Is Visual Search Making Text-Based Search Obsolete?

Published on

June 18, 2020

Site Search & Product Discovery
Process of visual search in three steps: image upload, image analysis, visual search top results

Most product searches today start digitally.

Retail Dive also confirms this. According to their report, 87% of buyers go on a digital channel to search for products. 

This means that search might be the key to your purchase.

It’s where potential shoppers enter your e-commerce funnel.

The availability of your products here will have a crucial impact on whether or not you’re going to make a conversion.

Text search is still what most e-commerce stores use.

The average person conducts 3-4 searches every single day, so text search is still a big deal. 

However, current full-text search models have started to become outdated.

They don’t provide the relevance and comfort that website visitors need when searching for a product.

For example, let’s say you’re looking to buy a floral dress and you know exactly how you want it to look like.

You type in “floral dress” in the search bar of some online store and get over 3,000 results. 

Now, that’s too many dresses to check. Let’s try with something different.

You know you want a red, short dress with white flowers.

So, you type these attributes into the search bar and get—no results. You leave the store disappointed without the dress you wanted. 

Text search has many limitations

It seems like text-based search is not so efficient.

This was confirmed by the Baymard Institute. Their e-commerce search usability study tested the experience of the users of 19 major e-commerce websites. This study claims that: 

70% of websites require users to search by the exact jargon for the product type that the website uses, failing to return relevant products for, say, “blow dryer” if “hairdryer” is typed, or “multifunction printer” if “all-in-one printer” is typed.

Moreover, 60% of them fail to search thematic search queries, and 84% of them can’t filter products by adjectives such as “cheap” or “quality”. 

These aren’t the only limitations of text search.

E-commerce store managers have many problems with guessing the right keywords customers are going to use.

What is more, some products are very hard to describe, or everyone uses different words to describe them.

This leads to losses because managers fail to set direct contact with users looking for these products. 

When you fail with words, the only thing left is to go visual.

In fact, MIT has discovered that 90% of the information that comes into our brains is visual.

The same research also claims that our brain can identify an image within 13 milliseconds.

Now that we know this, there’s no doubt that visual search is much more effective than text search. 

What is visual search? 

Visual search uses images instead of text to allow users to discover data or products contained in the photo they submit. Visual search basically replaces keywords with images.

This technology is powered by AI, which discovers the context of the image to provide accurate and quality results.

Machine learning and neural networks analyze similar features within the image and find these features on images that exist on the website.

These features could include materials, patterns, or colors. Visual search also bases its results on relevant metadata and keywords the image contains. 

With this powerful technology, consumers can find what they are looking for much faster.

They don’t have to struggle to translate the images they have in mind.

They can use their own photos, photos from the internet, or screenshots to find their desired products. 

With more and more people using the visual search engine, the AI becomes smarter and provides more quality results.

This will completely change the way we search, as we’ll be getting more accurate results than with full-text search. 

Suggested read: The Essential Guide to Visual Search in Fashion Ecommerce

Process of visual search in three steps: image upload, image analysis, visual search top results

What are the benefits of visual search? 

Visual search recognizes patterns within the image and then finds them in images from the website, all thanks to AI.

3 Key Benefits of Visual Search in fashion e-commerce

1/ Immediate discovery

Visual search allows users to discover their desired products instantly.

They basically just need to take a picture of what they’ve seen, and they’ll find it immediately.

They can look for anything without having to think about how to describe it.

Moreover, consumers don’t have to scroll over an enormous list of products to find what they are looking for.

With visual search, they’ll find the visually most similar item in no-time.

2/ Smooth conversions

Text search can be a long process.

Somewhere on the way, the consumer might give up from buying because it simply takes too much time.

Well, visual search leads them directly to the product. Instead of searching for one keyword, scrolling down the list, then trying with another keyword, and then with another, they’ll just have to upload a picture.

This picture will lead them to the exact item they’re looking for and make converting so much easier

3/ Better organic visibility

Visual search will bring more traffic to online stores because they will be putting more accent to metadata and schema markup.

As search engines use these data points to take information, they will be able to get to the products much easier.

The future of visual search  

Text search has become very limiting.

Visual search takes off the limits and provides a seamless product discovery experience that allows customers to find products easily. 

And, even though many major players have started leveraging this technology, we are still far from seeing everything it can do.

As visual search emerges, we expect its popularity to rise, improving the accuracy and relevance of search results.

In the future, neural networks and machine learning will be even smarter because the number of people using visual search will be on the rise.

This is also confirmed by the popularity of the technology among millennials and Gen Z.

in fact, ViSenze claims that 62% of millennials want to be able to search for products visually.

The rapid adoption of visual search will lead its market value to $14,727 million by 2023, growing at CAGR 9% during the forecast period 2018-2023 (Source: IndustryARC).

This means that visual search is yet to be discovered. 

Suggested read: The Rise and Rise of Visual Search


So, yes, visual search IS making text search obsolete.

But, even though visual search provides so many benefits for both customers and sellers, it won’t completely push out text search. 

Retailers need to optimize their images in order to feel the benefits of visual search.

What’s the best time to do it? Now, while it’s still at its beginnings.’s visual search engine can help you create a seamless customer experience and a smooth way to conversions.

Make your products easily discoverable and improve customer interactions. Most importantly, make your customers happy.

It looks like a picture really is worth 1,000 words.

Product Discovery

How to develop solutions that help shoppers find what they are looking for.

Product Discovery

How to develop solutions that help shoppers find what they are looking for.

Product Discovery

How to develop solutions that help shoppers find what they are looking for.

Product Discovery

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