With the ability to “mimic” human intelligence, artificial intelligence (AI) is easily one of humanity’s greatest achievements to date, and will probably hold a spot as one of the greatest in our history in years to come. Despite the fact that we’re still technically in the early stages of AI, that is, computers still can’t generate actual thought, the potential is clear when we consider advancements to AI subsets like machine learning, natural language processing (NLP) and visual recognition.
For instance, by being able to “learn” without explicitly being programmed to do so, programs backed by machine learning can work on their own with little to no human input or interference, and even improve themselves over time as they “learn” from experience, just as a human or any other intelligent being can do. And then there’s NLP, which seeks to find intent and bridge the gap between what is said and what is meant, which is what we do in our everyday lives as we talk and interact with people, who, let’s be honest, don’t always mean exactly what they say. As for visual recognition, advancements in this field are making it so that computers can identify pretty much anything from a single image, which comes in handy in areas like facial and image recognition. For example, AI-backed visual search engines with image search technology like that of Google can use a single image to find and match thousands of others that look like it in less than a second — a feat that even we as humans cannot do.
To reiterate, AI carries a lot potential for fields drastically apart because of its immense utility and its wide-ranging applications. As for today, our discussion will revolve around eCommerce and how AI is revolutionising this industry with voice commerce and shopping chatbots that use conversational commerce, but for the most part, we’ll be focusing on visual search in eCommerce and how visual product search is a game-changer that’s enabling consumers to find what they want at a moment’s notice, and brands to improve their offerings to attract more users.
Voice, Textual and Visual Conversations in eCommerce
Starting with voice based eCommerce, which uses NLP and is enabled by voice search and the rise of smartphones, consumers can simply press a button on their smartphones and ask one of the many digital assistants like Siri and Bigsby to search for whatever they want, including products. Likewise, the recent popularity surge in smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home, which are also paired with digital assistants (Alexa and Google Assistant, respectively), has introduced even more people to the possibilities that are unlocked by using their voice and their sole and only search tool.
Another AI-backed tool is the conversational commerce platform, which has brought us chatbots, programs that mimic human representatives and can live on a website or application at all hours of the day. For instance, you’ve most likely encountered a chatbot at one point in your internet travels, most likely as a pop-up chat bubble that appears as soon as you land on a website, and interacting with them functions like a conversation with a person in the sense that they prompt you with a question, you respond, they respond, and so on in this back-and-forth fashion until you finish. Being an AI program, chatbots can not only handle multiple users at once and work around the clock, but also function as both a sales and customer service representative that’s always present on your digital channels.
With voice and textual conversational commerce covered, it’s to move onto the main topic of the day: visual conversations in eCommerce.
Visual Search in eCommerce
Visual search in eCommerce is enabled powered by image recognition technology that can match data points on any one picture to that of another, thereby getting an exact or near-exact match. For example, Google Images has a “Search by image” function that does just this, which allows you to search with something other than words. In this way, searchers are no longer constrained by words when they want to find something; as long as they have an image on-hand, they can find exactly what they’re looking for.
Translating this to consumers, this opens up a brand new discovery and search tool that uses images as the input. The best part is that they not only can find products with higher accuracy than before, but also find them at reduced prices. For example, consider ASOS and Style Match, a feature on their mobile app that lets shoppers take or upload a picture, and then discover products from their catalogue that match it. By offering this tool that can match from more than 850 brands and over 85,000 products, ASOS is making sure their users buy from them and only them, and that they don’t spend as much as they would by going someplace else (e.g. You can upload a picture of a designer product and find more affordable styles that match it).
Likewise, other brands like Pinterest and eBay are also offering visual search tools that ensure their users find exactly what they want. Starting with Pinterest, the social media site has Lens, a visual search tool that lets their users use the world around them as inspiration for how they style themselves:
Just point Lens at a pair of shoes, then tap to see related styles or even ideas for what else to wear them with. Or try it on a table to find similar designs, and even other furniture from the same era. You can also use Lens with food. Just point it at broccoli or a pomegranate to see what recipes come up. Patterns and colors can also lead you in fun, interesting or even just plain weird new directions.
eBay, on the other hand, offers two distinct AI-powered visual search tools that allow shoppers to find products they want with ease: Image Search, which lets users take or upload a picture and find listings of similar items, and Find It on eBay, a slightly different feature that requires the social URL of said item, but after that the results are the same.
AI is growing quickly, and advancements in the field are being made every day. In the realm of eCommerce, these advancements are giving ground to voice, textual and visual conversations that empower users to streamline their shopping experiences and buy more. While voice gives us digital assistants to do the searching for us, text gives us chatbots that help us along the way, and visual presents a novel way of finding what we want at the prices we want, thereby transforming eCommerce one image at a time.