Door-to-door sales is one of the most popular sales strategies in Japan. Salespeople visit a customer's home, promote new products, and help the customer select suitable products through face-to-face communication. We can regard this strategy as one of customer-relationship management (CRM) (Goldenberg 2002). CRM is not the product-oriented concept of "good products can be sold well" but the customer-oriented concept of "only products that a customer desires can be sold." The most important point of CRM is to maintain good customers, and the periodic communication door-to-door salespeople have with customers is an effective way for a company to do this. However, door-to-door sales volume is decreasing because of the many online shops from which one can get detailed product information without talking with salespeople.
The target users for our system are associated with cosmetics companies. Basically, cosmetics companies have failed to keep up with information technology (IT), so we designed a door-to-door sales-support system that helps salespeople by employing IT and AI technologies. This sales-support system is a CRM tool for door-to-door sales of cosmetics based on Skin-Expert, a skin-image grading system that provides analysis, diagnosis, and recommendations. Skin-Expert analyzes the current grade (quality) of a customer's skin from a picture of the skin. Several parameters are extracted by image processing, and the skin grading is done by rules generated through data mining from a baseline of grades given by human skin-care experts.
Communication with the Skin-Expert is through a cellular telephone with a camera, using e-mail software and a Web browser. This type of a cellular telephone is quite popular in Japan. Thus our system does not require that end users have any special hardware. Salespeople take a picture of the customer's skin using the camera in the telephone and send the picture by e-mail to our analysis system (figure 1). The skin-grading system analyzes the picture. The results are made available as a page in HTML format on a customer-accessible Web site. An e-mail is sent when the results are available, usually within minutes. Salespeople check the results by using a Web browser on their cellular telephones. The output provides not only a grading result but also recommendations for the care and cosmetics that are most suitable for the customer.
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Our system integrates Web technology, computer analysis, data mining, and an expert system. Although salespeople use only a cellular telephone with very little computing power as the front end, they can take advantage of intelligent services such as computer grading and data mining. The salespeople do not need to think about what is running in the background.
This service is provided through WisdomTex, Inc. (www.wisdomtex.com), a venture company from Tokyo University of Science that provides data-mining services. At the time of this writing, Skin-Expert has been deployed within seven cosmetics companies. In our business model, we intend to charge a minimum rate to make the service affordable for part-time salespeople; we charge only ten dollars a month. This business model makes sense because the largest cosmetics company has more than one hundred thousand door-to-door salespeople, and overall there are about one million such salespeople in Japan.
We have organized this article as follows: the next section provides an outline of our Skin-Expert; the third section explains the skin-image processing of our Skin-Expert; the fourth section describes the data mining used to create the skin grading; the fifth section introduces the expert system that constructs advice about cosmetics suitable for a customer; the sixth section shows the performance of our Skin-Expert; and the final section contains our conclusions.
Skin grading from skin images is common in most cosmetics companies in Japan. …