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Q&A: JCPenney’s visual search simplifies shopping research for consumers

A JCPenney executive discusses how the retailer’s new native image recognition feature in its mobile application is a bid to streamline the research stage of the shopping process, an imperative tactic considering the amount of inventory available.

JCPenney has been placing a spotlight on mobile for the past several months as it attempts to engage with more consumers via in-store, smartphone-enabled strategies as well as enhanced app functions to make the shopping process more streamlined than ever. Visual search is becoming a paramount feature to include in apps for major retailers with inventory stretching across multiple categories.

Consumers appreciate having the ability to pull out their smartphone, snap a photo of a desirable product and receive the same or similar items within a retail app for immediate purchase. This feature is currently live on the JCPenney iPhone app, and will be available within the Android app this July.

In an interview with Mobile Commerce Daily, Mike Rodgers, executive vice president of omnichannel at J. C. Penney Company, Inc., spoke about the brand’s efforts to bolster mobile commerce as the retail space grows even tighter.

Why is it important to JCPenney to offer the image recognition as a native feature directly in the app?
Customers install the JCPenney app because they want an easy and effective online shopping experience. To ensure that the JCPenney app is a widely used and effective tool, it must offer features that make product information, reviews, coupons, purchasing and other capabilities available in as few taps as possible.

Image recognition is one of the latest digital innovations and JCPenney wants to continue being a leader on this front.

How does visual search capability enhance the shopping experience for customers?
App users don’t like to spend a lot of time navigating various screens just to find a particular size, color or model. The new image recognition feature on the JCPenney app simplifies the entire research process. Rather than tapping through various screens and filters, users can simply snap a photo of their favorite item and the app will quickly display closely matched products available on

Whether it’s capturing a photo of a friend’s purse, scanning the barcode of a JCPenney store item, or snapping a photo of a bedspread in our home catalog, customers can see an item they like and use the recognition feature to locate the item on and purchase it instantly. It’s important to seize that moment of discovery with a tool that connects JCPenney to the inspired shopper.

How do you think this feature will set you apart from other retailers attempting to make strides in the mobile space?
The visual search function on the JCPenney app is much easier to use. There are other apps that still require users to drill down various categories before taking a photo of the item. That defeats the purpose.

Users expect immediate feedback to their query. Plus, our feature isn’t limited by one or two categories. Whether a customer is shopping for a blender, dress, necklace or shower curtain, our new image recognition feature will find that exact item or similar items.

How important is leveraging mobile strategy in reaching your customer base?
Currently, half of the traffic to is coming from a mobile device. We anticipate that percentage to grow.

Mobile customers are already relying on their phones to find the latest deals online, receive text alerts and pull up digital coupons to present at the register. It’s become a virtual extension of how they shop in a brick and mortar store.

Do you have a mobile milestone of the past year that you would be willing to share?
Last fall, JCPenney introduced an all-new JCPenney iPhone app with improved navigation, faster browsing and easier access to coupons. One additional feature was the ability to scan the barcode of any item in the store to see its availability on and at other JCPenney stores within a certain mile radius.

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