Visual Search: Is it worth the hype? A Salesfire Webinar

By Chester Ollivier • Last updated: Thursday Apr 18th, 2024


In this Salesfire webinar, we explored one of the newest pieces of tech in eCommerce: visual search.

Our CEO, Rich Himsworth was joined by our Head of Marketing, Josh McGregor to discuss how you can optimise your site by using Visually Similar Search.

The various features of Visually Similar Search were explained, and Rich took us through a quick demo, showing how easy it is to implement on your site.

In case you missed the webinar itself, the live recording and a full transcript are available below.

Josh: Hello, thanks everybody for joining us this morning on our webinar.

Today we’re going to be addressing Visual Search, more specifically, we’re going to be looking at our Visually Similar Search product.

You’re going to be joined by myself, Josh McGregor, the Head of Marketing here at Salesfire, and also our CEO, Rich Himsworth, who is sitting next to me.

Rich: Hello.

Josh: How are you doing? You alright?

Rich: Yeah, not bad.

Josh: So, in regards to the agenda, we’re going to start by looking at introducing the concept of Visual Search, and just giving you a bit of background on how we came to some conclusions on what led to us developing the product really.

Then we’re going to look at the proliferation of Visual Search, and how it’s spread across the internet, and retailers specifically, and how they’re starting to really fold it into their marketing stacks.

We’re going to a quick demo of our Visually Similar product as well, so we’ll run you through what ours looks like.

Ours is a bit more advanced than some of the others on the market, but you’ll get a good handle on how it works and what the basic tenets of it are.

Then we’ll be looking at how we can optimise your search, so some quick wins and some actionable insight and how you can go away and start looking at it on your site right now, and potentially start folding some of those products in, too.

Then we’re going to wrap it up and the end and we’re going to answer the age-old question, ‘Is it worth the hype?’.

Then we’ll do a Q&A straight away.

So, we’ll get into it – a quick introduction to me and Rich.

I’m Josh, I’ve been looking after the marketing team here for two years.

So we’re in charge of selling this product and putting the assets together, and Rich is our CEO, how long have you been here for now?

Rich: Four years now.

Josh: So we’ll do a bit of intro to Salesfire. Do you want to start, Rich?

Rich: Yeah, so in the beginning we started off with our aim as an Overlays provider, and we got up to speed fairly quickly with that, and got a product together that was fairly efficient and earned a lot of uptake on it.

And then we didn’t just want to stay in one place.

The whole premise of what we’re doing is to help people’s conversion rates, so in doing that, we needed more touch points with people on websites.

So, Search is a big area to do that, to have a big impact on conversion off the back of it. 

Obviously we already had the Overlays, but then started looking at things like Prompts, Abandoned Orders if people had moved off site, and Product Recommendations.

And basically just tailoring the product to the buying journey, so to speak.

So, I guess what we’re looking at now with Visually Similar is we’ve got this product that’s really cutting-edge, and now the idea is how we bring it to market, introduce it to the market, obviously a few of the big players are already there with it at the moment.

What we want to do is make it more affordable, and get it so that it’s quickly implemented across hundreds of sites, to make it an industry standard.

But also, see how we can bring it across our whole product suite: employ it across Overlays, Abandoned Orders and so on.

Josh: So get the products playing into each other and working quite nicely together?

Rich: Yeah exactly, get that interplay going.

Josh: I think it’s key to point out also that the team we built here has years of industry experience when it comes to platforms in eCommerce in particular?

Rich: Yes.

Josh: So everyone is quite keenly aware of certain pitfalls and day-to-day issues that eCommerce or marketing managers can have, and I think that’s what is quite unique about the offering is that we’ve been there on the ground floor with it.

We addressed those day-to-day issues relatively early on in the development of these products.

Rich: Yeah.

We understand that you can have all the fancy tech that you want on your website, but if you haven’t got the time or manpower to get the most out of it, then it’s going to be to no avail. 

So it makes sense having things that you can implement quickly, and get a fast return on them.

