The rise of visual search

by Infor Retail June 1, 2017 Customer Experience

Setting a new standard for digital retail

Nothing is more frustrating than spotting someone wearing your dream jacket or shoes in the wild, only to realize you have no way of finding it online. Without a brand, style, or other distinguishing feature to anchor a search, even the most efficient Google user would have a hard time finding a piece of clothing through text search alone. Luckily, search functions have grown to encompass far more than just text, and in 2017, we’re seeing visual search technology rise to unprecedented levels of viability. By allowing users to search for products using photos they’ve taken on any digital device, this technology presents the perfect e-commerce vehicle for a shopper base that’s more mobile and more engaged than ever.

Picture-perfect retailing

Visual search apps and technology aren’t necessarily new: social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest are already using them to help users find what they’re looking for. In fact, Facebook Messenger just released Mode.ai, which allows users to send in a picture of a garment to buy the item, find more like it, or view it on other people who have already worn it. It’s an exciting step toward more complex visual search, but it’s just the beginning. Even property developers are getting in on the action, with retail destination developer Hammerson implementing a visual search tool in its malls that helps customers find products through images taken on their phones.

If you haven’t seen visual search in wide use just yet, that’s because it still hasn’t been perfected—and that poses a risk to retailers who want to get in on the action. If a retailer’s visual search technology can’t find the item a customer wants when they want it, they risk losing the customer altogether. One way for organizations to optimize this tech and make it part of their omni-channel strategies is to enhance item attribution with robust, in-context SKUs—which help AI algorithms and search engines find items more easily through image recognition.

Proving its worth

Like any new and unproven technology, visual search has its share of detractors and roadblocks. Many retailers and organizations are hesitant to invest in new visual search technologies because they don’t want to risk putting money into new innovations when they’re still seeing results from their tried-and-true techniques. On top of that, some visual search apps, like Facebook’s “Moments” app, are banned in other countries due to privacy concerns.

There’s still a question of when visual search will grow to realize its full potential, but the fact of the matter is that the technology is already set to become an industry standard. And if there’s anything the last half decade has taught retailers, it’s that falling behind the industry standard is not an option.

Our conclusion: Visual search, coupled with SEO best practices, item attribution, machine learning & AI, and early adoption, will prove to be an incredibly powerful, game-changing technology that is beneficial for both retailers and consumers.

Learn more about how Infor is improving the customer experience. 

Woman taking photo of hat in retail store.

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