What Will It Take for Visual Search to Catch On? - eMarketer

Newsletters Sign-Up

Plans & Pricing

Does My Company Subscribe?

What Will It Take for Visual Search to Catch On?

And is it any good?

November 11, 2014

As people communicate with images more each day, a number of technology companies and retailers are exploring ways to tap this visual language for search. The Firefly app in Amazon.com's new smartphone has made the highest-profile dive into visual search—search prompted by image-based queries—but it's not alone.

Influence* of Visual Search on Mcommerce Metrics for US Retail Websites, by Site Category, Sep 2014

Although effective general visual search remains elusive, Google, Facebook and others continue to invest heavily in image recognition, as explored in a new eMarketer report, “Visual Search & Recognition: On the Cusp of a New Era in Retail.” Amazon will continue to develop Firefly, while a host of smaller firms rapidly improve their visual search technologies. The future of visual search is more a question of when, not if. eMarketer expects visual search to become a mainstream tool for retailers within one or two years.

According to data from BloomReach based on performance on its platform, visual source gives a boost to various retail metrics. But are consumers clamoring for a way to find items based on pictures, instead of words? Retailer interest in visual search reflects their understanding of the changes brought on by mobile shopping.

US Mobile Shoppers, by Device, 2013-2018

Millions of Americans use their smartphones while shopping every day. But the current search experience is not ideally suited for mobile. “It's not as easy to type on a mobile phone as it is on the desktop with keyboard layouts being the way they are,” said Brad Folkens, co-founder and CTO of image recognition firm CamFind. "We think there's great opportunity and potential for visual search," said Eddie Baeb, spokesman for Target. "It just makes so much sense. It does take out a potential layer, what many people refer to as kind of a friction point."

The real promise of visual search in retail, however, extends beyond resolving typing issues. "Visual search is not here to replace the keyboard," said Adi Pinhas, founder and CEO of Superfish. "Visual search is for the cases in which I have no words to describe what I see."

Get more on this topic with the full eMarketer report, “Visual Search & Recognition: On the Cusp of a New Era in Retail.”

This report answers these key questions:

  • Why does visual search matter?
  • How widespread is the use of visual search in retail today?
  • How effective are current visual recognition tools?
  • What will it take for the average consumer to use visual search regularly?

eMarketer releases over 200 analyst reports per year, which are only available to eMarketer corporate subscribers.


  • Go beyond the articles:

    eMarketer Products

    You've never experienced research like this.

  • Hear from our clients:

    Customer Stories

    Nearly all Fortune 500 companies rely on us.

  • Want to learn more?

    Contact Us

    Inquire about corporate subscriptions today.