And I think what’s happened to date, up until the advent of Visually Similar, I think conversion rates on sites tend to be topping out quite a lot? That’s the feel.

Josh: That’s interesting.

Rich: You know, people add wishlists onto sites, send to a friend, pay later options, things like that.

They’ve probably been the greatest shift in terms of uplifting conversion, especially the pay later options.

And making the mobile options a lot more slick – you can check out within a few button clicks.

But really, apart from that, it’s kind of stalled.

And I think with Visually Similar, this is the first time that it’s almost a technology advancement that’s really going to allow us to kick on a lot further now.

Josh: I think it’s interesting that, coming from what you’ve said in regards to wishlists and things like that, I think for a long time platforms and eCommerce managers and the like have been in a bit of a muddle in what’s actually going to create those incremental changes in conversion rates.

There’s been wishlisting and social proofing and so on, but it hasn’t been particularly clear in the way of what’s actually causing those changes.

Rich: Well everyone’s putting more functionality into existing technologies.

Josh: Exactly, yeah, that’s it.

And I think that’s where the eye-opener for Visual Search was for me, and we’ll go into a bit more here anyway.

The next slide ‘Introducing Visual Search’.

Pinterest has been a big eye-opener for me when we were doing research for it.

Here’s a quote from the CEO of Pinterest, Ben Silbermann, and it was just last year that he said, “The future of search will be about pictures rather than keywords.”

Out of context, you’re probably wondering ‘why does that matter to me?’, coming from this guy you’ve maybe not heard of before, but we’ll go into a couple of the stats here as well.

So Visual Search.

The average consumer can recall 65% of the visual content they see in ads almost three days later.

They can still sort of recall these different ads and bits of content that you’re putting out there, which goes some way to explaining why display advertising is having such a big impact, why we’re seeing people move towards TikTok and Instagram, and why they’re becoming more visual with the message they’re conveying.

And another stat here from Business Insider: at least 39% of apparel businesses tend to use visual search more often as a resource when it comes to customer engagement.

We see that with influencers, with the ways people are changing in searching, and that’s apparel, home decor and electronic businesses, which is 55% of the market overall, which is pretty mind-blowing.

We’ll go into that in a bit more detail, that’s backed up by our stats as well.

So, that’s a bit of context into how well it’s implemented and how people are looking at it, but let’s look into the uplift, and see how people are actually using it.

So, next section, we’re going to look at the proliferation of Visual Search and how it’s going to spread across various different channels and how it’s getting used in a more specifically retail way.

So where and how is it seen at the minute, and how is it currently implemented? 

I think the biggest example, harking back to the quote we started with, Pinterest at the minute is completing over 600 million image searches a month, and the tech is recognising over 2.5 billion items. 

And when we say recognising, what we mean there is that this bit of tech is actually crawling through your imagery and picking out various details, whether it’s a shoe, a bit of architecture, a foodstuff, it’s getting to the point where it can identify stuff, where they’re sourced from and where they’re being retailed from.

21% of Pinterest users won’t use a text search when they have the option of using a visual search tool instead. 

And I think we were discussing this earlier, Rich, when you were talking about how you go through Pinterest.

Rich: Yeah, rabbit holes.

Josh: It is a rabbit hole, yeah.

What’s a rabbit hole in that context?

You’re going through an image, and you move to a slightly different one.

You find a similar piece of clothing, then you end up on, I don’t know, sort of more lifestyle imagery, then you might end up looking at drinks stuff, or going out stuff.

Rich: They seem to profile people really well, I think.

You just end up kind of doing an initial search, and then it just leads you off in so many different directions.

Josh: And I think that’s a great tool for retailers to start to harness when it comes to getting people to move to areas of their sites that they might not have moved to before.

Obviously we’ll go into this in a bit more detail, but I think as people are starting to develop that initiative with the technologies.

There’s a long way to go when it comes to the education pieces and how people are using it and putting it together, but I think we’re going to start seeing that a lot more across different channels.

