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GUEST COMMENT How retailers are using visual search in 2020

Technology in retail has come a long way. From price and efficiency being the most important differentiators. Now, the way consumers have adopted technology puts more premium into meaningful shopping experiences.

With the start of the new decade, retailers can leverage the opportunities brought by a wide range of digital solutions and platforms. But which one to focus on? From social media to online advertising, Digiday revealed that 81% of brand executives rated search as the most important channel and a key priority in 2020. 

The average person conducts three to four search each day, resulting in 5.8 billion searches per day, and over 1 billion of which are images. Online image search, also called visual search, is not a new consumer behavior. Yet, it is only within the last few years that the technology made it possible for retailers to offer it and get amazing results.  

In fact, the ability to search with images instead of text, is rapidly becoming not only a channel that consumers tap to seamlessly find products, but also a strategy that retailers use to smoothen the buying journey. Visual social networks such as Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and now TikTok, are a key driver of this development.

Labeled as a technology “on the rise,” Gartner considers visual search a tool that enhances the customer experience, especially for eCommerce, content, product and search marketing. According to Accenture, “By 2021, early adopter brands that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search will increase digital commerce revenue by 30%.”

Big players such as Pinterest, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are already investing heavily in visual search capabilities. How are brands and retailers using this AI-powered technology to enhance the customer experience both online and offline?

User experience overhauled by visual AI

Retailers around the world identified customer experience as one of the top priorities and most exciting opportunities in 2020. Rightly so as Tenkin Group reported that a typical $1 billion company can gain $775 million over three years with modest improvement in customer experience.

An end-to-end solution, visual search impact every step of the shopping journey and eventually the revenue. Highly flexible and customizable, here are the specific ways retailers win more customers with visual search.



Less friction during product search and comparison

Visual search eliminates the need for finding the exact product keywords to search for. As retailers prioritize the search experience, visual search takes it a step further by completely removing that one barrier separating users from the products they’re looking for—text.

This is particularly useful for online marketplaces, such as Farfetch and Atterley, that have hundreds and thousands of brands and stock keeping units. Visual search enhances product discoverability that is a win-win for both shoppers and retailers.

Daniel Rothman, Glasses USA CEO and co-founder shared, “Customers often they have a clear idea of what they want, but have no clue how to look for it or describe it. With this tool [AI-powered recognition software] we’ve simplified the process by working bottom-up and having customers show us what they want—and we’re offering customers the retail experience of a sales clerk’s assistance without having to leave their homes.”

Recommendations that truly resonate

An Accenture survey found that 63% of consumers are interested in personalized recommendations. Visual search elevates the user experience by making the product discovery as fluid as possible throughout the buying journey.

From search to complete the look. From the product page to the shopping cart. Visual search ensures that customers are exposed to not just products, but products that reflect their previous and on-site shopping behavior. In fact, another Accenture report revealed that “91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations.”

Shorter shopping journey from search to purchase

With visual search doing its magic in every step of the customer journey, shoppers go through the whole buying experience with much ease. As a result, more end up purchasing and repurchasing if the whole experience is top-notch.

Online retailers, such as Boohoo, can increase average order value by 12% with visual search. And, according to Salesforce, AI-powered recommendations help nurture consumers’ loyalty. The survey showed that 37% of shoppers came back after clicking a personalized recommendation during their first visit.

Omnichannel customer journey with visual search

In short, the area of search in 2020 is moving towards visual search. From smaller format “concept store” style brick-and-mortar to large online marketplaces. Regardless of the strategy retailers take this year, visual search makes the customer experience better. How?

Physical and digital continue to converge

As customers shop both online and offline, omnichannel retail is still a viable strategy for years to come. A combination of in-store and digital efforts, an effective omnichannel approach to retail provides shoppers with real-time and seamless access to not only products but also meaningful experiences. 

According to Gartner, “Digital sales continue to grow, but it’s no longer a competition between online and offline. Today, many retailers find that half of their online sales are supported by their stores.” In fact, the need for a robust omnichannel experience contributed to the rise in popularity of smart mirrors. 

Powered by a combination of visual search technologies, AI, and display, retailers such as Zara, Lululemon, Uniqlo and more are delivering a continuous online to offline (and vice versa) experience with smart mirrors.

Visual search combined with conversational interfaces

Another tool that hyper-personalizes the user experience is conversational interfaces. According to Sonar, 72% of US millennials and 64% of UK millennials believe that brands using AI can accurately predict what they want. Combining visual search with chatbots enhances the customer experience, specifically at the beginning of the buyer journey, the most critical step, which is product search. 

Real-time visibility on inventory

A global survey conducted by JDA found that whether the shopping journey starts and ends in-store or online, having the right product in stock is the most important aspect for 34% of consumers. This is followed closely by carrying the right variety of brands and products, and providing a fast, seamless experience.

AI-powered visual search not only keeps the inventory fresh, but it also ensures that shoppers discover the right products at the right moment. Improving product discoverability, PrettyLittleThing boosted total revenue per session by over 2.3% on-site. For retailers with a brick-and-mortar space, a smart tablet that helps shoppers easily navigate the store can lead them to products they are searching for faster and easier.

Augment in-store and backend staff and train with new skills

Advances in AI and visual search technology provide more than just a centralized, real-time inventory visibility across locations and digital assets. It also automates the process of tagging which enables the staff to upload new items in shorter time frames. With more free time, staff and retailers, just like Venca, can do other vital tasks such as customer engagement and analytics for predicting inventory demand.

On the front line, store associates can be trained to deliver better shopping experiences by leveraging in-store smart solutions such as mirrors and tablets. Having direct interactions with consumers, they can make or break the experience of shopping experience.

A Tulip Retail survey found that, “79% of consumers say being able to engage with knowledgeable store associates is ‘important’ or ‘very important.’” With the power of AI and visual search, in-store staff has tools at their disposal to bring more life to the physical store, enhance customer service, and form long-lasting impressions worth coming back for.

As consumers continue to adopt new ways to shop, retailers must also strive to innovate the user experience. From online to offline, and from product discovery to purchase, visual search is the gamechanger in retail that impacts not just one, but all steps of the customer journey.

Delighting shoppers every step of the way with personalised touches turns retail shopping from mere product purchases to experiences that are relevant and memorable. With visual search, customer journeys can be magical enough to attract, engage, and retain customers.

Lihi Pinto Fryman is co-founder and CRO at Syte

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