Intent Lab: Visual Search Spotlight

Consumers are inclined to believe what they see, not what they read, according to new research from The Intent Lab, a research partnership between Performics and Northwestern University.

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Visual Search isn’t new, but it is reaching an inflection point with consumers. Some platforms let consumers use their mobile device’s camera functions to snap pictures, while image recognition software delivers search results in the form of similar items. Other platforms use images to let customers select features by using icons or photos to deliver more precise search results. And at its simplest, users can search photos rather than text listings for more informative results.

Overwhelmingly, consumers, especially younger ones, now prefer images to text while shopping, especially in highly visual product categories like fashion and home furnishings.

  • 36% of respondents have performed or used Visual Search, the same rate as voice search
  • 59% think visual information is more important than textual information across categories (vs. 41% who think textual information is more important)
  • When shopping online for clothing or furniture, more than 85% of respondents respectively put more importance on visual information than text information
  • Overall, visual information is preferred over text by at least 50% of respondents in all categories except for electronics, household goods and wine and spirits

Some of this trust is being eroded by the placement of promotions and unrelated ads next to the images. The Intent Lab has been tracking consumers’ satisfaction with their digital experiences since 2016, with trust at the core. In October 2018, consumer trust in digital experiences was the lowest it has been since the Intent Lab started measuring it, according the study. “We’re learning that visual cues provide a lot of quickly accessible information, and consumers find pictures easier to trust,” said Ashlee Humphreys, Medill associate professor and principal researcher for Intent Lab. “However, they’re not immune to suspicion; consumers still think they can be manipulated, and they trust pictures from other consumers more than a company’s images.”

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