A big one here that retailers need to be aware of is that 90% of its users’ purchasing decisions are informed by the information obtained through the technology, and I believe that’s linking through the original store fronts, the original Instagram pages that are now selling things.

The original Facebook Marketplace posts as well.

So it’s becoming pretty undeniable at the minute.

We have a couple of lesser examples, but they’re only lesser in the context of they’re not being pushed as hard, like the Bing visual search technology.

It’s different to Pinterest, it’s a bit like Google Shopping, but it’s now got this visual search element, but more interestingly there’s Amazon’s Visual Search app, Style Snap, which they’ve been developing, rather quietly I believe.

It’s only been brought to our attention recently.

Rich: We had a bit of a go with it this morning didn’t we?

Josh: Yeah, we had a try of it this morning.

It’s not totally dissimilar to how our product runs, to be honest.

Rich: Yeah.

Josh: But obviously it isn’t specific – you’ve got to be selling on Amazon, be doing Amazon FBA and stuff like that.

I’m not sure it’s open to everyone.

Rich: You’ll get incredible traction on Amazon, without a shadow of a doubt.

I mean, we were just clicking around it this morning, imagine by the time they’ve sampled and processed all the images that are available on Amazon, it’s incredible really.

It’ll just open up a brand new way of searching.

At the moment, people go through filters, or they go through categories, or go through the actual search, the written search, because they’re top of the site.

This one will be just as effective, I think.

It wouldn’t surprise me if visual search actually starts to dictate how we search, because there’s much less of a reliance on keywords, it could be the next evolution in terms of how people lay out an eCommerce site.

Josh: Well, there’s that, and then there’s also – if we’re talking about keywords not having that importance and prominence that they once had – if this is something Google starts picking up on, we might be seeing changes in how ad spend is being pushed about as well.

Rich: Yeah.

Google Shopping tends to be the most effective marketing spend.

People literally just see exactly what they want, it’s not a text description anymore, it’s they see what they want, they click through, and they purchase it.

So it’s always converted a lot higher.

Josh: Yeah, and it’s no coincidence as well that Google are concentrating so much on display ads and pushing people towards that kind of thing, and more of the video content. 

Their algorithms are really heavily weighted towards that at the minute.

And it’s because of stats like these, where we’re seeing people lean much closer towards that visual element.

Rich: Yeah.

Josh: We’ll move on now to some stats that we’ve pulled out from our own dashboard.

So, on average, Home and Living saw a 1006% increase in revenue in image search than the average typed search since we introduced it on 1st January.

Pretty crazy, to be honest.

Rich: It’s doing alright isn’t it?

Josh: Pretty crazy, considering it was something that was a bit of a hunch to us before we went full speed with developing it, and these are the numbers which pushed the business case for it.

And in footwear, since 1st January, image searches have topped any other typed search tem by 2056 clicks and have seen a 1353% increase in revenue from that.

Again, this is sort of what peaked our interest and we thought ‘we need to get this up and out’, hence us talking about it today.

And then accessories saw a 410% increase in Click Through Rate after utilising Visually Similar Search.

Rich: We started to see these types of stats in testing, and pretty much shelved our roadmap until we got it out there.

Josh: Yeah, our roadmap up to this point was very much focussed on our search speed and these are pretty undeniable arguments for going ahead with Visually Similar Search to be honest. 

So I’ll pass over to Rich now, who’s going to take us through a quick product demonstration, and a little bit of a pitch for it. He’s probably the better salesman out of the pair of us.

Rich: So the main place we’ve implemented visually similar is on people’s product pages.

So, someone lands on the item in question, we introduce a banner.

Now, within that, we started off with a text banner – that was our first attempt.

And, pretty much ironically, given what we’re talking about, people weren’t really reading the text and understanding what we were talking about.

It’s a new technology, and it’ll become familiar with users I guess.

For example, if I said to someone ‘What does a wishlist typically look like?’, people would say ‘Well it’s usually like a love heart symbol.’

Josh: Checkouts are like the same thing aren’t they?

Rich: Exactly, that’s it.

