Trend overview

Where text led the way and voice has followed, a third, more visual form of search activity is reshaping how consumers browse the internet and shop online.

Visual search can be defined as anything using an image, rather than text, as the search input. At its most advanced, it involves the use of a camera device – and often a smartphone – as a tool for discovery. It is distinct from more conventional image search, where a text query prompts a search engine to suggest images.

The technology has been available for more than a decade, with QR codes representing an early but crude (and frequently unpopular) iteration of visual search. However, it is only with advances in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning that visual search has become a more mainstream proposition.

The effectiveness of a visual search tool is dependent on computer vision, a sub-sector of machine learning. The aim is to enable computers to identify and process images in the same manner as human vision, including the ability to intuitively identify the most significant objects within complex and composite images.