Seeing Is Believing: Why Visual Search Works

Gen Z and millennials have embraced this way of shopping, and it’s time brands did too

Instead of text-based searches and sifting through pages of results, visual search enables enhanced, modern interfaces that help curate and review buying options faster, which comes naturally to Gen Z and millennials. Thanks to the convergence of computer vision, machine learning and neuroscience, visual search is helping marketers meet these customers where they are by returning the most relevant search results based on similarities (e.g., color, style, shape, etc.)

With 90% of information processed by the human brain being visual, and that brain’s ability to identify images it’s viewed for as little as 13 milliseconds, brands using visual search are definitely onto something. These companies are not only feeding the new generations of shoppers’ craving for automation, they’re also opening the window for all generations to test the visual search waters.

The ‘easy’ button
Research shows that 62% of millennials are more interested in visual search capability than any other new technology, and that over 600 million visual searches are done on Pinterest every month. The process finds customers looking for products with a photo or other image versus keywords that are typically used in search engines. They can simply take a picture of the item, upload it to a visual search engine and be presented with the similar items available to purchase. It’s as easy as that.
For example, using an uploaded image of a blue prom dress, a visual search would enable someone to shop for an identical or similar dress online. And because visual search engines rely on neural networks that leverage machine learning, these engines are constantly expanding their fields of experience. As they become “smarter,” these search engines deliver more accurate, relevant results to shoppers.

From Pinterest to Bing to Amazon
Many online brands are successfully using visual search. Pinterest Lens allows customers to use their photo of an item to find out where to buy it or search for similar products, all while viewing ads for options for sale on other platforms; Google Lens recognizes objects and details via a camera; and Bing Visual Search allows consumers to search for specific elements within images (versus having to sort through a list of results) by clicking “visual search.”
Amazon has been in the visual search game since 2019, when it introduced StyleSnap. Shoppers click the camera icon in the upper right hand corner of their Amazon app, select the StyleSnap option, and then upload a photograph or screenshot of the desired outfit. StyleSnap presents recommendations for similar items on Amazon that match the look in the photo, factoring in parameters like brand, price range and customer reviews.

Putting visual search to work
For performance marketers, visual search provides a new channel for reaching Gen Z and millennial consumers who either don’t want to use text-based searches or are seeking new, automated ways to find stuff online. With these new highly visual consumers, and many search engines already offering visual search capabilities, this capability has become an opportunity that direct marketers can’t afford to ignore.
Consider this: Visual results are going to show up higher in a search engine’s rankings. That means your results appear faster, are seen more often and get better conversion rates than non-visual results. Younger generations of shoppers already love visual search, but it won’t be long before all consumers take to it and come to expect it. With 35% of marketers already planning to optimize their own websites for visual search, one can assume that number will only continue to grow in 2021.

As companies look for new ways to harness the attention of younger, tech-savvy shoppers, visual search may rise to the top as an effective way to align the creativity of the human brain with advanced technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. And with visual search conversions providing 85% higher returns than textual search results, the more “visualized” your brand becomes, the more customers you’ll be able to attract and engage online.