What eCommerce Brands Need to Know About Visual Product Search
by Ron Dod
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Visual search is the next wave of consumer shopping, blurring the lines between brick and mortar and the online shopping experience.
That makes complete sense when you consider that shopping has always been a very visual, interactive experience. It’s one of the main reasons why so many influencers press the importance of using high-quality images from various angles when selling products online.
Despite the importance of visuals, product searches have remained keyword-based in various channels, from Google to eCommerce websites and marketplaces like eBay and Amazon.
However, visual product search is changing all of that.
What Is Visual Product Search?
Marketplaces like Amazon are changing how customers shop online and shifting brands to an omnichannel culture, but until recently a consumer had to type in very specific keyword strings to find the products they were looking for.
As an online retailer, you also need to make sure your product pages are optimized to appear for the various keywords strings they used to find products. That includes:
Problem/solution queries (i.e., “products for draining flooded basement”)
Product name variations
… and so much more. Any misalignment, and it can be difficult for customers to find your products.
Now, consider that over65% of consumers research products before entering a store, and97% of consumers will do visual research online before making a purchase—often while on their mobile devices in a brick and mortar location.
Visual product search is bridging the gap between online and offline shopping, making it far easier for customers to find the products they’re looking for. Rather than trying to type in endless search queries to find the right product across various sites and marketplaces, visual product search can get the shopper there in just a few steps.
Here’s how it works in concept:
Customers find products they really like in a store.
They take a picture of a product on their phones (or using a branded app for a particular online store/marketplace).
That photo is used to search and match up visually similar or identical products.
More brands are onboarding the visual search process to capture customers rather than lose them to online competitors, but marketplaces are implementing this, as well, to capture those wayward visual searches.
In 2017, eBay introduced new image search capabilities based on artificial intelligence and machine learning technology it already had in place. As reported by TechCrunch, users could take a picture with their phones, or upload one from their camera roll, to find listings that matched or closely resembled the product.
Amazon has also expanded beyond basic search. Its mobile app includes a feature allowing users to snap a photo of a product to use for visual search, as well as the ability to scan barcodes for quick product searches in the marketplace.
Visual search has a number of benefits beyond helping a customer find a specific product quickly. Visual search can also be used contextually to help consumers find similar products, as well as products related to the starting image used in their searches.
That’s how Wayfair implemented its visual search initially; customers could take a photo of home furnishing they liked, and Wayfair would recommend other products that were similar in style in an attempt to match the preferences of the customers.
Visual search used in this manager focuses on customizing the shopping experience to the consumer while also streamlining the buyer journey. Customers no longer must waste considerable time checking filter boxes or browsing categories in hopes of finding things that match their preferences.
The “visually similar” nature of visual search is another benefit: You don’t necessarily have to maintain a platform to allow for customers to upload photos.
Google Shopping’s Visually Similar Items feature gives users a very contextual way to search deeper. If they see a product they like in Google Shopping, Google provides a list of other products that are visually similar to improve the shopping experience for the consumers.
The greatest benefit of visual product search is “spearfishing.” It’s similar to Wayfair’s approach, but, instead of being limited to similar products, the user is taken to specific matching products.
Spearfishing completely eliminated the need for text-based search.
Target implemented this for consumers back in 2014, with its “In a Snap” app. The application originally allowed customers to take a picture of products in magazines and other mediums and then find those products within Target’s online store.
In 2017, Target modified its approach to visual search andteamed up with Pinterest to incorporate the Pinterest Lens visual technology into its omnichannel shopping experience.
What this means for consumers, in a nutshell, is that the camera can be substituted for tedious guesswork at keyword searches.
How Customers Will Use Visual Product Search Applications
Looking at how several brands have deployed visual search in recent years, and its benefits thus far, it’s easy to see how you could implement visual search in your own omnichannel funnel to complement the shopping experience of your consumers:
Link customers to product information while they’re in the store to avoid web browsing.
Recommend ideal accessories (cross-selling) based on color choices, models, etc. This can also help improve average order value.
Recommend bundled goods or complete outfits based on a picture of a product, such as jeans (American Eagle uses this feature).
Help customers locate similar products or variations in model numbers that might not be immediately available but can be ordered, pulled from stock, or found at a nearby store (avoid lost sales due to out of stock).
Present similar products, or new models, based on what customers have in front of them.
Make it easy for customers to build a registry or wish list.
How Brands Can Take Advantage of Visual Product Search
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to implement visual search in your omnichannel strategy. A number of platforms exist already, serving major brands, to offer features that streamline the consumer experience.
Slyce is a perfect example, providing technology to major brands that allows customers to visually search entire product catalogs by snapping a picture of a product, image, or print advertisement. The technology has been improved on so much, in recent years, that it’s used by brands like Lowes, Toys R Us, Tommy Hilfiger, and JC Penney.
What’s more is that platforms like Slyce aren’t limited to just visual search via product recognition. Like Amazon’s app, Slyce can scan barcodes, perform exact match queries to print ad images, and populate search results with all visually similar products.
The Best Way to Take Advantage and Prepare for Implementing Visual Product Search?
1. Improve image quality.
Take more high-quality product photos that are clear and easy to distinguish, and which stand out from the background. Quality images not only help convert users, but better-quality images will make it easy for visual search software to match your product to a customer query.
2. Capture all the angles.
Capture your products from every angle in various colors and variations to ensure the highest match success with similar product searches.
3. Don’t use stock images to represent products.
Avoid at all costs using stock photos or manufacturer-provided images. Take your own photos or hire a professional to photograph your products so they are as original as possible. This will give you an edge over all the listings and merchants using the same recycled images that customers will scroll by.
4. Create content for products.
The right content can help a customer make a purchase decision on the spot, so make sure content that supports the purchase decision and educates the customer is mapped to your products. When a visual search lands customers on your product page, make sure there’s additional content in place to keep them engaged.
For general visual product searches, make your content appear as an additional listing next to the recommended products.
The tech is already in place and expanding regularly to include visual product search. Major brands have been advancing in this space for a number of years. Apps like Slyce are making the adoption of visual product search attainable for growing eCommerce brands as well.
Given the mainstream adoption of visual search with major brands, marketplaces like eBay and Amazon, and social implementation such as Pinterest, it’s only a matter of time before the camera becomes the primary method of product searches to meet consumer demands.
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Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.