Published on March 14, 2018

Visual search removes the need for text inputs, directly using the information in the picture itself to perform the search.

With all the recent talk about voice search, there’s another development in the world of search that’s gone mostly unnoticed: visual search. While still young and evolving, visual search has the potential to alter how we search and shop for products dramatically.

Beyond Text-Based Searches

Picture this:

You’re walking down the street and you see someone wearing something you like. You’ll be able to snap a photo, and immediately go to shopping results — eliminating the guessing game of trying to describe it accurately with words. You could go from seeing an item for the first time to ordering in a couple of taps. What are the possibilities within this new frontier of brand recognition?

Visual search removes the need for text inputs, directly using the information in the picture itself to perform the search. Visual search uses computer vision (a type of artificial intelligence or AI) and image recognition to compare images pixel by pixel and give you results that are visually similar.

Big Players in Social Search

Amazon POV visual search 1

Amazon’s visual search engine has been available since 2009 but was limited to barcodes and only a few types of products. Since 2016, the company announced customers could use the camera to search for almost any product on the retailer’s website. Amazon dominates online product searches — with about 52% of people starting their product searches there — so its app has serious potential. This seems to be the most powerful tool we’ve seen so far.

Pinterest’s In-Pin Search POV Visual Search 2

In-Pin search lets users learn more about any items shown in the Pin, whether it’s clothing, a gadget, or more. Visual search is a perfect match for the visual social network, where many users frequently see things they like but don’t know how to find it. The caveat is that In-Pin search only finds content that has been added to Pinterest and not all of the items are available for purchase. Does this mean e-commerce brands should dedicate more of their social media dollars to Pinterest? Maybe.

Bing Visual Search POV VIsual Search 3

Microsoft first deployed visual search in its Bing search engine in 2009 but removed it 2012 after the tool didn’t receive much use. Now that it’s back, the search engine allows you to hone in on specific items within an image and find out more information about the item alongside visually similar ones. This capability is similar to Pinterest’s In-Pin search, but expands the universe of available images into anything that has been indexed by Bing.

Google Lens POV Visual Search 4

In mid-2017, Google announced Google Lens, an AI technology that lets your phone’s camera understand the world around it.The Lens features tools that allow you to see more information about locations, automatically add events to your calendars and connect to Wi-Fi networks by pointing the camera at the router’s setting sticker. Yet currently, Google Lens is only available on Pixel phones.

Retailer Apps

Aside from these three, some retailers have launched dedicated apps for their brands. Target, for example, has an app that lets users snap photos from catalogs and ads, and find it quickly on their website. Wayfair, Macy’s and Neiman Marcus are other retailers that have also developed their own visual search apps.

Will Visual Search Change E-Commerce? As it grows in popularity, visual search has the potential to affect the way we shop dramatically; now there’s no need to use text for product searches, allowing consumers to buy things they see on-the-go.

For now, we see a lot of activity happening on smaller retailer sites. But the significant growth is happening on Amazon and Google. For Amazon, its visual search capabilities could be a factor in the e-commerce giant’s continued domination of product searches. Google might pose a challenge once its Lens capabilities expand beyond the Pixel phones. For Google, the possibilities could extend beyond e-commerce as the search engine incorporates the company’s vast knowledge of search behavior and patterns.

Despite its growing popularity, it may be too soon to dive head first into visual search. Still, it could be a good idea for visually-centered brands to consider integrating the technology in their day-to-day marketing.

Originally Published on Medium on February 5, 2018.

Juanita Galindo

Juanita GalindoContent & SEO Planner - M8

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