With a fast and intuitive user experience, ASOS is already known for having one of the best retail apps out there. However, the brand has just added a new feature with the aim of further improving its customer experience – a new visual search tool.
So, what does it do exactly? And will customers actually use it? Here are my thoughts on the newly updated app and more on why visual search is becoming a big priority for brands.
Investment in technology
Both eBay and Pinterest have already launched visual search tools of their own, with the latter doing so in order to boost its status as a shopping platform rather than a discovery site.
For ASOS, the decision is part of the brand’s general focus on digital innovation. Speaking last year, ASOS’s CEO Nick Beighton suggested that technology will be key to meeting changing customer expectations, and more specifically, that “visual search, voice search and AI will help customers navigate the offer in a better and more convenient way.”
With 5,000 products added to its site each week, ASOS’s huge inventory can make navigation a struggle. It can simply feel far too overwhelming to browse through endless products, with this potentially leaving users bored or frustrated rather than inspired.
On the flip side, it is also part of ASOS’s USP – the brand is known and loved for the very reason that it offers such a dazzling array of choice.
This is where visual search comes in, with the tool helping to narrow down the customer focus and prompt discovery. So, when a customer sees something they like – let’s say on a friend or in a magazine for example, they can use it to search for similar products via the app.
So, as the tool is now up and running, let’s look at how it works.
Searching for inspiration
The visual search tool can be accessed by clicking the new camera icon in the app’s search bar. You can then use it to take a photo or access the photos in your smartphone library.
First, I decided to search using a photo taken in real-time. The results were super-fast, returning a good selection of comparable items. The search also returned men’s clothing, which some might see as a minor bug-bear, but I assume the app learns details like gender preferences over time. (I’ve never used it before now).
Next, I searched for an item that I knew was already on the ASOS website, using a screenshot from an Instagram post. However, this time, it failed to return the exact item and only gave me similar styles.
This could be a big negative, as visual search is meant to improve on the often frustrating experience of using keywords. If you’re certain something is in stock (which I was), this would prove even more frustrating.
Interestingly, when I searched for another item I knew was on the website, but this time based on a photo from my own camera library – it worked. It seems ASOS’s algorithms are still learning, as is to be expected.
Lastly, I searched for a pair of shoes from a photo of a print magazine. I’m pretty impressed with these results.
Generally, it seems like the technology is still working out some minor bugs – mainly when it comes to not returning exact items. Overall, however, I was impressed with how fast and easy it is to use and how effective it is at bringing up similar items.
Will consumers use it?
Personally, I am someone who struggles with online shopping, simply because I get bored of aimlessly browsing. I would definitely use the visual search tool in this scenario because it speeds up the whole process, helping you to find clothes based on ones you already know you like.
I also think it could be very useful if you are shopping for a specific event or occasion, such as a wedding, where you might be able find a similar version of an expensive or designer item you’ve seen elsewhere.
Social shopping is also another bonus, with customers often using channels like Instagram and YouTube for fashion inspiration. Ironically, visual search is also a return to ASOS’s original premise. Its brand name stands for ‘As Seen On Screen’, but now instead of television, the tool enables customers to instantly and easily pin-point items like those they’ve seen on social media.
One problem is that users might not know the tool is there, as the camera icon is quite hard to miss, and neither is it promoted elsewhere on the app. However, as the technology becomes more commonplace, it certainly has the potential to catch on.
Will other retailers follow suit?
With such a mobile-savvy audience, it’s unsurprising that ASOS is the first big UK retailer to invest in this kind of technology. By making the mobile experience easier, better and more interesting – it’s sure to further customer satisfaction.
What is unknown is whether or not it will increase sales.
However, research by BloomReach suggests that the technology can have a direct impact. In a three month period, it found that visual search was associated with more product views, more return visits, and an increase in average spend. Out of the 30.3m visits to the ecommerce sites analysed, users of the visual search tool were found to view 48% more products, were 75% more likely to make a return visit, and placed orders worth 9% more than those who did not.
This kind of data is bound to have spurred on ASOS’s decision to invest in the technology, especially considering that it has also recently invested $40 million in the US market. With increasing competition in the fashion retail space from Amazon – visual search could be a key differentiator.
For other retailers with less money to play with, visual search is unlikely to be a priority for the time being. But just like previous innovations within ecommerce, ASOS could set the benchmark.
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