How Visual Search Will Transform Customers' Online Shopping

September 19, 2018
by Andriy Bordun

What if your shopping search was as easy as taking a picture of the stuff you'd like to buy? We always have these things like seeing a lit jacket on someone near the coffee shop and wondering where to get it. Or seeing a picture of a fashion model with a handbag that is out of this world. It would be a tricky task to find the same bag in any of the shops, but the visual search engine can solve this problem with one tap on your smartphone.

So, what’s visual search?

The definition and functions may vary depending on the technology and the developer. There are multiple techs already, and we'll talk about them later. But in general, visual search allows finding something by the picture, preventing you from the eternal struggle of finding the correct words to describe the thing you're looking for. Artificial intelligence and years of machine learning have learned to do this for you.

Here's how it looks in ideal conditions: you see something you like, take a picture of it (or use existing one) and tell the visual search engine that you're interested. Bang - here are thousands of search results, sorted by relevance. This tech will be of great use mostly for e-commerce and give yet another boost to the booming niche.

How can visual search engine make shopping better and more straightforward?

Time passes by, and a bigger percentage of online customers prefer to shop using social media and various search engines. Visual search combines the two, adds a bit of offline experience and comes up with a perfect, fast blend of user experience that nets a sale. Let's take all the benefits step-by-step, to make it clear: this type of shopping is here to stay.

  1. Time-saving miracle. Picture the pants of your dreams that you’ve seen in a Forever 21 shop and then try to find it online using the text only. What would you write? “Fabric red pants medium size” or something like that. Then track how much time have you spent on that. Visual search engines allow to take a picture, press a button and get the instant result.
  2. Better sales conversion. It is a given fact that the fewer time it takes to find and load something, the better sales statistics turns out to be. Visual search will allow to see relevant products instantly and be able to choose the best from the best for purchase. It's convenient, fast and effective - we as customers are pleased, alongside millions of others. Bonus: the conversion rate can be enhanced by trained AI that would offer additional products to the ones already in your cart. For example, it would advise you buying not just the pants, but the jacket and shoes to make a perfect all-rounded look.
  3. A simple way to find physical (offline) shops online. This one is useful not only for the general stores. By searching the picture of a cafe, showroom or anything else, you can find other locations, working schedules, menu and make an order online within a few seconds from spotting the actual place.
  4. Enhanced user experience. A combined factor of all mentioned above. Being able to search anything you see and purchase the stuff you like almost instantly and using only a few taps on the smartphone is exactly what will take the e-commerce to the next step of evolution.
  5. Better brand exposure. Visual search simplifies the process between seeing the ad and finding the product. Small brands can benefit from this, increasing the number of people who use their services. It is now quicker than ever to access any given page just by uploading the picture with an ad one may see on the streets.

Which search engines and services already use visual search?

This technology has already been present for years, and it's getting more used than ever. The companies start to seriously consider investing into this niche to reap the benefits of quick and convenient shopping or linking customers with vendors. We will cover only the most prominent companies and most used services and describe the main features.

The multinational tech giant has released the initial version of Google Lens in October 2017. Its primary function is to scan the given area and determine the object for search. For example, it knows how to identify a cafe name and then give the user a search result with all the info connected to that particular brand.

It is also capable of logging into a Wi-Fi network if the user points the camera onto the area with login and password. Deep learning algorithms allow to increase the quality of scanning and determine prominent places, shop names, items, etc.

Pinterest Shopping Search Engine

Huge social network/marketplace based solely on pictures also came up with visual search technology and named it Lens. Its mobile version is somewhat similar to Google Lens and offers many opportunities. It allows finding a perfect look by scanning your jacket and buying the items you want.

You can crop the unnecessary parts from the image and point the AI in the right direction. Pinterest has now launched Firefox and Chrome versions of the Lens. See the picture - use the search - get results from billions of pins.

Microsoft followed the competitors and launched its Visual search mid-June, 2018. It builds on top of the existing image search and adds your camera to the mix. According to Microsoft, you can scan the item, get a detailed description and browse the list of nearest vendors that sell it. It is applicable towards, clothing, flowers, brand names, logos and so on.

You can snap the picture you took and search for a jacket you were wearing that day or a dog that you want to adopt - the AI will come up with relevant suggestions, and you can work your way up from there. It is built into the Bing search and can be found next to the text input form, as seen on Bing Blogs: image1

Given the amount of competition and potential gains from a perfected visual search technology, it will rapidly evolve. Recognizing algorithms and search results will become more relevant to what users are looking for, and e-commerce will be the first to benefit from such a turn of events. The list of benefits of visual search above is not full as each may find more pros of the tech.

Additional bonuses of visual search that retailers and marketers will love!

  1. Boost app installs. Visual search is already becoming a feature to grant bragging rights to the creator. Ability to use the function and to find any wares possible will have a positive result on how often the app is downloaded and how frequently it is used.

Furthermore, for those who use third-party ads in their applications, this will give a significant boost to the income from this direction. More people means more substantial volumes and better cost per click. A double-booster of dreams.

  1. More impulsive purchases from users. The simplicity of visual search leaves a small margin of only a few seconds between searching for something and having an opportunity to buy it. The strongest impression of something remains after the very first moments one sees the object, and visual search will help to convert it to sales.

As we’ve already mentioned, the AI can instantly offer a bunch of related products for sale. Searched a pair of leather shoes? Here’s a product to take care of it, just for $4,99. Who would even refuse this offer, when you can get everything in a few clicks? The stats suggest that many succumb to temptation.

Visual Search Engine is here to transform the way we shop, and retailers earn their profits

The great race for bigger profits is heating up. It gives birth to perfected technologies like visual search, and it can't be wrong. Now the potential customers have a quick way to purchase anything they see on the streets or at home without typing a single word and spending hours to find the best deal and a remotely relevant offer.

This will most certainly increase the number of sales and boost the business. Smaller brands will be able to expand their presence on the market just because it is now a hundred times simpler to be found. Only with one picture from the user's camera roll. We can expect even bigger efforts from the brands to be visual, hence to be searched for more often.

We enter a new era of sales and browsing the information, and it's exciting to be the witness of such technological breakthroughs while reaping all the good stuff right now.


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