In an era driven by social culture, customers are becoming increasingly reliant on images – and the power of imagery has not been ignored by retailers.
The rise of visual search technology allows retailers to adapt to this trend and help re-establish consumer loyalty through enhanced customer experience and ease.
Visual search technology lets users find the products they want based on uploaded images that return similarly styled products more accurately than a traditional text-based search.
Given the plethora of digital innovations now available, like augmented reality, virtual reality and AI-driven chatbots, it’s easy to get lost in the hype.
The struggle for retailers is to understand what best suits their ecommerce offer and target customer.
Online navigation lies at the forefront of the customer experience. It is the first step taken by shoppers when interacting with a retailer, with many customers jumping from retailer to retailer if their online search functionalities don’t manifest ease.
Therefore, visual search technology has the potential to shape initial impressions, which will have a lasting effect on consumer loyalty.
In connection with visual search, the omnipresence of smartphones lets shoppers share images and track down products instantly – whether that’s through screenshots of products on Instagram or personal photos of sought-after products in the physical world.
“By taking advantage of these developments, and increased interaction on social media, retailers with a strong mobile offering can create lucrative opportunities”
Social media sites themselves are increasingly utilising the technology. Pinterest offers a ‘Shop the Look’ feature and Facebook users can shop with mode.ai, an AI-powered chatbot accessible on Facebook Messenger.
By taking advantage of these developments, and increased interaction on social media, retailers with a strong mobile offering can create lucrative opportunities.
Leading the pack is Asos, which launched a visual search tool through its app in mid-2017, while also offering a ‘screenshot and share’ function to motivate customers to share its products on social media.
Similarly, eBay’s Find It feature allows users to share images from social media to generate related listings.
Home design market
Visual search in the furniture sector can help shoppers feel comfortable in making big-ticket purchases online.
John Lewis’ Find Similar iPad app lets shoppers search for items based on a product’s shape, colour and pattern. It was launched after a trial in which 90% of customers said they found it useful.
Is it for everyone?
While it makes sense for retailers to adopt a technology that simplifies the shopping process, the uptake of visual search has been limited so far.
When it comes to tech adoption, understanding what is appropriate for the customer is key.
What may be appropriate for Boohoo’s or Missguided’s young target market is a far cry from the needs of a typical WoolOvers shopper.
The technology also requires sophisticated AI capabilities to instantly process thousands of images – arguably more suitable for tech-savvy retailers that are accustomed to heavy investment in this area.
“The technology represents the natural evolution of retail in a market driven by visually stimulated consumers”
For instance, eBay uses AI and machine-learning technologies already embedded in its site.
This means its search feature will only improve as it is used more and gathers further data.
The culture of instant gratification among consumers shows no signs of abating and visual search will help facilitate this.
The technology represents the natural evolution of retail in a market driven by visually stimulated consumers.
While some may argue that it is more gimmicky than useful, this kind of innovation opens a door which may secure the first point of contact with a retailer over another, providing a welcome advantage in a competitive and economically subdued environment.
Ryan Doherty is an analyst for Retail Week Prospect