the premise of helping people turn their everyday inspiration—seeing real-world items they like—into action by snapping a photo that returns a list of similar-looking products available for sale. A GrokStyle YouTube video described text-based search as an “obstacle” to finding and buying the right products, much as how Donde notes the “frustration” of searching for highly visual items using words.

The most obvious use for GrokStyle would be in improving Facebook’s Marketplace functionality, giving users better options to locate products that fit with their style and needs.