Emerging TechnologyAI & AutomationUsing AI-powered visual search to enhance CX

Using AI-powered visual search to enhance CX

The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” takes on all new relevance when we consider the next big feature coming over the ecommerce horizon: AI-powered visual search.

30-second summary:

  • Up to now, Visual Search has been clumsy at best. Worse, consumers have been slow to adopt it.
  • The missing agent has been artificial intelligence which has become increasingly more adept at image recognition.
  • Beyond image recognition, AI makes it possible to learn a person’s taste and style preferences.
  • It’s time to prep your site and visual assets to take advantage of the coming boom

Let’s face it, most shoppers know what they want – when they see it – but find themselves completely dumbfounded when it comes to describing what they’re after using the traditional text-driven search engine. It’s because we’re visual beings.

We evolved that way; so it comes as no surprise that researchers at MIT have discovered that 90% of information transmitted to the human brain is visual and our minds can identify those visual images in a blink of the eye.

Why is this important to marketers? According to a report from Gartner, by 2021, it’s the businesses that enhance their ecommerce sites with visual search that will ultimately increase their digital commerce revenue upwards of 30%.  That’s an impressive gain.

So, what’s visual search all about and how can it be implemented to see those kinds of sales?

In the beginning, there was text-based search

While enterprise search platforms have improved text and keyword-based search queries, they can still be inefficient and inaccurate for some users.

Search engine optimization has been onerously based on having the right keywords to match text-based queries, inputted by visually-based consumers, who’ll be the first to tell you typing, SEO literacy, and correct spelling are all very clumsy and awkward for them.

It’s for these very reasons that voice search and visual search are going to radically transform the customer experience in the very near future because these evolving search techniques have found a new catalyst to make finally a serious impact on the ecommerce marketplace.

That is to say, they have found artificial intelligence, AI.

What AI is bringing to visual search

This happens more than marketers would like to admit.  They always assume they’re addressing educated consumers. But the truth is, most consumers don’t have the necessary vocabulary to adequately describe your product or its benefits.

Instead, they see a product which they would love to purchase, but don’t know what it’s called (this occurs a lot – especially with clothing, furniture, food, tools and even automobiles).

With visual search, the consumer can simply take a snap-shot of the product they’re admiring and an AI-powered platform will identify the object and line up a list of similar items. Essentially, the consumer’s entire visual real-world becomes a shopping catalog.

According to The Intent Lab, more than 85% of polled respondents respectively put more importance on visual information than text information.

So how is AI enhancing the process? AI is able to develop state-of-the-art image recognition models to improve the way consumers discover, purchase and sell products.

At the same time, the platforms are able to learn the customer’s preferences.  What they find appealing. Styles they embrace. Fashions they loathe.

Teaching subjective values like personal tastes and styles, which vary so dramatically from individual to individual, is no easy task. It’s one of the main reasons visual search hasn’t taken off.

But now, industry players like Facebook and Google are using AI to enhance not only the accuracy of visual search, but to improve the customer experience by grasping a consumer’s preferences.

What this means for the consumer experience

As visual search comes into maturity with the help of AI, one of the most important keys to success and ultimate adoption will manifest itself: monetization.

Once the science proves itself quick and efficient, more ecommerce platforms will adopt visual search and will push it upon consumers who have, to date, been woefully slow to migrate into visual search (proving once again that they’re their own worst enemies!)

What are your next steps?

Are you ready for the widespread adoption of visual search?  Now is the time. It’s time to put together a gallery of high-resolution images – more so initially for visual search engines than actual consumers. As a site that houses these assets, you’ll be in the forefront search.

The key, of course, is to mark up these images appropriately. Ironically, yes, this will still include keywords. But if you follow Googles best practices for images, you’ll find values such as placement and metadata are increasingly more important than simple text descriptors.

Conclusion

The future of search is pictures and voice, both of which are going to replace typed inquiries. Advances in image recognition positions AI to show exponential growth and accuracy of visual search platforms.

Not only will these platforms be able to find the products consumers are looking for, they will be able to prioritize search results based on knowledge of the consumer’s individual tastes and preferences.

The time is now to learn how to position your visual assets so they can take advantage of the next wave of visual searches.

Dan Drapeau is Head of Technology at Blue Fountain Media, leading digital transformation agency.

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