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Visual search may offer deeper mcommerce engagement


By Erika Racicot

In the last two decades, consumers’ relationship with the word “search” has altered dramatically.

Searching for information of any kind has gone from being an innately personal experience to one of the most widely researched and profitable businesses on earth.

The effect of smartphones on our ability to quench this insatiable thirst for answers has been nothing less than seismic.

By placing the power of connected search in our pockets, we are free to source answers almost instantaneously to any transient query we might have as long as we can clearly explain in words what we are looking for.

Sounds perfect. However, we are also inherently visual beings. Ninety percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and this information is processed 60,000-times faster than text (Hubspot).

And so, what of the things we see around us that we cannot explain in easily digestible keywords, things that are complex or specific or beyond a simple description?

Line of sight
Recent advancements in the area of visual search are setting the stage for a major shift in how people interact with the world around them and how those selling can better interact with those buying.

By combining advanced image recognition technology with search algorithms, social network integrations, mobile specific technologies such as NFC (Near Field Communication) and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy), today’s visual search companies allow users to perform highly intuitive queries based solely on what they see, both online and in the world around them.

Imagine being able to snap a photograph of the Statue of Liberty and receive detailed information about its history, tour schedules, pricing, nearby restaurants or even which of your Facebook friends might be in the area – no problem.

How about taking a picture of a baseball diamond in Houston to receive historic results or Little League registration information for your kids? You can do that.

Access to information is no longer being facilitated solely by an ability to accurately translate into words what you see with your eyes, and that changes everything.

In the scramble to appeal to the burgeoning swell of smartphone-savvy consumers, brands and retailers have rolled out a huge array of initiatives to create engaging and intuitive experiences.

Optimized Web sites, augmented reality and applications of all shapes and sizes have been high on the go-to list.

A Deloitte study, however, found that 80 percent of branded apps were downloaded less than 1,000 times and that the majority of smartphone users had only one or two retailer apps on their phone.

Mobile consumers are impatient and spoilt for choice. There must, therefore, be a highly compelling reason why they would choose to take up their precious smartphone real estate with a brand or retailer app.

All too often, apps are being created with style over substance with little thought put into what is going to make it fundamentally useful and sticky for users.

Visual search technology is entering real viability at a critical time for an industry undergoing a tremendous amount of upheaval.

Retailers are simultaneously seeking to develop or overhaul not just their mobile commerce strategy, but their omnichannel strategy and also seriously address the granddaddy of all retail threats, showrooming.

While there is no one solution that will solve all of the challenges, visual search technology may present an opportunity to unify the disparate components of retailer operations, and provide the modern consumer with the compelling shopping experience that they are seeking.

It’s a snap
Later this year and in early 2014, several leading retailers will launch new mobile apps built around visual search functionality.

Featuring the retailer’s product catalogue as the sole context for results, shoppers will be able to perform incredible visual search actions in any environment.

A few examples of how these integrations will work:

A major fashion retailer’s mobile app will allow its shoppers to snap a picture of a stranger’s outfit on the street and receive matching results from the current catalog.

The shopper can than make the purchase and have the outfit shipped to store for pickup or directly to any home address – all while in-app.

Another retailer will use visual search as an in-store checkout portal, allowing its shoppers to snap photographs of the products that they are purchasing.

Instead of standing in line at the checkout, the shopper simply walks out of the store and is billed through the app as she leaves.

Contextualized search is a focal point for another retailer’s app, allowing its customers to photograph home improvement scenarios – a broken window, a hole in their wall – and receive how-to videos, necessary product information and an in-store mapping tool.

FOR RETAILERS, visual search accomplishes a previously unattainable milestone – facilitating an interaction with a consumer at her point-of-inspiration and desire.

The possibilities for customized use-cases are limitless, and retailers themselves will define the most effective apps in the months to come.

For consumers, branded apps using visual search have the potential to transcend being just a disposable gimmick and become a valued tool, providing guidance at the point of indecision, efficiency at the point of irritation and access to products at the very moment of inspiration.

Erika Racicot is cofounder and chief operating officer of Slyce Commerce, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Reach her at [email protected].