Now Visually Similar, we’ve created a button, but it will take time for it to become synonymous with Visually Similar.

So what we’ve done to bolster that is we’ve introduced visuals, of course!

So, what we do is when someone lands on a product, we then do a visually similar search in the background and pull through the most relevant products.

And then when someone clicks on explore now, we then load.

It’s very similar to our actual on-site search that we do.

But we basically pull back the results in ascending order of what’s visually similar.

What we can do if you’re more of an advanced user is you can crop down the image as well and it’ll take down a sample of the image.

So, for example, if you want to focus down into a particular material within a product, it’ll actually find things of a similar material.

So, quite flexible, makes it really easy.

We got his quite a lot at first – ‘Visually Similar is too advanced for our older users’.

But these older users will use on-site search, they will use filters, to be honest, if they can’t click a single button on the website, then I think that’s where it’s misunderstood.

I can understand it with things like cropping, they’re advanced features.

But, for example, in my car, I don’t understand all the features it has but I can still drive around in it okay!

And then again what we’ve done is on every product in there we’ve put the camera icon in the top right corner.

You can actually upload your own product there.

Whether people will do that remains to be seen.

I think that’s where we saw a lot of companies introduce this in the first instance. 

I think ASOS introduced this as look, upload your own image, take a picture of someone with a watch on that you like – try not to get arrested, or frowned upon, or punched!

Josh: I think conceptually, that sounds like the dream doesn’t it?

Upload your own imagery, your own lifestyle imagery?

But in practice there was very little uptake in it.

Rich: Yeah, and I think because in the grand scheme of things, every independent retailer or brand has got such a niche catalogue.

That’s so niche compared to how many products there actually are out there.

It’s not going to be done.

If you’re going to upload an image, I understand that on eBay and Amazon you are going to get a bit more traction.

But to be honest, we looked at it, liked the technology, liked the idea of it, but we fully understood that you’d go into people’s dashboards, and we’d see that the only people that were uploading an image are myself, one of the BD guys in the company and the director of the prospect. 

Josh: Probably showing it to someone in the pub or something like that?

Rich: That’s it, showing off the tech they’ve got!

It’s great if they want to stay on the cutting-edge of technology, but I think we were probably the first to implement it on the products, or portfolio of products, that people have on their websites.

So, very quick to implement, we’ve made sure that it’s effectively like a line of code to add to people’s sites.

Again, we’re working off our best practice.

It’s related to the success we’ve had with our actual on-site search

Josh: Yeah, it plays into our mission statement for lack of a better term.

Rich: Yeah, absolutely.

Also, it meshes across the other products that we’ve got.

We’ve mentioned there that we’ve got it on the product page as a stand alone button, and we’ve got it in Product Recommendations.

It’s prominent in Basket Recovery emails. 

So typically when you send out a Basket Recovery email, it’ll include your products that you left in your basket.

But what we’ll also be looking to do is look at the customer journey through the site, see what products they’re interested in, and what keyword searches they’ve made.

We’ll then cross-reference it against what they’ve actually put in the basket and then do visual searches in the background and produce similar recommendations based on what’s visually similar to what’s in the basket.

Josh: We have actually some great stats in regards to open and click-through rates in these follow-up emails on the back on highly personalised and specific recommendations.

You’re going to get more people opening up because the content is more personalised.

Right, so that’s the product in a nutshell basically.

The main selling point for ours, our USP, is how it fits into our other products in one tight package.

Rich: I think what’s happening at the moment, across many technologies, is that an agency comes along, starts selling it, and it’s very, very expensive and a very long-winded implementation process.

We’ve taken the principles that we had with Overlays, Search and everything else, and made it so that it’s effectively a line of code and a shopping feed.

Josh: Yeah, we’re not rebuilding your site.

Rich: That shopping feed doesn’t have to be great, we’re just interested in the images, pulling them in and analysing them in the first instance.

Josh: Am I right in saying that if you have a bit of a dodgy product feed, or one that isn’t the cleanest, that it will still work, just the same as a fully-fledged one that is being managed by an agency?

