What does visual search mean for ecommerce in 2017?

By Chris Camps

Since the early 2010s, visual search has been offering users a novel alternative to keyword-based search results.

But with the sophistication of visual search tools increasing, and tech giants like Google and Microsoft investing heavily in the space, what commercial opportunities does it offer brands today?

Visual search 101

There are two types of visual search. The first compares metadata keywords for similarities (such as when searching an image database like Shutterstock).

The second is known as ‘content-based image retrieval‘. This takes the colour, shape and texture of the image and compares it to a database, displaying entries according to similarity.

From a user perspective, this massively simplifies the process of finding products they like the look of. Instead of trying to find the words to describe the object, users can simply take a photo and see relevant results.

Visual search engines: A (very) brief history

The first product to really make use of this technology was ‘Google Goggles‘. Released in 2010, it offered some fairly basic image-recognition capabilities. It could register unique objects like books, barcodes, art and landmarks, and provide additional information about them.

It also had the ability to understand and store text in an image – such as a photo of a business card. However, it couldn’t recognize general instances of objects, like trees, animals or items of clothing.

CamFind took the next step, offering an app where users could take photos of any object and see additional information alongside shopping results. My tests (featuring our beautiful office plant) yielded impressively accurate related images and web results.

More importantly for brands, it offers advertising based on the content of the image. However, despite the early offering, the app has yet to achieve widespread adoption.

A Pinterest-ing development

A newer player in the visual search arena, image-focused platform Pinterest has what CamFind doesn’t – engaged users. In fact, it reached 150m monthly users in 2016, 70m of which are in the US with a 60:40 split women to men.

So what do people use Pinterest for? Ben Silbermann, its CEO and co-founder, summed it up in a recent blog post:

“As a Pinner once said to me, “Pinterest is for yourself, not your selfies”—I love that. Pinterest is more of a personal tool than a social one. People don’t come to see what their friends are doing. (There are lots of other great places out there for that!) Instead, they come to Pinterest to find ideas to try, figure out which ones they love, and learn a little bit about themselves in the process.”

In other words, Pinterest is designed for discovery. Users are there to look for products and ideas, not to socialize. Which makes it inherently brand-friendly. In fact, 93% of Pinners said they use Pinterest to plan for purchases, and 87% said they’d bought something because of interest. Adverts are therefore less disruptive in this context than platforms like Facebook and Twitter, where users are focused on socializing, not searching.

Pinterest took their search functionality to the next level in Go to the full article.

Source:: Search Engine Watch

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