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Argos launches AI-powered visual search to connect physical catalogues with online channels

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Argos has added AI-powered visual search to its iOS app so that users can take photos of homeware objects and find them. The retailer hopes it will bridge the gap between its physical catalogue business and digital channels.

According to Argos, users simply take a photograph, or upload a saved image, of their desired item to the app, which instantly searches the entire Argos online catalogue for similar furniture, curtains or homewares.  The technology does this by recognising distinctive features such as the shape, colour and style of items in the image. 

The launch is part of Argos’s mission to offer customers an engaging, technology-led mobile shopping experience, says the retailer. With thousands of fantastic value homewares and furniture available in its online catalogue, this innovative way of shopping will make it even easier for customers to find exactly what they’re looking for. 

Visual search works alongside Argos’s existing augmented reality technology, which lets customers digitally place products such as sofas and TVs into their own homes using the iOS app to assess the look, size and fit before buying. 

Argos’s aim is to extend the visual search functionality to customers using the retailer’s iconic paper catalogue in the future, where the app could surface products to complement items customers find on catalogue pages.

Mark Steel, Digital Director at Argos, explains: “Customers are increasingly using social media platforms, such as Instagram and Pinterest, as a source of inspiration so visual search has the potential to transform how we shop for the home.  By creating it in our app, we’re intentionally putting this exciting new technology directly into the hands and pockets of our customers who are using mobile devices to shop more than ever.”

Steel continues: “Customers seeking a product or even an entire room set they’ve discovered online, or seen in a friend’s home, can now browse our vast range of homewares and furniture to find great value similar items in an instant, simply using a picture.”

Steel concludes: “The future potential for visual search is really exciting as it has the ability to break down language barriers and offer those with disabilities an easy way to find what they need online.   We’re also exploring how we can use it to help bridge the gap between our physical catalogue and digital channels, offering customers a truly integrated way to shop.”

Visual search is the latest in a line of technology-enabled innovations from Argos designed to make mobile shopping even easier.  Last year, it launched a voice shop service enabling customers to reserve 20,000 products using voice technology on the Google Assistant.  The retailer also launched augmented reality technology to support LEGO toys, TVs and sofas.

The move comes as M&S kicked off the year by becoming one of the 5% of retailers using visual search to try and pull the online and real-world shopping experiences together. M&S Style Finder is a photo search feature that lives on M&S’ mobile website, enabling customers to seamlessly discover a desired look with just a couple of taps.

Visual search is growing in popularity as it makes search easier and more intuitive argue its fans. Its use by Asos, Amazon, eBay, H&M and now M&S is likely to also bring it to the mainstream rapidly in 2019, as does the launch in June 2018 of visual search tech by Poq, which will enable many more retailers to build visual search into their apps.

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