Rich: Yeah exactly.

In fact, it can make your product feed stronger because we can actually tag what we see in the image, and then feed that back into the product.

Josh: That’s a good segway into our next section, where we’re going to be looking at how we can optimise your site and search, and how we can prepare bringing those visual search elements into your site and making it part of your customer journey.

So 50% of online shoppers say that products motivate them to purchase.

This is going back through your inventory and taking stock, and looking at how good, how clean is your product imagery?

Often times they’re not the most inspiring shots we’re seeing, but it’s really important to have a good inventory. 

You can have the best visual search in the world, but if your imagery isn’t good, then you’re really going to struggle.

It’s great for SEOs when you start looking at how people tag up these images, and eCommerce managers, but when you;re doing hundreds of those a day and you’re adding three or four or five tags on each product, there isn’t a bigger pain in the arse for eCommerce managers.

So what Visual Search can do is that it can help you do is that it can help you work smarter when it comes to your optimisation.

So when you’re making these searches and we’re processing these products, not only is it providing a really specific result for you, we’re now able to take what we’re learning and AI is going to be able to tag these images automatically for you.

So the other thing is looking at image texts.

Alt tags and things like that, I know it’s something a lot of people, particularly smaller teams in SMEs don’t have time to be going through.

If you’ve got an SEO retainer who you’ve got specifically in house, this is something people will be doing anyway.

Maybe looking up some guides on the internet or reaching out to agencies and seeing what they can do about it.

Another good one is cross-promoting products brands by using Search. Like the door example we were using earlier, Rich?

Rich: Yeah absolutely.

So what we’ll tend to do, in the evolution as a retailer, is they tend to be quite brand-heavy.

Brands are what people search for on the web.

It’s very difficult to get people looking for shirts, but, for example, Ralph Lauren shirts, it’s going to be a lot more niche than that very generic term, so you tend to get a lot more quality in purchasing traffic.

Once you’ve got established over a period of time, you can then supplement those brands with your own brands, and you’ve seen that on the likes of ASOS, with a lot of major retailers.

Of course, the markup and the margin is much higher.

So what they tend to be is the cheaper products that they sit alongside the branded traffic-generating products, so to speak, and they tend to be the ones that ideally, as a retailer, they tend to be the ones that they’re selling and gradually migrating.

In most cases, migrating their product range towards where the margin and eventual retirement and selling your business lies.

So that’s where Visually Similar works very well.

Quite often you’ll see it in the high street: there’ll be the £200 top or t-shirt, the really upmarket fashion store, then the likes of your Topshops, your Topmans.

Josh: You can say that now that they’re gone, their lawyers won’t be getting in touch!

Rich: And they’d have the £15 or £20 version of that top.

So that’s your opportunity really to cross-sell those.

We’ve got a hardware merchant doing it at the moment, and they sell products where there’s perhaps a 10 to 15% margin in them, and then their own products that they’ve got that are non-branded, that look very, very similar: they’re the ones that they’re wanting to cross-promote.

So Visually Similar naturally does this.

It naturally gets more product in front of people.

Josh: That’s an interesting one.

And then our last tip for that is what we found when we implemented our animated button is that it’s making sure that you’ve got it set up on your product page and making sure that education pieces are available around the site, because it’s a brand new piece of tech in essence.

Rich: Yeah.

Josh: The next few years we’re going to be finding that a lot of people are going to be putting a lot of those education pieces out on their socials.

We’ve even seen companies putting on their main page in some of their banners, because when they’re getting people to engage with it, they’re seeing such high results and engagement rates and then the obvious revenue off the back of it that they’ve deemed it that important that they’re going to be putting a main banner towards it.

Rich: Yeah, absolutely.

Josh: I think it was a huge homeware retailer that we saw recently, I won’t namecheck them but that was their main banner for a few weeks at one point.

They were pushing everybody towards this Visual Search.

So it’s making sure that you’re shouting about it, but also making sure that those education pieces are up front and visible as well.

