Visual search is quickly redefining how consumers search and interact with retail brands. The global online retail market is now forecasted at $25 trillion, placing digital experience at the core of all business initiatives. In fact, Gartner recently reported that by the year 2022, 2/3 of all customer experience activities will use IT.
With Amazon and a handful of other giants dominating global sales, retailers are being pushed to rethink their customer journey in the four traditional stages, which include Discover, Engage, Transact, and Advocate.
In recent years, augmented reality raised the stakes on the Engage phase, when brands like Wayfair introduced apps that allow customers to see how furniture, for example, would fit into their homes. Since then, companies have been experimenting with both augmented and virtual reality to make the process of shopping more fun.
Then, of course, there are major enhancements being made to the Transact phase, with the likes of Apple and Google implementing facial recognition payments into smartphones, which both accommodate the short attention spans of the average consumer and also delivers a sort of futuristic experience.
But possibly the biggest digital transformation underway is happening in the Discover phase.
Visual search is quickly making its way into the customer experiences of retailers, allowing shoppers to upload pictures of products to a camera tool and search all visually similar images.
In years past, retailers certainly used artificial intelligence to suggest products to customers based on what they had searched for or purchased in the past. But the deep tagging associated with visual search enhances machine learning by breaking down exactly what’s in a customer’s picture.
H&M made headlines last year for implementing a visual recognition smart mirror in their stores, which made shopping and style recommendations interactive and shareable. Earlier this year, Amazon also announced a significant investment in visual search to boost retail sales in the women’s clothing category.
Given that Amazon sales account for almost half of all online retail spend in the United States, retailers are beginning to understand that they will need to invest in personalization technologies in order to compete with Amazon’s wide range of products, free shipping, and Sunday delivery.
Syte, one of the dominant providers of visual search technology to enterprise retailers, has noted a shift in user adoption.
Their co-founder and CMO, Lihi Pinto Fryman, recently said, “Two years ago when we approached retailers about visual search it was not on anyone’s radar. Most people believed the technology would never advance to a place that would allow it to deliver meaningful value to users. Today we see visual search growing year over year and in the next five years I believe visual search will be live or on the roadmap of the largest retailers. It will be a feature that users expect in their product discovery journey.”
Now that retailers are getting their arms around visual search, they are becoming very specific about how they want to use it to influence their customer journey. According to Pinto Fryman, there are five features that are most important to retailers. These include:
Search By Body Type
When users can see their favorite styles on models with similar body types, it significantly helps with visualization and leads to a higher conversion.
Gift Giving Profile
Those using visual search to buy a gift can upload a picture of their loved one’s favorite outfit and be served with all similar styles – increasing their chance of success in finding the perfect gift.
Retailers want users to have the ability to upload the picture of an outfit and have each piece (shirt, pants, shoes, etc) broken down by category, rather than having the technology “guess” what the customer is looking for.
Inspiration to Shop By
Users want to be inspired and Instagram is a viable tool for this. So, naturally, retailers want to seamlessly integrate their visual search tech to Instagram.
“Smart mirrors” deliver visual search capabilities in brick and mortar stores, accommodating the idea that shoppers may want to discover styles online, but go in-store to purchase. For this reason, experiential tech will become a key component of the customer journey.
According to Zion Market Research the global visual search market was valued at $6,669 million in 2018 and is expected to rise to $28,470 million by 2027. The impact that the technology has on the Discover phase is clear: it allows users to locate exactly what they are looking for five times faster than they could with a keyword search. It will be interesting, however, to see the impact of visual search trickle down to other stages of the customer experience as the technology evolves.