Visual search has arrived—and it’s poised to disrupt retail, social and beyond in 2020

by | Jan 29, 2020 | Public Relations

Visual search is changing how consumers shop, share and navigate the world around them—and new research from insights and strategy firm National Research Group (NRG) uncovers excitement for visual search as a discovery tool, with strong future potential for information discovery, retail and social use cases.

Through in-depth interviews with industry experts, qualitative research among leading-edge consumers and a quantitative survey among a nationally representative sample, the group’s new study, Visual Search: A Disruptor for Retail, Social and Beyond in 2020, proves strong demand for more intuitive ways to find inspiration and information—with 7 in 10 consumers who are aware of visual search saying they are likely to try it.

The study uncovers shopping as the number one app category consumers would use more if visual search were integrated, and 4 in 5 visual search users have made purchase decisions or engaged with brands because of social media (50 percent more than non-users). There is significant opportunity for visual search to offer brands a virtuous circle between shopping and sharing, with more than 7 in 10 Gen Zers currently using shoppable feed experiences to discover more about brands.

Visual search has arrived—and it’s poised to disrupt retail, social and beyond in 2020

“The high level of consumer interest in visual search as a discovery vehicle surfaced very strongly as a part of this research, with eagerness to use this tool as a prompt for both online and offline experiences,” said Ben Rogers, president of platform and technology clients at National Research Group. “The challenge for marketers will be helping consumers surface what they are looking for effortlessly, immediately, and accurately. Leveraging the power of AI to accomplish this will be critical—the hunger for enhanced experiences around discovery, shopping, and sharing is there!”

Visual search has arrived—and it’s poised to disrupt retail, social and beyond in 2020

Visual search has arrived—and it’s poised to disrupt retail, social and beyond in 2020

A nascent technology with strong potential

More than half (56 percent) of U.S. consumers are aware of, considering or currently use visual search. And 7 in 10 consumers who are aware of visual search say they are likely to use the tech, led by Gen Z and Millennials at 72percent.

However, one-quarter of those likely to use the tech still doesn’t understand its relevance to their lives—suggesting a need for marketers to educate consumers on its value proposition.

Current usage centers on apps that:

  • Use your smartphone camera to scan an object to find more information (81 percent)
  • Direct you to links tagged to a product/service in a photo/video (35percent), and
  • Enable you to search the internet by uploading/taking a photo (33percent)

Overcoming barriers to adoption is about deepening consumers’ understanding of relevant use cases beyond retail: the number one holdback for adoption is education (59 percent), or needing to better understand how it works or how it improves their lives.

Visual search has arrived—and it’s poised to disrupt retail, social and beyond in 2020

Consumers are likely to try camera-first use cases to solve for a number of needs and curiosities

Consumers are more likely to try use cases that leverage the camera for immediate information and inspiration:

  • No more waiting in line: Use your phone to scan a product/barcode in-store to see availability, price, information and location (39 percent)
  • No more language barriers: Scan text anywhere in the world to translate it to your language, or to communicate with/understand anyone (35 percent)
  • Immediate, real-time information: Scan an item to get more information, from a food item to get its nutritional content, or a movie poster to see its trailer (33 percent)
  • Explore nearby locations: Use your camera to get information about popular landmarks, local businesses, or cool services and events nearby (33 percent)
  • More empowered shopping: Scan an item to see price comparisons or reviews from other users or find comparable products (29 percent)
  • Learn about nature: Discover new flora and fauna on a hike, learn pet breeds, etc., simply by using the camera on your phone (24 percent)

Visual search has arrived—and it’s poised to disrupt retail, social and beyond in 2020

Among current visual search users, 4 in 5 say access and discovery are the top benefits of visual search:

  • Easy access to relevant products and services (83 percent)
  • Hands-free discovery, free from typing (83 percent)
  • Camera-first way to discover the world (81 percent)

Visual search has arrived—and it’s poised to disrupt retail, social and beyond in 2020

Visual search allows a virtuous circle for brands—shopping and sharing

Shopping is the number one app category consumers would use more if visual search were integrated, and visual search users are in fact 50 percent more likely to be influenced to make purchase decisions or engage with brands because of social media.

Big box retail apps such as Target, Walmart and Amazon lead for affinity as the top visual searchexperiences consumers “like” or “love.”

  • Favorite features within retail apps are barcode scanning and using images to search.
  • Google Lens is the top channel consumers use when searching for products on the path to purchase.

Visual search has arrived—and it’s poised to disrupt retail, social and beyond in 2020

Social media has conditioned consumers to think visually and find inspiration online. In fact, 4 in 5 visual search users have made purchase decisions or have engaged with brands because of social media (50 percent more than non-users).

  • Visual search users are more active on social media, posting 18 percent more than non-users, and rising to 25percentmore among Millennials. Visual search users are also 15 percent more likely to use social media for connection with others.
  • There is a sizable base for visual search on social media, with more than 7 in 10 Gen Zers currently using shoppable feed experiencesto discover more about brands.

Visual search has arrived—and it’s poised to disrupt retail, social and beyond in 2020

In September 2019, NRG conducted in-depth industry interviews with industry experts, six focus groups among leading-edge visual searchconsumers, and a quantitative survey among 1500 consumers in the US ages 13-64.

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Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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