Rich: It’s here to stay.

The stats off the back of it are incredible, the interaction’s growing very quickly as people become more educated about it.

Your big players are doing it now, so gradually what you’re going to see is people implementing it in different ways, different places.

We’re already starting to see some companies implement it into look-books, and then you can dissect what they’re wearing and what’s in the look-book photos.

But starting to see it across other products, and that’s the realm we’re in now.

We’ve already got it implemented into our Product Recommendations, so that’s just another factor to take into account for Recommendations on-site in the customer journey.

But also looking to bring it into Overlays as we said, and Abandoned Orders – it’s already running across our Search.

So already it’s across half of our products portfolio at the moment.

So I think you’ll just start to see that more and more.

Josh: It’s a good call back to when we opened the webinar, when we were discussing the wishlists that were brought in, and now we’re going to see this leak out.

Rich: It’s in its infancy, in it’s very early days.

Going back to what I was saying before, I think what happens is particularly with any new technology – take search bars for example – an agency or a big company gets hold of it, charges a lot of money for doing a lot of work in refining it, almost like a managed service for those customers.

It tends to be very expensive.

Then over time someone comes along, and I’ve used this analogy quite a lot the past few weeks, someone makes McDonald’s of it.

Josh: Yes.

Rich: Basically makes it so it’s very quick to turn around and pulls the price right down. 

And then goes after a large customer base.

And that’s very much in the mindset we’ve got.

So I think what we tend to be faced with is when we come up against objections for this, is that it tends to be one of ‘My user base is too old to get their head round this’.

Josh: Which is a tad paradoxical as well because we found when we discussed with people that it’s actually making it easier and more accessible.

Rich: Yeah, exactly, it’s one click!

One button click.

Anyone can find their way around Pinterest really, can’t they?

You’re literally clicking on pictures.

If you think when you’re a child, most toys are like pictures, you’re not clicking on words, you’re clicking on pictures because it’s too early on for words.

Josh: It’s super intuitive, it’s almost simpler than learning what a brand does and what a search engine does.

Rich: I think it’s been very quick and I think we’ve been very quick into this SaaS product.

And I think the other thing people are wary of is the huge cost.

And in terms of what it’s doing and what it’s processing, we’ve got teams behind this, intelligent guys behind it.

Josh: In the past it’s only been rolled into more expensive search packages, your 5 or 10 grand a month suites.

Rich: Yes.

Josh: It’s not really been cut off and served as its own product.

Rich: I think it’d surprise retailers how quickly this has become financially viable.

We’re literally charging from £100 per month for it.

Josh: Which is crazy when you see what it offers.

Rich: Because we’ll sell it, two or three thousand times over.

Josh: Yeah.

And I think we’ve answered our question from our last slide there, is it worth the hype?

It’s a big yes from me obviously, I’m assuming it’s a yes from you too?

Rich: Well yeah, naturally!

But look at companies outside ours, Pinterest for example, look at the stats on there.

Josh: Exactly.

And just to sign off before we go off into the Q&A, according to Forbes, this is a stat from the end of last year, early adopters of Visual Search are projected to increase the digital eCommerce revenue by 30% in the coming years.

That’s based on their own data sets I believe.

Rich: Wow.

Josh: Pretty much galvanises what you’ve just been saying to be honest.

Rich: Why haven’t we got that on the front of all our marketing material?

Josh: Because I’ve only just found it!

And the market for Visual Search products was in excess of 25 billion dollars in 2020.

It’s one of those things, like Bitcoin – now’s the time to be getting in on it.

You don’t want to be looking back in 6 years and going ‘Ah, I could’ve had one of them!’

What a way to round it off.

Right, thanks for listening, everyone, we’re going to go into a Q&A, so any questions, just put them in the chat and send them over and we’re going to go through it.

We hope you enjoyed this Salesfire webinar, and feel inspired to try out Visually Similar Search on your website.

See how Salesfire can help you optimise your product discovery experience, email one of our experts at [email protected] or book a free demo of our personalisation tools.