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Visual Search in E-commerce: A Modern Search Solution using Real-world Images

The end goal for most e-commerce store owners is to win more customers. One way of doing so is to anticipate needs and bring about enhancements that offer them innovative solutions. Visual search is one such modern solution that offers a simplified, faster and gratifying shopping experience! Find out more on how this new tech is being used by brands today.

May 7, 2022
mins read
Visual Search in E-commerce: A Modern Search Solution using Real-world Images

78%% of the world's population uses smartphones, according to a study published by Statista in 2020. Smartphones do two things – they allow us to search for anything, and they have a camera.

Easy access to high-quality search results shifts the responsibility of remembering and discovering new things from our brain to the search engine. If we can look up anything anytime and get highly accurate data, why remember anything?

Also, buying online is so easy, and the variety is so huge that the discovery of new products happens mostly on electronic devices these days. The visual search takes this discovery to a whole new level.

Google Trends data from a survey shows that less than 50% of the people surveyed said they discovered a new brand on Google. Similarly, in another study covering 11 countries, 77% of respondents shared that social media helped them get more information about brands.

Visual search in e-commerce is going to be the future of product discovery. While many people already use this, it will be mainstream in a few years. Online businesses must keep track of this technology to ensure that they're not left behind.

What is Visual Search?

According to MarketWatch, 62% of millennials prefer to search based on individuals rather than using traditional search engines. This is a number that cannot be ignored. Let's first look at what it is.

Visual search is what the phrase says it is - searching using visuals. Imagine a customer going to a store and liking a gadget. Before a purchase decision is made, the customer may research the price and alternate brands.

By using visual search, the customer can simply take a picture of the product and use it on a visually-enabled search engine to find similar products online. This allows for real-time, hassle-free comparison leading to a faster decision to buy.

The world is already extensively using visual search application software. In many cases, people don't even know they're using it. Every time a Google Lens camera points at an object, a visual search is performed. Similarly, every time a style match is performed on Pinterest, the same thing happens.

Visual search can also bridge the online and offline worlds. When a customer shows intent to buy a product, they frequently want to know the experiences of others who bought it. Visual search in e-commerce can quickly connect the product of interest with relevant online information.

2.14 billion people shopped online in 2021. With these kinds of numbers, every business must assume that its future is going to depend on this group. Technologies like visual search determine how these 2 billion people discover and shop, and keeping pace is key.

Applications of Visual Search in Retail

The retail industry is quickly embracing the visual search for its e-commerce business. All big retail platforms now use visual means so customers can access the full choice of products. Amazon, Google, and Pinterest are leading the way in visually-based search innovations and investments.

The retail industry is aggressively adopting visual search application software to increase the basket size of shopping carts. This technology helps immensely in translating logical but hard-to-express search queries. Pinterest Lens detecting over 2.5 billion fashion objects shows how aggressively this technology is being developed.

Here's one of the visual search examples: When a customer buys an outfit, they might want to check what footwear goes well with it. It becomes easy to connect these kinds of searches seamlessly.

Recognizing the importance of this technology, big brands have begun developing their visually-configured search engines. The latest to join the club are Target, Walmart, and IKEA. All of these companies have specific investments to integrate visual search into their online buying experience.

Turning Visual Search into Revenue

There is overwhelming evidence that people prefer visual search in e-commerce when buying products. Let's look a bit more deeply into what the data insights are showing.

72% of US customers don't buy products without looking up comparable visual content. Companies must take advantage of this data. It's critical to keep the customer on your platform during these comparisons, or they just drop off your sales funnel.

Over 85% of customers who buy clothes and furniture look for visual data. Retailers in the fashion and interior decoration business can maximize their total sale value by providing visual search options.

Visual search can be incorporated, in these cases, either to display similar products or natural combinations. For example, if the retailer is selling a sofa set, they can allow for the easy discovery of coffee tables and carpets that go with it.

Challenges with Visual Search

The visual search application has already become an essential fabric of online shopping, especially in the retail industry. However, the technology is still expensive to develop and does not work as intended every time.

The simplest challenge with visual search is wrong results showing up or sometimes no results showing up. AI and computer vision technology mimic how a human brain thinks, but we are very far from replicating the complex human thought process.

A far simpler reason for invalid or insufficient results can be because of the number of items the visual search system is trained to identify. The bigger this library, the better the chance of surfacing relevant results.

Visuals enhance the search process. When a customer chooses a product, a related product is shown; when that is picked, a related product to the new selection is shown. Data shows that this chain that visual search creates increases the value of a sale by over 30%.

One interesting challenge here is to know when to stop showing related products. Active research is being done to see if an infinite chain of products helps increase sales.

Given that the cost of developing high-quality highly-intuitive visual search application software is so high, only big players can truly use it. As the technology becomes more accessible to smaller players, it will change the way we all shop online.

Future of Visual Search

The future of visual search in e-commerce is going to be very exciting. Several industry experts predict that there will be three ways this will evolve in the next few years. These predictions align with how new technologies have been growing in the recent past.

The first way this technology will scale is through technology and talent acquisitions. Established online shoppers are actively acquiring smaller companies that are leading innovation in visual search. This gives a quick start to building on the stack.

The second way of growing this technology is going to be through integrating software and hardware. The input for visual search in e-commerce is a picture, and cameras are used to create this content. Connecting cameras directly to visual-based search is going to see growth in the coming years. We are already on that path of visual search application through Pinterest Lens.

The third way of seeing visual search grow will be through integrating this technology with all related products of the online company. For example, it can help enhance online shopping. Apart from using AR technology, companies can show how to reach the right location in a store to find the product.

Google is exploring all three options and actively developing video search. The company has already shared that it expects most future searches to take place through this technology. A third of its searches already come from visual sources.

The company is actively acquiring businesses that are doing innovative work around visual images. It's deepening its Google Lens and search integration and expanding visual search in e-commerce to products like Google Maps.

How to Optimize Your Business to Use Visual Search

Visual search is the future of online shopping, and every business with an online presence must invest in it. A simple starting point is to increase the presence of your e-commerce business on companies that already provide searches based on visuals.

Pay attention to all of your visual assets and make your images clear and focused. A complex image with multiple objects interacts poorly with visually-enabled search engine discovery algorithms.

Even if you have a brick-and-mortar business, consider paying attention to the related online searches your customers make. Knowing this information will help you in showing the right information to your customers at the right time.


The online industry rules commerce worldwide now that the visual search application has become sophisticated in showing related information to customers at the right time. This technology will continue to have exponential growth in the next few years and will change the way we shop online.

The current landscape of visual search is restricted to a handful of large companies building this technology. However, once mass adoption and real scale are achieved, this aspect is going to experience astronomical growth.

We already know that humans respond better to visual content, and it is no surprise that visual search feels so natural to us. The future of this technology is going to be very exciting and a true game-changer for all businesses, online or otherwise.

We already know that humans respond better to visual content, and it is no surprise that visual search feels so natural to us. The future of this technology is going to be very exciting and a true game-changer for all businesses, online or otherwise.

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