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Online retailers experiment with visual search

British online fashion retailer Asos has introduced a new feature in its mobile app, which allows customers to use photos to search for similar-looking items in the app.

Customers can tap on the camera icon in the Asos app search bar to access their phone’s camera and take a picture of an item of clothing they see someone wearing, or upload a photo from their camera roll, such as a screenshot from Instagram.

The app will then suggest similar-looking products offered by Asos.

The visual search tool aims to solve one of the biggest problems facing online retail as it grows: discoverability.

Without the physical limitations of shelf space, websites are able to carry hundreds of thousands of products. But this only shifts the burden onto customers to find what they’re looking for.

Asos has 85,000 product lines and adds 5,000 new items every week, so using a typical search term like ‘pink shoes’ will yield dozens if not hundreds of irrelevant results.

Improving the mobile user experience with features like visual search is critical for Asos, which says nearly 80 per cent of UK traffic occurs on mobile and approximately 70 per cent of UK sales come from a mobile device.

People spend 80 minutes per month, on average, in the app.

“We know this is where our customers are and it’s how they interact with us every day, so we’re always looking for mobile-native ways to make their experience even better,” said Andy Berks, digital product director at Asos, which has a tech team of 900 people and plans to add 200 more next year.

The tool is currently only available to Asos’ UK customers, but there are plans to roll it out internationally.

Asos isn’t the only online retailer experimenting with visual search. Furniture retailer Temple & Webster is looking to develop a mobile app in future, which could include a similar tool, according to Mark Coulter, CEO of Temple & Webster.

And in April of this year, Google launched a new feature called ‘style ideas’ in its app for Android and mobile web.

Now when users peruse fashion product images, they will also see a range of inspirational lifestyle images and outfits that showcase how the product can be worn in real life.


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