How Visual Search Is Transforming eCommerce

Michelle Muses

Visual search is taking the retail world by storm.

When customers perform a visual search, they look for a product with an image instead of keywords. Shoppers can take a photo of something they want to buy (such as a pair of sneakers on a passerby) and upload it to the visual search engine of their choice — such as Google Images or Pinterest Lens. The visual search engine will help to find it online and also suggest close matches.

In the rapidly reducing attention spans of the digital age, visual search capabilities play an integral role in capturing the imaginations of customers. It is now easier than ever for customers to find items they want to purchase online or discover items they want to purchase.

“A lot of the future of search is going to be about pictures instead of keywords,” said Pinterest CEO, Ben Silbermann.

By 2021, early adopter brands which redesign their websites to support visual and voice search will increase digital commerce revenue by 30%.

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People do more than 600 million visual searches on Pinterest every month and that number is growing. 62% of millennials desire visual search over any other new digital shopping technology.

With visual search tools, people can snap a photo to discover similar products across multiple sites and retailers. Google Lens, for example, pulls similar product examples from Google Shopping.

Other retailers use visual search to close the gap between seeing and buying — within their own brand. For example, the ASOS mobile app has a search tool called Style Match that lets shoppers take or upload a picture, and then discover products from their catalogue that match it. By offering this tool that can match from more than 850 brands and over 85,000 products, ASOS encourages users to buy from them. They appeal to users by showing them that they don’t spend as much as they would by going someplace else. Users can upload a picture of a designer product and find more affordable styles that match it.

In delivering a truly seamless experience, AI-powered visual search eliminates the friction between seeing and buying.

The frictionless experience continues when the user returns to the website. The next visit offers a more personalised, powerful targeted search where the user is able to pick up where he or she left off and get to relevant products much faster.

A visitor goes on a website with the intention to purchase a specific dress. Once she gets on the product page, she sees a model wearing that dress with a necklace, watch, hat, and pair of high heels — all of which are also available on the website.

The visual search AI will let the visitor know that they can easily shop the whole look instead of that one item and will show them similar options. This increases the likelihood of the customer placing additional items into their cart before finalising their purchase.

Brands are also tapping into visual search to give customers a gentle nudge to continue shopping when they are tempted to navigate away from the eCommerce website.

Customers are disappointed when they visit a website and find that the product they want to purchase is out of stock. Often, they will close the tab, or navigate to another website that features something similar.

Visual search technology helps keep shoppers on websites, even if the item they originally wanted is sold out, by presenting them with similar products which are in stock.

Leading online retailer Boohoo’s ecommerce website has seen a huge boost after implementing visual search. In a recent case study, Boohoo reported that when visitors engage with ‘View Similar’ on the product display page, the conversion rate is over 100% higher. Pages per session are over 135% higher.

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Lonely Planet has recently acquired TRILL Travel, an AI-driven visual search platform that turns social media images into instantly bookable experiences. Leveraging AI technology, TRILL analyses pictures and automatically creates links to booking sites.

Streamlining the booking process through a powerful visual search mechanism helps to close the gap between wanderlust and reality.

Users can easily go from thumbing through travel photos on Instagram to having tickets to visit those exact destinations. They can book a hotel, experience, or meal at a restaurant, simply at the touch of a picture.

Online and offline worlds are merged like never before. With visual search, companies can move closer to the instant gratification that many consumers desire.