The undeniable growth of e-commerce has allowed us to buy just about everything online including glasses. However, online sales of eyewear in China, a country with people obsessed with online purchases, stood at only 6 billion RMB in 2015. This figure represents around just 9% of the annual RMB 67 billion transaction volume.
Although online retailers can offer a better selection and lower prices, their weak points are also obvious when compared with brick-and-mortar stores. The lack of try-on experiences for customers to actually touch and feel the eyeglasses prevents the spread of online eyewear sales, but instead promotes the sales of Pure Optical contact lenses which are much more convenient than the traditional glasses.
Topplus, a Chengdu-based computer vision startup, aims to solve this problem. The company’s TopGlasses is an SDK that helps merchants to add try-on experiences to their e-commerce platforms or mobile apps.
With the Dynamic SDK of TopGlasses, the camera gathers real-time head images of users and puts virtual glasses on their face. Users can adjust their head poses as they want and observe the results from different angles.
People with myopia who can’t see the real-time images clearly without their glasses can use TopGlasses’ prerecord SDK. By scanning user’s face as they turning their head right and left horizontally, it takes the SDK just a few seconds to create a realistic model of your face.
Although Topplus’s products largely solve the problem of how eyewear fits the user, the company’s COO Wang Yang believes they are tapping the most important aspect of online glasses sales.
“Compared with acquiring new users, which is a more costly way of driving business, maintaining repeat purchase from old customers is a more stable source for merchants to keep long-term and sustainable cash flow,” Wang said. “For returning buyers who already have an understanding of their optometry status and brand, price, after-sales services of the glasses, the problem of how the frame fits the wearers in appearance becomes the sole determinant of online purchasing behavior.”
Wang borrows a concept from Huawei to illustrate Topplus’ business model: “We adopt a customer-centric approach to solving the problems for our clients, so it’s quite flexible when it comes to the actual form we are taking as long as it can serve that function.”
Currently, there are two monetization models for Topplus’ virtual try-on services. Clients with abilities to develop and build 3D frames are charged a license fee. For eyewear manufacturers or brands who don’t want to engage in app development, Topplus can tailor apps to include their technology.
Founded in February 2015, the company’s founder and CEO, Xu Yidan, has more than ten years of experience in computer vision, augmented reality, and photogrammetry. The core team mainly consists of former employees from world’s top companies like Intel, Huawei, and Lenovo.
The company’s virtual try-on SDK is just a starting point. Its tracking and image stabilization system TopUav have been adopted by Chinese hovering drone developer Dobby.
Wang noted that many markets where computer vision is applicable could be revolutionized in the coming years from robots, security, smart city and more. He also admitted that virtual try-on is just one very small application scenario of their technologies: “Aside from technological risks, market risk is another major challenge laying ahead for startups.”
To lower this risk, Topplus launched their face-recognition SDK VOOME this February. Any enterprise or individual developers could use the free SDK for face detection, tracking, face landmark location, and face estimation.
“VOOME provides a set of testified data. By opening this valuable data to the public, we could involve more people to the initiative in an effort to explore application possibilities of the new technology,” said Wang.
The two-year-old startup has raised an angel round and an undisclosed amount of pre-A financing. For now, they are focusing on the Chinese market after first acquiring clients like Kede.com, a leading eyewear e-commerce marketplace in China, and designer glasses brand Tapole.
Image courtesy of Topplus