Launch of Aisle 3 to revolutionize e-commerce and product search experience

“Shopping is broken,” according to UK-based e-commerce start-up Aisle 3 – and the company’s panacea is a streamlined solution that aims to condense and refine reading into a vastly improved consumer experience.

E-commerce entrepreneur Thomas J. Vosper, co-founder and CEO of Aisle 3, spent 15 years in e-commerce roles at Amazon, Tesco and Lastminute.com. After researching the ins and outs of e-commerce — and its many snags and stumbling blocks — Vosper and his co-founder said they refuse to accept this “broken shopping experience.”

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“We started the business as founders for the first time at 40, at the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK,” Vosper told WWD. “I took out a personal loan to start the business and try to prove an innovative approach that was all about making shopping cheaper, faster, easier and more joyful.”

Starting with shoes, Aisle 3 tackles the pain points of product search with its proprietary technology that involves machine learning and AI to weed out products consumers don’t want and help accurately fill the gaps. desired products with ease.

Here, Vosper talks to WWD about the back-end technology behind its solution and plans for partnerships, expansion and development in the tech start-up space.

WWD: What was the genesis of Aisle 3 and how does it simplify the online shopping experience?

Thomas J. Vosper: Shoppers seem to have become desensitized to the fact that what you see is what search engines want to show you and marketplaces are now populated with promoted ads and own brand products. At Aisle 3, we’re passionate about removing the need to open another tab or app to make purchases. We can’t remember the last time a startup came out with something so powerful to contribute.

It’s simple to book flights, book hotels and order complex services like insurance or energy, but I’ve grown increasingly frustrated that online shopping is forcing us all to open a myriad of tabs at a bunch of retailers just to find a pair of sneakers that fit right. Many of us now spend so much more time in front of our screens and it’s just exhausting to see how long it takes to wade through ads and broken links to shop online – and that’s before that we think how hard it is for exciting new brands. and retailers to be found online.

In less than 18 months, we have built a fully remote business, across the planet, established a business in India and assembled an expert team backed by investors involved in some of the biggest names such as Snap, Amazon, Money Supermarket and Wrestling. It’s a journey I had the privilege of sharing at a TEDx event at the University of Oxford in the summer of 2020.

WWD: Tell us about Aisle 3’s unique back-end technology that streamlines product research. Why is this solution differentiated in the market?

TJV: Many price comparison sites and discovery platforms have tried unsuccessfully to create a destination that shows shoppers the best deals, stock availability, delivery availability, and more. However, the common source of failure is not the platforms trying, but the relatively low level of data, which leads to poor quality aggregation. This data can usually only be obtained from poorly maintained product feeds or by creepy retailers whose web page structures change frequently and are not standardized.

This results in datasets with no common product identifiers or codes, so even the most powerful and sophisticated ML models are at the mercy of “garbage in garbage”, which means that what is displayed to buyers is often inaccurate or incomplete and insufficient to instill confidence to buy. That’s why we all end up opening that extra tab to check out another site.

Our biggest challenge was to automatically identify the same product across retailers and unstructured datasets without the need to match offers using product IDs or barcode numbers.

We focused the activity on the technical solution before going to market because we knew the very big companies were nowhere near solving this problem and, although we were comfortable with our own money, we didn’t want to engage with investors until we knew we had technology that even the big tech companies hadn’t created (which is why we’ve already been approached six times for acquisitions ).

Initially, we built a set of unsupervised deep learning models to identify and assign each product a unique “Aisle 3 code”, which creates a single view across multiple retailers and sources. The result is the creation of a time machine that cuts shoppers’ hours of research into one simple 30-second product search.

Now is a super exciting time as we can access huge sets of training data; open source software developed by the biggest companies and falling processing costs that would have required millions of dollars of investment and data centers as tall as skyscrapers just a few years ago.

We employ approximately 15 people across the world and have a subsidiary based in Ahmedabad, India. The team includes PhDs with expertise in AI, ML and mathematics. In addition to over €1 million in private investment, we were fortunate to have received funding from the UK government to continue our research and take on the big tech companies from our humble beginnings in the UK.

Thomas J. Vosper, co-founder and CEO of Aisle 3.

Thomas J. Vosper, co-founder and CEO of Aisle 3.

WWD: Why is footwear the #1 retail category for Aisle 3? Are there any expansion plans?

TJV: Tackling the shoes was a huge technical challenge and it’s a hugely exciting category. As marketers, we all know the frustration of having to scour the internet, scroll through endless advertisements or broken text links leading you to poor search results on random websites. While price is important to many shoppers, product volume and variations outside of size, brand, collection and color make it very difficult to simply discover and inspire a new brand. or simply the latest trends in running shoes.

We knew it wasn’t just important to tackle deal aggregation for bargain-hungry shoppers, so we focused on presenting all the information so shoppers could make an informed decision. , such as delivery speed, proximity for local pickup, or retailer preference. This is extremely difficult, as it involves recognizing and standardizing rich product information from multiple sources.

Sneakers are visually stimulating, and brands are usually at the forefront of innovation, like Nike’s dive into the metaverse. We are truly excited to be able to transform the mish-mash of data on the internet into a rich, exciting, and customer-focused view that best represents the products that brands and retailers care deeply about.

Over time, we look forward to expanding into the US with the right business and investment partners and exploring categories with different technical data challenges (like electronics) where we all share frustrations trying find the best specs and price for a TV or laptop.

WWD: How has the pandemic changed the way consumers shop? What trends/behaviors have emerged in retail?

TJV: We spend more and more time in front of our screens; meetings are virtual with hours of Zoom calls; content is consumed digitally with the likes of TikTok even surpassing Google usage, and online shopping has catapulted 10 years into the future.

We sincerely believe that we tap into the consumer zeitgeist by matching what’s on people’s minds and helping to shape a new business future. Despite the online boom, much of this is focused on the biggest markets on the planet and the business opportunity lies with large publicly traded companies that generate most of their revenue through advertising models.

Amazon’s advertising business is now bigger than Snap, Twitter and Pinterest. We have seen change over the past few years (enhanced due to the acceleration of e-commerce during COVID-19) where incumbents are focusing on convenience/logistics; payment transactions and advertising budgets. At Aisle 3, we care about the buyer before the “Buy Button”.

WWD: What’s next for Aisle 3?

TJV: It was exciting to be in New York for NRF’s “Big Show” and unveiling Aisle 3 to investors and independent retailers. If I weren’t from London, I’d say it’s the best city in the world!

Although we recently closed over $1.3 million in financing, we want to find the right business and investment partners to help boost the business. Our site is in final development and will launch with the UK’s largest selection of trainers in a few weeks. With the right partners, we are confident to scale the business and launch in the United States within the next two months.

From a technical perspective, we are looking to expand our product matching technology where products are almost indistinguishable (iPhone 11 vs. iPhone 12) based on image and metadata, which is a huge challenge technical in itself.

Of course, there is a lot of buzz around Web 3.0 and NFTs and we are already taking advantage of the latest features to develop smart contracts, related to purchases, that provide authenticated proof of ownership.

We just closed our latest investment backed by angels like Snap, Money Supermarket and Catch, we are exploring the right partner to boost the opportunity to eliminate shopper frustrations and create a shopping destination that matches brands and retailers to reduce friction and inspire confidence in shoppers like you and me.

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