Engaging, Inspiring, Simple: Visual Search in eCommerce

May 17, 2023


In today's digital age, the growth of eCommerce has revolutionized the way people shop. With an increasing number of online shoppers, businesses are constantly seeking innovative ways to enhance customer experience and drive sales. One such technology that has gained immense popularity is visual search. By allowing users to search for products using images rather than text, this feature has become a game-changer for eCommerce platforms. In this article, we will explore the benefits of visual search and how it is changing the landscape of eCommerce.

Traditional text-based search often requires users to accurately describe the items they are looking for, which can be challenging, especially when it comes to specific products. Visual search simplifies this process by allowing users to submit images, either through a camera or by uploading a photo. This empowers customers to find the desired product effortlessly, even if they struggle with articulating their requirements. By streamlining the product discovery process, visual search enhances customer satisfaction and reduces the risk of potential customers leaving without making a purchase. According to a 2020 study regarding the share of search engine users in China by input method, visual search comes in third after text-based and voice search with 28.7% of users having opted for this method, indicating that a considerable share of users is already familiar with visual search.

Despite not being the first platform to feature visual search, Google has made this technology more widely accessible to a larger audience. First introduced as a function integrated into Google Images in 2011, the feature became more user friendly with the introduction of Google Lens in 2017. Revolutionizing visual search in the context of eCommerce, Google Lens enables users to effortlessly explore and identify products using advanced image recognition technology. With a simple smartphone camera scan, it swiftly analyzes data, providing essential information on product details, pricing, and availability. 

Over the years, many big names in retail have adopted this search method. Amazon, eBay, JD.com and Alibaba are among the eCommerce platforms that offer visual search as an option. Of course, some platforms also offer this feature on mobile. Alibaba, for example, unveiled the Pailitao application in 2014, enabling users to search for items by capturing a photo of the desired object. Mobile applications of IKEA and Etsy also offer this feature.

Visual search not only helps customers find a specific product but also provides a unique platform for inspiration. Customers can take a photo of an item they like or have seen in a different context, and the visual search technology can identify similar products or suggest related items. This feature enables users to explore different styles, designs, and options, which can lead to increased engagement and longer browsing sessions. By catering to customers' desires for discovery and exploration, eCommerce platforms can create a more immersive and personalized shopping experience. One of the first platforms that come to mind on the note of inspiration is Pinterest. In 2014, Pinterest acquired VisualGraph, a startup company, and integrated visual search into its platform. By utilizing visual search, Pinterest can extract optical characteristics from fashion items such as shoes, dresses, glasses, bags, watches, pants, shorts, bikinis, earrings, and provide recommendations for similar products. 

Embracing this technology allows eCommerce platforms to position themselves as industry leaders, attracting tech-savvy customers and staying ahead of the competition in the ever-evolving eCommerce landscape. A study conducted in the United States in 2021 shows that the primary innovation trend that eCommerce retailers in the United States intend to prioritize in the coming five years is visual search. The same study shows that a significant 40% of online shoppers are eagerly anticipating the implementation of visual search capabilities by brands on their platforms. By accurately understanding customers' preferences, visual search algorithms enable eCommerce platforms to deliver highly relevant product recommendations, resulting in higher conversion rates. The integration of visual search capabilities not only enhances customer engagement but also strengthens the connection between visual content and the purchasing process. This, in turn, fosters brand loyalty and encourages repeat purchases by smoothing out the shopping process. 

Visual search has emerged as a transformative tool for eCommerce, revolutionizing the way customers search for and discover products online. By simplifying the product discovery process, inspiring customers, increasing conversion rates, improving engagement, and providing a competitive advantage, visual search has already become a vital component of the modern eCommerce landscape. As technology continues to evolve and mature, businesses that embrace visual search will be well-positioned to deliver exceptional customer experiences, drive sales, and thrive in the dynamic world of online retail. 

Sources: Alibaba, Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Google Lens, IKEA, JD.com, Pinterest, Statista, The Future of Commerce

Photo by Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash