Over the past few months, you might have become aware of Google including images in its results. It’s a trend you can expect to see increasing as the search engine – as well as Pinterest, Amazon and Bing – continues to invest in its computer vision capabilities. By 2021, Gartner predicts early adopter brands that have redesigned their websites to support visual and voice search will see a 30% increase in online revenue (source: Gartner). And, by 2025, the global image recognition market is expected to reach $86B (source: Allied Market Research).
Several major brands have already opened their eyes to the potential of visual search, with fashion retailer ASOS and furniture and home accessories giant IKEA both launching proprietary tools. Perhaps in response to the demand from consumers, 62% of Generation Z and Millennial consumers want visual search capabilities (source: Visenze). So, it won’t be long before other brands follow suit.
How does visual search work?
Visual search enables consumers to use real-world images, like magazine cuttings, screenshots or photos taken on their phone, to initiate an online search. When that image is uploaded, recognition software powered by AI and machine learning finds identical and similar images by recognising patterns and matching them to patterns stored in the algorithm’s memory.
Life through a lens
Showing is the new telling, as AI-driven visual search becomes an increasingly crucial touchpoint on a consumer’s decision-making journey. That’s because consumers are inclined to believe what they see and not what they read, according to research by The Intent Lab, in which over 85% of respondents placed more importance on visual information than text information when shopping online for clothing or furniture (source: Business Wire). This has huge implications for retailers who traditionally might have concentrated their efforts on writing informative product descriptions or SEO-heavy blog posts in order to appear at the top of search engine results.
Thanks to visual search tools (such as Google Lens, Pinterest Lens, Bing Visual Search and Amazon’s StyleSnap) that are making the modern shopping experience more intuitive and efficient, shoppers are no longer confined to one brand’s product line. Shoppers can snap a handbag they’ve spotted someone carrying, a restaurant interior that inspires them or a pair of shoes in a shop window and upload the image to generate an immediate result of all the similar items that are available to buy. Suddenly, it’s not just clothes racks and furniture showrooms that are a source of inspiration – the whole world becomes shoppable.
For more on the evolution of shopping in 2020, check out our post exploring shoppable features on social!
Shopping time spent wisely
Visual search revolves around the idea of giving people a choice, but it has also helped retailers increase their products’ visibility amid an overload of online content. Brands who have successfully developed a visual search function have found it presents a huge opportunity to build loyalty and boost sales. Glasses USA reported that customers who used its Pic & Pair visual search function, which allows users to upload eyewear images as a means of searching its catalogue, spent 6 times longer on the site and were 5 times more likely to buy, compared to those who didn’t (source: Forbes).
And, far from undermining the experience of shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, many brands have discovered that online visual search can in fact complement their offline offer. In fact, 61% of consumers say visual search elevates their experience while in-store browsing (source: Pinterest Newsroom). Take customer service: chatbots that incorporate a visual search tool can help users find a product or accessory without having to browse the entire range.
So, visual search has two (seemingly opposing) strengths – increasing time on site and shortening time to purchase.
Cameras give users control
The ability to conduct internet searches with an image makes it possible to create a highly personalised shopping experience, both online and in-store. Think of augmented reality (AR) – image search can locate that perfect sofa, while augmented reality can superimpose or overlay digital images onto a real-world environment. The same goes for so-called smart mirrors, which allow shoppers to virtually try on outfits.
In addition, savvy shoppers are using visual search apps with built in price-comparison technology in order to find the best deals and bargains on the item they want to buy. Not only do these apps suggest cheaper alternatives, they also display customer ratings and reviews.
As consumers look to brands to stay ahead of the curve, brands who harness the potential of visual search as a powerful commerce tool stand to enjoy significant gains in a crowded and constantly evolving retail marketplace. For more ways to stay ahead, download our latest guide, 2020 Trends: Marketing Trends with a Global Reach.