For the last decade, search has been undergoing a significant transformation. Many consumers are seeking out and even expecting to use new methods and platforms to find information and especially products.
Leading the way in more innovative search, technologies like voice recognition and artificial intelligence are making search more intuitive and efficient for shoppers. The next generation of search is radically different, and retailers who want to maintain and increase their revenue will need to embrace these new search channels, including visual search, AI, mobile search and voice search.
With big names like Google, Bing and Pinterest recently announcing new developments in visual search, it's clear that understanding this new search method should be a priority for all retailers. Visual search is distinct from the well-established image search in that it uses an image as the query terms, rather than the standard of text. This allows searchers to greatly expand the way they look for products online.
One of the most notable features of Bing's visual search tool is the ability to search within images. The search engine's current work will allow users to select objects within an image, then locate and purchase that item or find similar items based on visual cues. Pinterest Lens, currently in beta, will locate relevant images and inspiring pins related to photos taken within the Pinterest app.
Along with their involvement in Google's visual search, the site's deep neural networks are also making search results more helpful through artificial intelligence. Instead of just providing search results for queries, Google's AI tools provide exact answers, pulled from long web pages or even videos. In another example of AI-infused search, Loop54 employs artificial intelligence that takes advantage of learning new words, interpreting search intent and offering personalization.
Mobile search continues to rise in importance, as more consumers begin their searches on smartphones and tablets. In spite of the limited screen space and other limitations, advances in mobile search provides great opportunities for retailers. This is particularly true for competing in local markets.
Google again is a leader in this channel, as its Lens promises to bring context to the world through smartphones, identifying objects and interpreting signs for its users so that they can take further action or search for more information. Consumers are also using their smartphones to enhance the in-store experience, including searching for specific products, researching product information and comparing prices.
According to Forbes, 2017 is the year of voice search, a search channel that lets users speak, rather than type, their queries. The rise of voice search has been compounded by the convenient integration of digital assistants, such as Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana and Amazon's Alexa. Improvements in voice recognition have put this search technology ahead of other newer channels, including visual search.
The challenge for retailers who want to embrace voice search is first in structuring data in a way that is more accessible to these digital assistants. Another big challenge for this technology is adapting to and understanding the more conversational language that consumers prefer to use when performing voice searches. A behaviour that may take a while to be adopted by consumers searching within retailer sites. A topic we addressed in an earlier blog post - Is Natural Language Processing the future of ecommerce site-search.
The changes and advances in search technology across channels should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a hurdle for retailers. By embracing the search options that consumers prefer, including visual, AI and voice-based search, retailers can boost customer satisfaction and loyalty.