Your friend has an awesome pair of boots that you wish you had. But the product in the site she bought from is sold out. What do you do? Where do you get the same pair of boots? Are there anyone else selling the same pair of boots? Are there better ones out there? But, before that, how do you even find similar pair of boots? You try using various key words to search. They do give you results, but they are not exactly what you are looking for. You know that if you go through countless number of websites that Google throws up as recommendations for you, you might find them at the end of an online catalogue after browsing through hundreds of “stuff” you don’t want to see. So what do you do? You feel, life would have been so easier, if you could just take a picture of those amazing boots and search online, and the search results will have the same, similar or better looking boots just for you.
This is exactly where E-commerce is heading.
A picture is a message with the eyes as the interpreter. The escalation from written words to visual communication is leading to an evolution of language.
Communication is rapidly shifting from being text based to image based and the example are widely available and increasing in number; from simple comments using photographs or emoji alphabets to interpersonal communication using pictures; we need to strengthen our visual vocabulary to be a part of this fast evolving platform for interaction. Which emoji/smiley to use when? Which picture/expression to use when?
Still not convinced about the fast growing power of a picture?
You think Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the most visited social networking websites in the world? You are absolutely correct! But, close to their heels is Pinterest. Pinterest is the fourth and Instagram is the seventh most visited Social Networking websites according to Alexa rankings till February, 2015.
Forrester’s Consumer Technographics data states that in United States of America consumers across all the generation are interacting through content on Instagram and Pinterest more than ever before, and no wonder, the rest of the world is not far behind.
“Websites you visit at least monthly?”
Instagram and Pinterest are also very efficient in directing us to the vendors of products. You like a particular dress, similar to what Eva Green wore in Casino Royale. You have someone in Pinterest who likes it too, and to your delight has a vendor’s information who sells a similar dress along with the picture.
Analytics through traditional sentiment analysis, is no longer enough with visual content becoming more popular. Customer insight executives who are early adopters of visual analytics observe that though it is in a nascent stage, visual social analytics will become very insightful for brands to understand and connect with their customers.
Visual Research Analytics/Visual Social Analytics or plain and simple Visual Analytics is nothing but analyzing data collected from visual searches. It will become a rich source of data for segmentation and marketing for e-retailers. But a lot depends on how sustainable this communication through visual inputs is in the long run.
So how can brands connect to their customers using the new opportunities that images bring in Social Media and improve e-commerce?
Customers while purchasing anything online go through a decision making process which helps influencing new customers after its completion. The customer initially engages in trying to discover the product of their choice. They either have it in their mind already or it might be an impulse purchase online. Next, they try to explore as much as information about the product as possible before they decide to purchase it. Post purchase, they upload pictures in various social interaction sites as a review of the product or just to share.
These images can help in procuring next customers. When people get impressed by a picture of a product for the first time or by a physical product under the possession of an individual, they wish to buy it. Early adopters like JD.com in China amongst other social commerce vendors enable customers to use a search or recommendation tool based on visual inputs to find the products chosen by customers more accurately. The tools enable users to take pictures of products and use it to discover the relevant ones from the vendor’s online collection.
Retailers opting for visual search capabilities are investing in image and entity recognition capabilities; and, Ditto, superfish, etc continues to be their chosen vendors. They help in inventory planning, customer segmentation, and other functions similar to the previous text based search mechanism; but are more user friendly for the customers and hence provide a better experience.
The search mechanism is more popular and effective through smartphones and shoppers are also quite comfortable with this mode of searching for products and with the gain in popularity of visual analytics, e-commerce retailers understand that image is as strong and important as what customers say.
One of the early adopters, Imperial Innovations (a British technology transfer and commercialization company), has re-invested about £1.5 million in Cortexica Visual Systems Ltd. (‘Cortexica’) a visual search company. Cortexica has developed and is selling image recognition, visual search and categorization software for online businesses. Its FindSimilar technology uses algorithms that mimic the way the human brain recognizes images and objects, leading to over 95% first time positive matches – higher than any competing technology.
Cortexica’s leading product is FindSimilar for Fashion. FindSimilar returns visually similar items from an online database or inventory when users take a photograph of a piece of clothing or accessory with their mobile device. Cortexica’s business model is to provide its FindSimilar™ technology on a Software as a Service (SaaS) basis to large fashion retailers or fashion retail aggregators, who will then deploy the technology to their customers. Online retailers Zalando, ShopStyle, Style Thief and Trendabl are some of the online retailers benefitting from FindSimilar.
The most important driver of this trend is “impatient” customers. We see a thing and we want it. And we want it NOW. Nobody is interested to go through a vast compilation of different products to find what they are searching for. The shorter the time to search, the more chance of converting a customer, as a lot of buys online are impulse buying and also, a lot of products together confuses the customer and deters the buying process.
Though nascent, use of visual inputs can be a popular way to place orders, provide a better experience to customers and visual social analytics might help to improve the business for e-commerce retailers on social media platforms in near future.
Do you agree? Please share your thought with us.