Can Retailers Obtain New Leads with Visual Search?

June 3, 2019 | 3 minute read
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In the world of commerce, the use of visual and voice searches is increasing. Over the last several months, voice and visual queries have surged, particularly over the last holiday shopping season. This should hardly be a surprise when you realize that just about everyone with a smartphone has a voice-enabled device. Therefore, retailers have to adapt and use visual search as one of their tactics to engage with customers.

Increases in Visual Search

It is vital to understand the progress visual search has attained—and how such technology can aid merchants in growing (and keeping) their customer base.

Various social networks, including Instagram, as well as hundreds of retailers, have utilized visual search, and those figures don’t show any signs of slowing down. Currently, consumer experiences are more than just the purchase of goods and services. Visual search helps customers make buying decisions better than traditional retail tools can.

Most smartphone shopping list apps lack simplicity, which causes users to stop using them altogether. Visual search answers questions for consumers, and in turn, creates a shopping list they can use at retail stores. Further, visual search can accommodate baby and gift registries, too. It can integrate with augmented reality, and give customers a positive experience with a store’s inventory.

For instance, in apparel retail, a potential customer might be on the hunt for a white t-shirt. Big picture-wise, this customer might be seeking out an outfit that comes with a white t-shirt. They might be trying to coordinate a particular style rather than one piece of attire. A visual search tool helps both the retail clerk and the customer locate a white t-shirt, as well as suggest product alternatives that would accentuate the attire. This is what is occurring in various retail shops who are utilizing visual search, which emphasizes the connection between the shopper and the clerk.

Store Utilization

Clerks are the ones who use this technology more than anyone. Visual searches tend to occur from within stores more than anywhere. Outfit and apparel recommendations give consumers more satisfaction with their overall shopping experience, stimulating conversions in the process. Such outcomes have taken place in home decor and furniture stores in addition to clothing retail shops.

Visual search does have its fair share of problems, though.

Data determines the level of success with visual search. Just about everyone can attain a match range of 40 to 70%. However, retailers require matching rates of at least 95%. This warrants scraping photos online based on various relevant product images, sending data to an AI engine. Ultimately, when it comes to visual search, the “garbage in, garbage out” principle is in full effect.

According to Crowd Work News, “no matter how high the visual search match rate is, there is the potential that a customer, maybe one who scanned a picture from an outdated catalog, is looking for an item that the merchant doesn’t sell anymore, or is sold out of it. If that shopper lands on a product page that doesn’t deliver what they’re looking for, the sale is as good as lost.”

Other Visual Options

Visual search can be used to suggest other options, like a t-shirt in a different color that has the same features the customer was initially seeking out. You’ll need to be proactive to ensure that visual search operates as a strong tool to stimulate sales and attract customers. Expectation management is essential in this regard, and if it can be provided, a visual search feature will be especially helpful.

Will voice and visual searches be integrated down the line? Is there potential for these features to be used in conjunction with one another? In several instances, they can play off one another. They can both serve as search bar tools to optimize customer shopping experiences. Each method comes with its own pros and cons.

Visual search is making progress with each passing day, offering better shopping experiences for consumers and increased traffic for retailers.


Visual search is only one tool you can use to optimize and enhance your customer experience. Read “Go Further with Customer Experience Optimization” and realize how you can craft a more pleasing and rewarding experience.

Adam Torkildson

Adam Torkildson has a background in SEO, digital marketing, psychology, and entrepreneurship. He's started 5 companies, invested in dozens more, and is currently a small business mentor with Utah SCORE Mentors.

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