Alibaba introduces image matching service for clothes

The search service returns similar-looking clothing for sale on the group's e-commerce sites

Chinese shoppers can now upload photos of clothing to a new service launched this week from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group that finds matching styles sold online.

The Chinese name of the service is Tuxiang, but in English Alibaba is tentatively calling it "Imagine." The service is a way for users to buy the clothing they see in advertisements or in celebrity photos, said Alibaba spokeswoman Florence Shih.

"We were hoping to give customers another channel to look for products, especially if you have an idea of what you would like to find but don't know the keywords," she said.

The service is currently limited to apparel, shoes and bags. Once a picture is uploaded to the site, either from a computer or a web link to the image, users select the category of product they want to search for. The service then attempts to find the best product matches in the Taobao Mall and Taobao Marketplace, Alibaba's online e-commerce sites. The results appear as a breakdown of more than a dozen different products shown as images with price comparisons.

The new image service came after a third-party developer team won an Alibaba-sponsored competition in January 2010 to create applications. The team then worked in cooperation with Alibaba to develop the search service.

Although Alibaba is primarily known for its e-commerce activities, the company has been working to grab a share of China's search engine market. The domestic market is dominated by Baidu, which has a 75.8 percent share of the market, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. Analysts have said many of the searches done on Baidu are to buy products, which is traffic that Alibaba would like to attract in order to drive to its own sites.

In October, Alibaba launched a beta version of its eTao shopping search engine. While the site is designed to help users search for products, they can also search for general web pages. In June, eTao was made its own separate company under Alibaba.

Alibaba plans to keep the Tuxiang service as its own separate site for now.

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