Part of the intrigue behind how people search for information, services and products online is how they appropriate their conception of said object – with potentially limited information relating to it in the first place – and translate that into a concise query to submit to a search engine. Questions are formed by the left hemisphere of the brain, the hemisphere responsible for producing language. However, problems can arise when trying to translate the query into a question based on abstract information. Search engines may have come a long way in the last few decades, but it’s worth wagering that it’ll be a few decades more before it can answer queries like:
“Where can I buy that jacket I saw last week?”
That’s unless the advances in visual search continue in the same vein as we’ve seen of late. Recently a number of companies have announced visual search developments, and this could have a number of implications for the eCommerce industry.
Earlier this year, eCommerce company Mode.ai released an innovative chatbot capable of advising consumers on fashion. In the style of many other chatbots, Mode.ai is able to respond to and prompt a series of questions designed to narrow down a consumer’s choice before arriving at the product of their choosing. What sets Mode.ai apart from other chatbots is that consumers can also submit photos of clothing and upon doing so, the chatbot responds with a selection similar to that submitted.
In an industry where branding is often subtle and not signposted with brand logos as fashion can be, the ability to search for items based solely on visual information could prove invaluable. Regarding the impact on marketing, this could also prove significant for lower-end retailers. If searches are conducted for high-end products that have cheaper equivalents, said equivalents will likely appear in search results for the desired item. Add in the thriftier price and many consumers could be sold on an item that offers the look they’re after at a fraction of the cost. The fashion industry has long been fraught with the effects of copycatting, but if visual search were to become ubiquitous, such copycats could hold the edge over their pricier counterparts.
Amazon and Pinterest have both looked to use visual search to help consumers find what they’re looking for, and Google has now thrown its hat into the ring. Google Lens has the same principles as Mode.ai’s technology, although it’s more ambitious in its aims. At a demo earlier this year, Google CEO Sundar Pichai showcased the technology and highlighted its functionalities. Google Lens will have the capacity to recognise everyday objects, such as flowers, and tell the user more about it. It will also be able to recognise information – like wifi passwords – and action the information (i.e. connect you to a wifi network) as well as providing information on businesses and translating from foreign languages.
The technology is still a distance from being ready for widespread use, but the early signs show that it’s only a matter of time before this multifaceted search functionality is in the hands of consumers. It remains to be seen whether the factors upon which Google currently ranks images remain the same, but it’s clear that a greater emphasis will be placed on optimising images to boost the chances of appearing in search results. The effect on long tail searches will most likely be minimal, as from a behavioural perspective if a consumer already has a question in mind they are unlikely to use image search to resolve the query.
In another interesting move, Google has sought to leverage visual cues in its current image search results. The “badges”, which now appear in the bottom left of images, seek to categorise and provide suggestions on similar searches. The most interesting aspect of this addition to Google’s image search results is that it looks to resolve the problem that people often don’t understand what they’re looking for when searching through images.
Traditional inquiries take one of three forms: deductions, inductions, abductions. The first looks to apply rules to an example to formulate facts, the second uses knowledge of a fact and an example to determines rules, and the last uses rules and facts to figure out what’s happening in a given situation. What’s interesting about search is that the reason for the inquiry is often unknown to the search engine. A person searching for “cars” could be searching for an immeasurable number of different solutions: how cars are made, why people use cars, where to buy cars, which car is the best. The list could go on ad infinitum.
The vast majority of search engines have the functionality to determine contextual factors and historical data to suggest queries to individuals. Google’s augmentation of its image search results takes an important step towards aiding and directing the searches conducted. Research in the field of language processing has shown that visual cues have an effect on the determination of speech.
Visual cues are extremely important when it comes to searching for new information. Although most people argue that they evaluate written content when reviewing a website, studies have found that they actually use visual cues far more frequently. Whilst there isn’t much direct research on how long the decision-making process takes when conducting searches online, it can be assumed that, as with other information-gathering exercises, the faster the better. In a similar way to Mode.ai’s chatbot, this feature could prove extremely useful to the fashion marketing industry as images can be categorised in terms of related searches to provide consumers with a number of options when searching online.
In an industry in which aesthetics are as crucial as they are in fashion, visual search could prove a key tool in capturing the attention of consumers. The technology seems as though it would favour lower-end retailers creating similar merchandise to more expensive manufacturers as consumers are able to compare the price of similarly-styled items. However, it remains to be seen how marketers in the fashion industry will use the technology to their advantage and it will no doubt be fascinating to see the trends that unfold in the years to come.
How do you think visual search will impact the fashion industry? Do any retailers stand to make significant gains or losses? Join the conversation on Twitter @mporiumgroup and subscribe to our newsletter for more fascinating articles and insight.