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Home Depot’s visual search beta highlights technology’s appeal beyond apparel

Home Depot’s iPhone application recently began offering visual search in beta, reflecting how the omnichannel strategy continues to grow and is starting to expand beyond its initial use by apparel retailers into other categories.

With an average of 35,000 SKUs in its stores and close to 1 million online, Home Depot wants to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for. IPhone users with the Home Depot app can tap on the hamburger menu and the camera function to take a picture of a tool or other home item and automatically be delivered results for similar items within the retailer’s inventory.

“If you think about our business, it is uniquely beneficial for our customers in that we many times have customers come in looking for part they are not quite sure what it is called,” said Stephen Holmes, director of corporate communications at The Home Depot. “This can be helpful on that front.

“We don’t just develop tech for the sake of coming up with new and cool things for people to use; we really want to make the shopping experience easier for our customers,” he said. “This is a good example of that.

Streamlining smartphone search
Once customers find the item they are looking for using the visual search, they can purchase it online or pick it up in the store.

The move into visual search is part of a recent update to the retailer’s iOS apps that also included an iPad app redesign to give it a landscape orientation, something users had been requesting.

Visual search is a popular feature addition for large retailers’ apps in the past year. The technology offers several key benefits, including streamlining the search process on small smartphone screens and potentially driving impulse purchasing from mobile as a result.

In July of 2014, Target answered Amazon’s image recognition app with its own offering, hoping to take back control of showrooming activity while providing shoppers with the kind of mobile-enabled omnichannel shopping experiences they want (see story).

Last fall, Macy’s became the first United States retailer to use visual search technology from Cortexica to attract younger consumers who thrive on the use of imagery by making it easy to find a fashion look (see story).

Other retailers leveraging image recognition technology to streamline product search include Toys R Us (see story) and JCPenney (see story).

Interconnected retail
Visual search is the latest example of how Home Depot is enhancing its mobile app to make shopping easier.

The app also offers voice search, enabling in-store users to say the name of an item and be directed to where it is located.

“Overall, the download of our app has been very strong,” Mr. Holmes said. “I think that you can attribute that to the fact that it really is a tool that just makes shopping easier for the customer, whether online or in the store.

“Our apps are built to support our strategy of interconnected retail,” he said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York