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How eCommerce Brands Can Master the Art of Visual Search

eCommerce Visual Search

Image credit: Techcrunch


“Ooh, I love that! Where can I get it?” We know that’s how consumers think. Today, eCommerce brands are increasingly able to capitalize on that desire for instant gratification by embracing visual search. Leveraging mobile connectivity to engage customers interactively and add convenience, visual search for retail is on the rise. Here’s a primer on the what, why, and how of visual search for eCommerce.


What is Visual Search?

Visual search for retail, quite simply, enables online shoppers to search for products using images, parts of an image, or pictures taken with their own cameras. Using images or pictures to enable search can be a more intuitive and accurate way for consumers to find what they want than text-based queries.

“With something like keyword search, you almost have to know what you’re looking for before you type it.” —Richard Jones, ASOS website product management director

Today, visual search technology lets users find desired items:

  • Using social media (including Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram)
  • Via search engines (such as Bing or Google)
  • While shopping a brand online
  • Even in-store with mobile apps using visual search to push items to consumers’ shopping carts based on retailer inventory.


Why Retailers Appreciate Visual Search

Over the past decade, visual search has become more widely accepted by retailers and eCommerce brands. Here’s why.


Increased Sales

Retailers are seeing lucrative revenue potential in visual search. After all, with visual search and scan-to-shop technology, consumers can now simply snap an image in a catalog or in-store and shop that item. This makes it much easier for customers to explore new products or find new items they might not have encountered otherwise.

At the same time, visual search for eCommerce is expanding outside of branded experience via a catalog, app or bricks and mortar store.

Consider the full-fledged release this year of Pinterest’s Lens. In the works for years, but now available to all, Lens lets users of the app point their cameras at something to learn the price, where to buy it, or other additional information (perhaps recipes, home decor inspiration). Target for one, has partnered with Pinterest Lens, to incorporate the company’s visual search technology into its gift registry experience. And no wonder, Pinterest has the highest average order value of any major social platform at $50.

Other retailers are using similar technology to capitalize on the moments of shopping inspiration whenever they strike the consumer. eBay, for instance, this summer beta-launched its own Image Search, which uses the mobile phone camera or saved photos to find matching products as well as its Find It On eBay, which lets users search images while browsing their social media feeds.


More App Downloads

With visual search capabilities improving the shopper’s experience and engagement with retailer apps, the user is more likely to stick with the app after download. This is why adding visual search capabilities to an app appeals to retailers outside of the apparel industry too.

For Home Depot, for instance, visual search was a logical extension of the voice search capabilities in its app (allowing users to name an item and be directed to where it is located in store). Visual search makes it easier for customers to find what they are looking for among the brand’s 35,000 in-store SKUs and close to 1 million more online. They take a picture of a tool or other home item and the app serves up similar items in its inventory as search results.


Better Customer Experience

Visual search functionality saves busy consumers the time spent poring over product pages or catalogs by making it easy to snap a pic and populate an online shopping cart. Beauty product retailer Sephora, for instance, uses visual search technology to allow costumers to upload a color and then shop products in that same shade.

Further, visual search solves the problem of customers not ever encountering a product they might want to purchase otherwise. Mobile apps limit exposure to retailer catalogs after all, due to small screen size and search and site navigability. However, UK fashion retailer ASOS recently reported an upsurge in sales tied to some extent to its embrace of visual search. It’s easier to convert those who are merely browsing when they are able to shop outfits using photos instead of keywords, and is certainly seeing people spend longer in the app.

Visual Search Usage

Image credit: Business Insider


How to Embrace Visual Search

With these advantages in mind, what are some strategies to best leverage visual search for eCommerce?


#1 Tap into Scan-n-Buy Impulses

With visual search allowing customers to take a picture and match it to a product or similar product, retailers are able to focus the consumers search in their own inventory.

Neiman Marcus is a frontrunner in this area. The luxury fashion retailer introduced its Snap. Find. Shop. app in October 2014. Shoppers can search for a shoe or handbag using smart image recognition. The shopper uploads a picture to the Neiman’s NM app and it offers up similar shoes or handbags available on Urban Outfitters is another brand incorporating the scan-to-shop opportunity.


#2 Enable Customers to "Shop the Look"

Your business is on social media, but are you using your product photos and videos fully? Facebook, for example, makes it possible for you to tag up 30 products from your shop section or catalog in your posts or videos. You can also tag up to 5 products per single image post in Instagram. This gives you one more organic way to increase visibility for business products based on what consumers see in their feed.

On the retail end, attribute tagging is becoming increasingly important. Visual search for eCommerce is tied to personalizing the consumers’ experience. Thus, in the backend, retailers need to label both physical and aesthetic qualities of their inventory to make the content more searchable by customers and their content curation tools. After all, Pinterest, likely the largest visual search engine today, earlier this year added its existing ad inventory to its search and recommendations offering eCommerce yet another opportunity to reach its 175 million users in their moments of discovery.

Shop the Look Pinterest

Image credit: Pinterest


#3 Target Marketing and Retargeting

Customers who do not typically shop a particular brand might be enticed to do so if they can encounter a particular promotion they can scan and save. Kohl’s and Victoria’s Secret have already adapted coupon scanning in their retail apps.

Toys R Us too lets customers take pictures of a receipt, catalog or newspaper coupon to generate a mobile-optimized version to store in its app. The customer benefits from being able to use the coupon on the go. Meanwhile, the retailer can use the information in marketing and retargeting opportunities, reminding the user to redeem the coupon prior to expiry or shop the desired product before the sales period ends.

With beacon technology, retailers can even enable in-app push notifications reminding consumers of expiring offers or wish list items when the shopper is near the bricks-and-mortar store.


#4 Curate the brand’s content curators

Consumers still prefer the content curation of friends and family members to branded collections. An eCommerce marketer, though, could use this to its advantage. By identifying appearances of the brand in “the wild,” marketers can determine new ways to target buyers.

Plus, finding out more about the curator, exploring their other collections, and determining their influence and audience can help you identify brand advocates or social influencers. You might even partner with these tastemakers to create a collection on your owned site or in stores.


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Camps, C. (2017, July 28). What does visual search mean for ecommerce in 2017

Doyle, J. (2012, January 18). Curated commerce: How retail brands can cash in on the latest craze.

Joseph, S. (2017, October 16). Asos sees potential in visual search to drive sales.

Lynley, M. (2017, May 16). Pinterest’s visual search technology is coming to its ads.

Pandolph, S. (2017, September 27). Target to bring Pinterest Lens to App.

Samuely, A. (n.d.) Toys R Us integrates app, print coupons and loyalty for new omnichanel experience.

Tode, C. Home Depot’s visual search beta highlights technology’s appeal beyond apparel.

By Thinkwrap Commerce

Tags: Industry Trends, Visual Search