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Evaluating a Visual Search Engine in the New Era of eCommerce

eCommerce Best Practices
Trends and Future of Retail
Visual Search and AI
Sarah HillelSarah Hillel | October 8, 2020

Shoppers are constantly bombarded by spontaneous moments of inspiration. A routine trip to a local cafe with great decor can lead to a quest for the perfect, cozy armchairs.

But without the information on how to buy them, shoppers are likely stuck with a photo they snapped as they struggle to find the words to describe what made the armchairs “just right.”

The good news? Leading retailers across verticals are starting to offer visual search on-site, so that shoppers can (hopefully) find whatever it is that caught their eye.

But their success — and that of the customer experience as a whole– relies on the quality and accuracy of the visual search engine.

This article will break down the role visual search engines play in customer experience and exactly what to look for when evaluating one for your brand.

Visual Search Engines Explained

Online shopping today has become a visual game. Shoppers are primed with hours of browsing on visual social platforms each day, and they arrive at your site expecting continuity in that experience.

According to an Intent Lab research, 36% of consumers have used a visual search tool. It also found that 59% trust and prefer visual information over text.

For brands and retailers, this means incorporating more visuals into the customer experience. It also signals the growing expectation for finding products via image search.

Enter the visual search engine. It enables users to search for a similar match through visual input. This could be a saved photo, a screenshot, or even a real-world live image via your camera app. The visual search engine then identifies the objects in the photo and delivers similar items in return.

visual search engine

4 Criteria for Evaluating a Visual Search Engine

A visual search engine should make product search and discovery easier for shoppers, contributing to a memorable customer experience.

As you strive to get ahead of ever-changing consumer expectations, how can you guarantee that the visual search engine you choose will work well enough to increase conversion and build brand loyalty?

In the new era of eCommerce, these are the four key criteria to consider when evaluating a visual search engine:

1. Built for the Social Generation

Business Insider Intelligence estimated that by 2024, social commerce sales will reach $84.2 billion. Shoppers visit social media not only to scroll and pass the time but also to consume visual content that influences what they purchase.

When customers take a screenshot of fashion or home decor inspiration from user-generated content, your visual search engine must be able to accurately identify all items in the photo, even when it’s not catalogue image quality.

Additionally, with UGC as inspiration, multi-object detection is a must — it eliminates the need for shoppers to manually crop the uploaded image to highlight which product they want to explore more. Since social media is where global trends are born, a powerful visual search engine should also be able to detect the latest brands and products across verticals.

visual search engine ecommerce

2. Convenience as King

Customers are willing to pay more for convenience. NRF revealed that 83% of consumers say convenience is more important now as compared to just five years ago, and 97% have backed out of a purchase because of inconvenience.

Your visual search engine must take the legwork out of product discovery in three key ways:

  • Accuracy: This is a make-or-break criterion for a visual search engine. Receiving poor matches for an image search instantly breaks a shopping experience that has barely started, causing frustration and driving shoppers away. Additionally, your visual search engine should be fast, delivering results with zero latency.
  • Inspiration: While many shoppers will have images ready to go, others need a little push in the right direction. Choose a visual search engine that enables you to upload an inspiration gallery of social or product images to spark a connection with items in your catalogue without making shoppers leave the page.
  • Continuity: A great visual search engine offers more than just a camera icon in your search bar — it should provide opportunities for image search throughout the customer journey. For example, shoppers should be able to click through images on your product detail pages to search for visually similar items. Convenience is about meeting shoppers wherever they are, rather than funneling them all through a single path.

Finally, a visual search engine should also be convenient for you as a brand or retailer. Make sure to find one that can be up and running in days, not months. Plus, it should be robust enough to implement with minimal dev involvement, so you can save your resources for other essential projects.

3. Micro-Personalization Through Visual Search

Brands’ new battlefield is customer experience, and to win, personalization is critical. Epsilon found that 80% of consumers are more likely to buy from brands that offer personalized experiences.

In addition to image search, brands can do a lot more with a robust visual search engine. Using visual AI, a visual search engine can assign meta-tags to each of your products based on each minute visual attribute. This enables you to do the following:

  • Aggregate data on your shoppers’ unique tastes to serve up relevant and personalized recommendations.
  • Help shoppers find products with minimal navigation by letting them visually refine their search until they are left with items that match the exact attributes they’re looking for.
  • Create inspirational experiences that feature curated shoppable photos your customers will love.

4. Delivering Results in a Dynamic eCommerce Landscape

As the line between physical and digital shopping continues to blur, customers increasingly expect a consistent and unified experience across channels. According to a Shopgate report, 69% of retailers consider omnichannel a top priority.

In the post-COVID-19 era, traditionally online experiences that streamline and speed up time spent in-store will be the key for making shoppers feel safe.

A visual search engine that easily integrates with intelligent in-store solutions, like tablets and smart mirrors,  can help shoppers find items without browsing as well as instantly make outfit and styling suggestions that align with their taste.

Their purchase data can then be used to enhance their next online experience, and vice versa, providing a seamless omnichannel experience.

visual search engine

Visual Experiences & the New Customer Journey

In the new era of eCommerce, digital shoppers expect more than just being able to find and buy products. To properly engage and retain customers in the long-run, you need to use visual technologies to power a social, convenient, personalized, and omnichannel experience.

When evaluating a visual search engine, consider product discovery as a function of the overall customer experience, rather than looking for a point solution. Taking the broad view of your customers’ journey will enable you to empathize with their needs and provide the experiences they crave.


Sarah Hillel

Sarah Hillel

Sarah is the Global Events and Marketing Manager at Syte. From conception to evaluation, Sarah is passionate about delivering impactful events that enhance the organization's image and brand to client experience.

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