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How Urban Outfitters plans to boost mobile sales with visual search

Urban Outfitters is going beyond the standard millennial retailer’s digital commerce offerings by collaborating with mobile visual search company Slyce to enable customers to snap photos of desired items with their smartphones and find similar products within its inventory.

The apparel retailer is set to ramp up its commerce intake by offering this feature within its mobile application in the near future. As more clothing and accessories brands realize the value of mobile visual search functions, this strategy will likely enhance sales for Urban Outfitters if the tool is introduced prior to the holiday season, due to its strong ability to drive impulse purchases.

“While we can’t comment on Urban Outfitters’ deployment, visual search is able to seamlessly translate consumer desire into discovery and purchase,” said Mark Elfenbein, CEO of Slyce, Toronto, Canada. “What can be a cumbersome experience in trying to effectively articulate a fashion item with a text-based search, can be made far more intuitive and accurate using visual search.

“In our experience, benefits for retailers of integrating the functionality come in the form of increased downloads of their consumer apps, increased engagement and ‘stickyness’ of those apps and increased sales.”

Scan-to-shop’s meteoric rise
A growing number of retailers are realizing the lucrative revenue potential of incorporating scan-to-shop visual search into their branded applications. The feature enables consumers to snap an image of an item showcased in a catalog or in a real-life setting.

It then searches within the retailer’s inventory for identical or similar products, which customers may easily add to their shopping carts for checkout.

Urban Outfitters will likely experience a sales uptick following this integration, as mobile users will be able to easily explore new products and stumble upon items they may never have seen otherwise.

Visual search removes the necessity of poring through product pages online or on mobile to find desired clothing pieces or accessories, a tactic that resonates with time-strapped consumers.

While specifics of Urban Outfitters’ collaboration with Slyce are not yet available, the millennial-friendly brand may also opt to incorporate scannable coupons and discounts into its mobile app.

Toys R Us recently tapped Slyce to enable consumers to take a picture of a receipt, catalog or newspaper coupon and generate a mobile-optimized version to store in the retailer’s application, driving cross-screen marketing and retargeting opportunities (see story).

The promise of easily addable promotions may be enough to convince customers to download the app onto their devices.

If Urban Outfitters opts to roll out the visual functionality ahead of the 2015 holiday shopping season, it could see sales increase significantly, as more consumers shop on mobile and search for the perfect gift for friends and family members.

Millennial-focused strategies
The retailer has been engaging in a strong mobile push over the past year as it attempts to cater to its primary consumer demographic of millennials in a way that offers maximum convenience. Its app currently boasts interactive features such as a curated newsfeed, rewards for loyal shoppers, personal gallery and radio listening options.

Last year, Urban Outfitters and Nicole Miller were among brands part of social shopping network Wanelo’s move to streamline the customer journey by launching a “buy” button that enables purchases from within the network’s mobile application (see story).

The brand is also maximizing user engagement by sending push notifications, email and in-app messages at times when consumers are most receptive.

Mobile visual search functions may soon become requisite for major apparel chains, as consumers’ desire for instant gratification via their smartphones continues its upward trajectory. Urban Outfitters may even be able to snatch some competition away from similar retailers that do not offer this feature, particularly if using regular search tools frustrates some customers, consequently leading to a negative shopping experience.

“Visual search gives consumers a highly-accessible way to find the items they’re looking for and is able to power numerous different use cases,” Mr. Elfenbein said. “Our technology is able to facilitate results not only by the scanning of real-world 3D items but also 2D print material, barcodes, QR codes and even coupons.

“There has certainly been a tipping point where, for major brands and retailers, integration of visual search technology and unlocking the ability to drive awareness, loyalty and revenue through the camera function on consumers’ smartphones, has to either be in place, in development or, at the very least, within their near-future roadmap.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely, staff writer on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York