Visual search revolution may not be making the headlines too often, but this really is a game-changer. Both visual and image search swiftly transform the way we browse items and buy things – and they are changing our shopping habits. Undoubtedly, shopping the look quickly and easily will soon become the new normal of e-commerce.
It’s good to go with the flow, especially that – business-wise – visual search can lead to making a purchase way faster. It just lets people get what they want immediately. Sometimes, visual search is the only way to find a particular item – something somebody saw in a magazine or in the street and took a picture of it.
The bottom line of such an efficient search is saving time and increasing consumer satisfaction, as well as retention rates. All in all, the visual search feature is more and more desired by end users, and is becoming an industry standard in retail – and not only in the case of major brands and large and mighty organizations that stand behind them.
Visual search solutions make things easier for end users but they are very demanding technology-wise. Various cutting-edge technologies are involved, with machine learning – a branch of artificial intelligence – and computer vision algorithms topping the list.
Table of contents:
Visual search in a nutshell
In the case of visual search, it’s all about finding similar-looking images.
Visual search technology can be boiled down to using an image – instead of a keyword – to look for and find similar objects and other visual elements. Business-wise, visual search is a powerful technology for driving growth and success. And tech-wise, it is an AI-related computer vision technology.
The visual search paradigm has been present in attention research for years. One of the reasons for this is the importance of visual search tasks in human experience – and the other is their ubiquity. Finding a car in the parking lot, looking for a specific recipe ingredient, gathering mushrooms, and searching for a name on a list, are all examples of using visual search in practice.
But the way visual search is used in the digital world today is something different, taken to the next level.
The primary commercial application of visual search is identifying commodities, but it can also be useful in finding other kinds of objects, places, and even people. This advanced technology is present predominantly in e-shopping, specifically in the form of visual search for fashion.
Interestingly, we may distinguish visual search and image search, although these technologies may, and often do, overlap. Visual search relates to finding appropriate images with source images alone, and image search – to doing it by using URLs and keywords apart from source images.
Visual search task in brief
Of course, we’ve all done a visual search before. We’ve all gone shopping for a particular item, or tried to find someone in a crowd. Also, many visual search tasks and games have been available where players look for given objects against a distracting background.
Visual search task is an immanent part of everyday life, and every person has to deal with it many times a day. It is a very complicated task, though, and requires the coordination of vision, attention, and memory. In other words, visual search is a complex perceptual task requiring attention.
Visual search engine & app – how it works
Visual search – the powerful ability of software – is propelled mainly by the immense possibilities of AI. Technologies that may be involved in designing and implementing visual search tools include:
- artificial intelligence,
- machine learning,
- deep learning,
- image recognition technology.
What does using a visual search tool look like in practice?
Usually, users can just snap a picture with a retail app or upload an image they had prepared before – to instantly get a list of similar, ready-to-buy items. It’s so easy and handy that such tools report huge increases in the number of users year by year.
Benefits of visual search
Typing text-based queries is slowly becoming a little obsolete – and the digital world is moving towards voice search and visual search. As for visual search, it can make things easier for people who don’t know how to describe an item properly, e.g. what fabric it is made of, or what the style is called.
There are many other benefits of visual search, for both customers and retailers. The former can get a useful visual search tool that provides a personalized shopping experience and instant gratification, and the latter – higher conversion rates and brand loyalty.
Enabling visual search in retail can bring great tangible results, including revenue increase. Interestingly, visual search leads to transaction execution twice as fast as text-based search. Effective visual search marketing is on the rise, too, and adds up to the technology’s immense success.
Challenges of visual search
Of course, some challenges need to be tackled to make the process of visual search smoother. For instance, source images can be of poor quality, and the product may not be properly exposed against the background, being partially covered by another item. On top of that, when the database is huge, it may be difficult to provide proper search results quickly – and that’s clearly what customers expect.
While visual information is powerful and the development of visual search tools and applications is gaining momentum, we should remember that not all users can make the most of this trend. Some people can’t see or are visually impaired – and using a website has to stay easy for them, too. Web accessibility, or digital accessibility in general, is another major online trend.
Visual & image search – real-life examples
Superb visual search capabilities are used in a growing number of tools and applications – by companies that run visual search engines but also by organizations that sell or deal with home appliances, furniture, clothing, and accessories.
Turning to visual search can be a blessing for retailers, as many of them make money primarily online, anyway. There are many interesting visual search examples it’s good to know and follow.
Some major real-world visual search tools or visual search apps include:
- Google Lens
- Pinterest Visual Search
- Bing Visual Search
- Alibaba Image Search
- Snapchat Scan
- Amazon StyleSnap
- ASOS Style Match
- AliExpress Image Search
One of the key implementations of visual search is in online retail shops offering clothes, accessories, and furniture. Instead of checking entire product catalogs, customers can swiftly get down to searching – and finding in seconds – just what they were looking for.
Interestingly, there’s also a reverse image search available. Visual artists – and anyone who wants to protect and track their pictures online – can check if the images have been used elsewhere over the web. This can be done with tools such as Google Image Search and Pixsy.
Visual search solutions – key takeaways
A picture is worth a thousand words – and in the 21st century, this rule is more true and more powerful than ever.
The future inevitably belongs to image search – 62% of millennials and Gen-Z people say that visual search is their preferred technology.
E-commerce platforms can use visual search to make finding desired products easier. It’s enough for users to take a picture of an item (be it shoes, a bag, earrings, a home appliance, a piece of furniture, or anything else), use the appropriate tool, and locate the product easily.
The number of companies who successfully experimented with visual search this way or another include Google, Microsoft, ASOS, Amazon, and Zalando – to name but a few major organizations. But visual or image search is not a path that only market leaders follow. Aspiring retailers that want to expand their e-commerce footprints use it, too, and gain a huge competitive advantage by providing customers with the best shopping experience possible.
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