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Visual Search Technology – Enabling Further Convenience to the Modern Shopper

Retailers are constantly looking to invest in refining their online search, so that it is convenient for their customers to find what they want easily. There has been a definite shift from using texts to sharing images in recent years. With internet enabled smart phones turning out to be one of the most preferred mediums for shopping globally, the Visual Search technology can potentially disrupt the way customers discover products and content online.


The Advent of Visual Search Technology


In this ever evolving world of marketing, recent times have seen a shift from text driven content to image driven content. This has been more particular with regards to the social media channels. According to the 2016 Social Media Marketing Industry Report,


  • 37% of marketers said that the most important form of content for their business was visual marketing, second only to blogging, which accounted for 38%.


  • When it came to social media marketers, 74% of them used visual assets for their marketing, which was more than blogs and videos, accounting for 68% and 60% respectively.

Visual Search allows customers to simply click the picture of an item in real life and upload it in order to find visually similar products on a particular platform. Based on past customer behaviors, it can also provide solutions like product recommendations, etc. Now one question that begs an answer is, 'How useful is Visual Search Technology?' To answer this, Visenze Solution, an AI Solutions company decided to test the technology at CommunicAsia 2015. They named the event as 'The Dress Challenge', where visitors were asked to find the digital representation of an item using keywords first, and then their visual search technology. It turned out to be immensely difficult to find even a black & white dress on a mannequin using texts and keyword descriptions. The results were as:


  • 96.6% of the visitors lost patience while searching with keywords and gave up within 90 seconds.


  • The shopaholics managed to locate the dress but not before 4 – 6 mins.


  • Visual technology beat keywords search by 1/9th of the time spent on searching.


visual search keywords

(image source: visenze)


Players Recognizing the Technology


Retailers have to understand that simplifying the entire online search for their customers can go a long way in meeting their expectations. Visual search is now empowered by Artificial Intelligence and advanced Computer Vision Technology. Hence, it can now provide a much richer user experience than just identifying a particular item. Here is a look at a few players who have recognized the power of Visual Search Technology.


Neiman Marcus: Not that long ago, Neiman Marcus expanded the Visual Search use in its app across categories. This particular app, developed by Slyce, allows shoppers to take a photo of an item in real time, which is then matched with items of similar style available for purchase on the website.


visual search

(image source:

John Lewis: The first UK retailer to try the visual search technology was John Lewis as they deployed Cortexica's API very recently. Scientists from the Bioengineering Department of Imperial College, London developed Cortexica's technology. This technology identifies the content from images by replicating the processes found in the human visual cortex. This is how a range of products pertaining to similar colors, shapes and contours within a particular category is displayed. They deployed artificial intelligence in order to filter the range of thousands of shoes, so that the customers could find the perfect pair. All that customers have to do is click on a pair on the landing page and they will be presented with numerous options of similar styles.


‘Adaptation’ the key for Retailers


One of the things that need to be taken into consideration is how much retailers are willing to adapt to visual search technology. Although quite a few brands and retailers have shown keen interest, there are many who have surely not yet thought about it and are still wrapping their heads around how to perfect their text search. Customers expect convenience today and Visual Search Technology has all the potential to provide the most hassle free and convenient online search proposition for the customers.


This technology is not just a boon for online retailers, but also brick-and-mortar. For instance, the physical stores can make use of this technology to offer the customers the entire range of their products, even the ones which are not available at the stores through their mobile app. The selected product can be delivered directly to the customer's house. All that is required is a little bit of flexibility from the retailers for adopting this technology. Retailers will have to detach themselves from their existing complex legacy systems and look to thrive under this new and improved opportunity.

Visual Search technology is definitely one for the future. Retailers ready for this adaptation will surely enjoy more than just a head start.

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