Can Visual Search Offer A Key To Consumer Loyalty?

Over the past 20 years or so, shoppers’ relationship with ‘search’ has altered dramatically. Our desire to seek answers, once an innately personal experience, has now become one of the most widely researched and highly profitable businesses in the world.

With smartphones, many of us now hold the incredible power of connected search in our fingertips twenty-four hours a day and as a result, can extract an answer to almost any question we can imagine, all-but instantaneously, so long as we can clearly explain in words what we’re looking for.

Incredible though that is, the next evolution of search surely lies in providing answers based on what we see and feel in the real world not simply what we can articulate. Humans are inherently visual beings. In fact, 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and this information is processed 60,000 times faster than text.


Recent advancements in the area of Visual Search are therefore setting the stage for a major shift in how people interact with the world around them and what that means to retailers, is they will soon be able to interact with people at the very moment they become inspired by a product — wherever and whenever that might be.

By combining advanced image recognition technology with search algorithms, social network integrations, mobile specific technologies like NFC (Near Field Communication) and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy), today’s Visual Search companies allow users to perform highly intuitive queries based solely on what they see (both online and in the world around them).  

Imagine being able to snap a photograph of the Empire State Building and receive detailed information about its history, the next available tour, best rated restaurants nearby or which of your Facebook friends might be in the area. How about taking a picture of a little league team logo and instantly receiving historic results, registration information for your kids and directions to the field? No problem. The ability to access information intuitively through images has the potential to change everything.

The Changing Face Of M-Commerce

With competing brands and retailers consistently rolling out new mobile-focused initiatives to try and sway consumer attention, the marketplace is loud and packed and loyalty is very hard to come by. A Deloitte study found that 80% of branded apps were downloaded less than 1000 times and that the majority of smartphone users had only one or two retailer apps on their phone.

There must be a highly compelling reason for mobile consumers to consistently use a brand or retailer app; at the risk of descending into vacuous jargon, they have to be engaging, they must be fundamentally useful and they have to possess a  ‘stickiness.’

Visual Search technology is entering real viability at a critical time for retailers which are simultaneously seeking to clarify not just their m-Commerce strategy but their omnichannel strategy and also seriously address the granddaddy of all retail threats, showrooming. While not a ‘wonder-cure’, visual search technology does present an opportunity to unify the disparate components of retailer operations, and provide the modern consumer with the kinds of compelling shopping experiences they’re seeking.  

In the coming months, several leading retailers will launch new mobile applications built around visual search functionality and feature the retailer’s product catalogue as the sole context for results. Users will be able to perform incredible visual search actions in a multitude of environments. Examples include;

  • A major fashion retailer’s mobile app will allow their shoppers to snap a picture of a stranger’s outfit on the street and receive matching results from the current catalogue. The shopper can than make the purchase and have the outfit Shipped-to-Store for pickup or directly to any home address — all while in-app.

  • Another retailer will utilize Visual Search as an in-store checkout portal, allowing their shoppers to snap photographs of the products they’re purchasing. Instead of standing in line at the checkout, the shopper simply walks out of the store and is billed through the app as they leave.  

  • Contextualized search is a focal point for another retailer’s app, allowing their customers to photograph home improvement scenarios (a broken window, a hole in their wall) and receive how-to videos, necessary product information and an in-store mapping tool to navigate to the products required.  

The possibilities for customized use-cases with visual search technology are limitless, and retailers themselves will define the most effective applications in the months to come.

For consumers, branded apps utilizing visual search have the potential to go beyond being just a disposable gimmick and become an invaluable tool, providing guidance at the point of indecision, efficiency at the point of irritation and access to products at the very moment of inspiration.

Erika Racicot is Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer at Visual Commerce Platform Slyce. She is also Co-founder of Canadian Venture Creation firm Business Instincts Group.

Twitter: @erikaracicot @slyceit

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