Are Visual Search Capabilities the Future of Ecommerce?


When looking at potential improvement angles of ecommerce, we spot a lot of room for improvement around user experience (UX design) and customer service. As far as the future goes, we are looking at AR and VR, but even today there are some trends in visual processing and image computing that could introduce compelling new services. In this article, we want to showcase a few new examples.

Look & Book

Earlier this month, the European airline easyJet has announced a brand-new way to engage with customers. The “Look & Book” feature allows travelers to book flights by tapping on a photo of a location. It’s integrated with Instagram and makes it easier than ever to find your next holiday destination.

After a customer selects a picture of a beautiful location, Look & Book uses image-recognition software to find the location and the closest airport. According to easyJet’s CEO Daniel Young, the airline’s venture into visual search will “enhance and streamline the customer search and booking experience.” Here’s a video of how it works:

The next big thing?

Indeed, the tools of image-based search seem to gain popularity with more and more e-commerce retailers. Based on the research conducted by ViSenze, the younger generation wants visual search capabilities when they shop.

Since most shopping today is done on a mobile device, it’s no surprise that the shoppers need capabilities that would let them identify the products quickly.

Does it work in practice?

easyJet is not the first retailer to capitalize on the increased engagement of shoppers with visual elements. Last year, ASOS introduced visual search on mobile platforms. Adapting Pinterest’s LENS technology, which has arguably started the trend, the fashion retailer personalizes the search for the current users of the mobile app. After uploading a photo of an item, the user likes, ASOS searches for it on their website, and issues recommendations following the purchase.

Also interesting: 3 Ways Retail Failed to Combat Ecommerce

Another fashion retailer, Forever 21, launched a similar feature earlier this year, called “Discover Your Style.” By clicking on icons that represent the features that they like (the color, the length, etc.), a customer receives the corresponding results sold by Forever 21. “Visual search bridges the gap between the convenience of online shopping and the rich discovery experience of traditional retail by enabling our customers to search for clothing in the same way they think about it — using visuals, not words,” Forever 21’s President Alex Ok stated.

As the examples above show, there’s more than one approach to visual search. Other fashion retailers like Boohoo use visual search to help recreate Instagram looks. Apps like Worn on TV and Spylight can help customers instantly find an outfit worn by their favorite TV series character. eBay’s new image search function works as an alternative to its standard text-based search.

So is visual search the future?

It certainly seems that way. The customers’ needs are evolving, and visual searches can bridge the time gap between seeking keywords for what they want and finding it. It’s a way to save time, appropriate for shopping on mobile, which seems to be the biggest venue for online shopping. So the visual search capabilities seem to be the most appropriate response to the changing behavioral trends.

Photo credit: The feature image has been prepared by Sebastiaan ter Burg.
Source: Omar Oakes (Campaign) / Lee Hayhurst (Travolution) / Seb Joseph (Digiday) / Andrew Charlton (Search Engine Watch) / Rachel England (Engadget) / Maghan McDowell (Glossy) / Rachel Arthur (Forbes)

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Kate Sukhanova
Kate Sukhanova
I’m a writer with a keen interest in digital technology and traveling. If I get to write about those two things at the same time, I’m the happiest person in the room. When I’m not scrolling through newsfeeds, traveling, or writing about it, I enjoy reading mystery novels, hanging out with my cat, and running my charity shop.
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