We Tried Zappos' New Personal Shopping Service

Zappos sort of found me a Mansur Gavriel bag. It just took a while.
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Dhani Mau
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Zappos sort of found me a Mansur Gavriel bag. It just took a while.
Photo: Zappos

Photo: Zappos

Have you ever seen something worn in a photograph or on the street that you instantly needed to have, but had no idea how to find it? Now, there are a slew of new services willing to do that research for you, so long as you have a photo of the item.

The latest is Ask Zappos: The online retailer promises to find any item you're looking for, even if it's not actually sold by Zappos. All you need to do is send in a photo through the Ask Zappos site (on desktop or mobile), or by email, text message or Instagram (by tagging a photo #askzappos).

A few apps offer a similar service: Kate Bosworth's StyleThief uses image recognition technology to find items, ASAP54 uses a combination of image recognition and an in-house team of searchers, while Wheretoget and The Hunt use crowdsourcing to find items.

So does Ask Zappos work? Um, sort of.

I "asked Zappos" through a few different channels: I uploaded a photo of a Mansur Gavriel bucket bag to its website, text messaged a photo of a pair of (my own) Superga sneakers, and had a friend email in a photo of Miranda Kerr, calling attention to the leopard print mules she was wearing.

Photo: Instagarm

Photo: Instagarm

To avoid misleading my Instagram followers/shamelessly promoting Zappos to them, I did not personally try it on Instagram, but I searched the image platform to find people who had. It appeared that everyone who had posted an image of a legitimate accessory or clothing item with the appropriate hashtag received a response (see left).

As for my own accessory inquiries, I did get responses to all of them ... though not within the 24-hour timeframe Zappos had promised. I sent my requests in at 1 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, and didn't hear back until 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Each of the emails included a link to the Zappos site with a nicely presented photo and links to the items I was looking for and/or an assortment of similar items, including a few from sites other than Zappos. Interestingly, Zappos is getting a commission on at least some of the external items it suggests. A link to Warby Parker went through affiliate revenue company Shareasale before landing on the eyewear brand's site. 

My results were mixed: All of my inquiries were answered by a girl named Nicole, who had a nice, friendly tone despite being implausibly slow. She impressively found a place where I could pre-order a Mansur Gavriel bag (Barney's) and found the bag available from resale site Avenue K. She also found Miranda Kerr's Miu Miu heels. She could not, however, find my Superga sneakers, or any Superga sneakers, even though they, um, sell the exact same ones at Zappos.

Screenshot 2014-08-01 09.20.05.png

So, there are some bugs and delays – but as a human-powered service, we have to allow for human errors. By comparison, StyleThief gets you results immediately through its image recognition technology, but it, too, is not always accurate and at the moment you can't search accessories.

Ask Zappos promises it will soon be better, though. The company said it's planning to add image recognition technology, in addition to building a larger team of "stylists," if the service takes off.