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Image recognition increasingly an app must-have as scanning gains ground

With major retailers such as Amazon, Target and Macy’s offering image recognition within their mobile applications, the technology is likely to become a must-have although more sophisticated scan-to-shop deployments could remain limited.

Scan-to-buy options enabling consumers to shop directly from a retailer’s catalogs, print ads and in-store signage are increasingly a standard offering. However, more retailers are also scrambling to compete against Amazon and showrooming by and employing image recognition technology that allows consumers to point their phone at any object and receive suggestions for similar products within the brand app.

“There is no doubt image recognition will play a major role in mcommerce next year,” said Nick De Toustain, director of sales at LTU Technologies, New York. “We’ve reached that tipping point where enough consumers have the ‘scan reflex’ and nothing is more natural than scanning an image of the product.

“Also, I think consumers have developed QR code fatigue. We’re sick of seeing those ugly codes and tags and want an easier, more natural an aesthetic way: image recognition is that. A cliché maybe, but image recognition’s time has come.”

Consumer adoption
Brands already offering scan-to-shop functionalities within their apps can expect to see high user adoption as holiday shopping goes into full swing. Target is firing back at Amazon’s image recognition feature with the In a Snap app, which allows users to scan a catalog image or store signage in designated stores and receive additional information about the product to complete the purchase within the app (see story).

Meanwhile, Macy’s is stepping up the scan-to-buy feature even more, with an Image Search app that enables guests to snap a photo of any item and then easily search for and purchase a similar product on (see story). Snapping photos of real-life products and giving users the ability to shop similar items instantly is an aspect of showrooming that many consumers will find extremely valuable.

“The technology will help to further bridge the gap between offline (in-store showrooming) and online, mobile and desktop, browsing and purchasing,” said Djamel Agaoua, CEO of MobPartner, San Francisco. “In 2014, consumers started to use image recognition technology provided by retailers. I expect that adoption will grow at rapid rates in 2015 as more retailers realize the benefits and advantages of the technology for both consumers and their respective businesses.”

For brands that have integrated with Apple Pay or other mobile payment systems, this type of image recognition software could catapult mcommerce sales even higher.

‘This will soon become a table stake feature for all apps – consumers will expect this feature to be available, or else they will use competitors’ app to pull the products up and get the information they are looking for,” said Vivek Agrawal, vice president of mobile and emerging experiences at Skava, San Francisco.

“Also, with Apple Pay taking off, image recognition will be a key way to cut the number of clicks / touches the user need to perform to ultimately buy a product.”

However, demographics must be taken into consideration when promoting consumer adoption of scan-to-shop functions. Millennials that already have their favorite brands’ apps on their mobile devices will appreciate the convenience, but older demographics may need some time to become accustomed to the idea – although this may ultimately drive more app downloads.

“I think it’ll depend on the consumer and what their familiarity is with scan-to-shop,” Mr. De Toustain said. “For some it’ll be, ‘wow – neato!’ while for others it’ll be, ‘I’ll never get this. Just give me a good old-fashioned price tag.’

“Consumers will eventually gravitate to shop-to-scan, but it’ll take some demographics longer than others.”

Overcoming issues
The key to competing with retail conglomerates is ensuring that the image recognition capability works flawlessly. Amazon’s iOS Flow feature offers flexibility in recognizing items, from logos and artwork to other unique visual features.

“Consumers are pretty jaded by the undelivered promises of past mcommerce app features,” said Chris Mellow, director of digital and engagement at Grupo Gallegos, Huntington Beach, Calif. “That said, if the functionality will truly make for a better shopping experience, it will be adopted.

“The main issue with scan-to-shop is that it has been positioned as an easy solve for those consumers who want to view, and hold, a product in-store and then complete the purchase via a lower cost online shop. And for those cases where someone has taken the effort to go to a physical store to view a product, you have to think that they could find that product online via a text search with very little effort.”

“If the scan-to-shop feature doesn’t add significant value, let alone function properly, customers will do the same thing that they’ve done with UPC and QR code scanning and just ignore it,” Mr. Mellow said.

Marketers looking to bolster their mobile strategies in 2015 should be looking into adding in-app image recognition functionalities to keep up with other major brands’ pushes for customer convenience and easy checkout processes. However, making sure that the technology works on all mobile devices is a key requirement, as first impressions count for mobile users.

“If it takes too long to get a result, or you get the wrong result, it’ll be a turnoff,” LTU Technologies’ Mr. De Toustain said. “Brands need to focus on making the back-end fast and accurate, so that the front-end is easy and functional for consumers.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York