Visual Search Technology and Chargebacks
Table of Contents
- What Is Visual Search?
- What Do Merchants Need to Know About Visual Search?
- The Bottom Line on Visual Search
- What Is Visual Search Marketing?
Sometimes, there’s an item you’d like to search for on the web, and you can see it and take a picture of it—but you don’t know what it’s called. While it can be entertaining playing guessing games with search engines by typing in increasingly elaborate descriptions of the thing you’re trying to find, visual search is solving this problem.
With visual search you can search the web with visual information instead of a text string, and merchants can potentially reach new customers by optimizing for these searches. How can merchants take advantage of visual search to increase sales without risking additional chargebacks?
Merchants in certain industries, such as apparel and furniture, have a real challenge before them when it comes to eCommerce.
Online shopping offers big advantages to their customers in terms of savings and convenience, but consumers tend to shop for these items in an organic, visually-directed way. They see something that catches their eye, they look for similar things, they make note of visual elements they like and seek those out.
It’s hard to recreate this type of shopping experience online, and gimmicky attempts to do so generally don’t work out very well. Visual search offers a different approach, one that takes full advantage of both consumers’ natural tendencies and new state-of-the-art technologies.
What Is Visual Search?
The initial precursor to visual search is image search, a service that search engines like Google have offered for quite some time. With image search, you type in a description or a few relevant keywords indicating what you'd like to see images of, and the search engine will do its best to provide images that fit that description. Rather than looking at the image itself, image search engines mostly focus on the image's alt text and other text on the page to provide information about the content of the image.
After image search came "reverse image search", which allows users to upload or link to an image and find similar images on the internet. To do this, the search engine analyzes the content of the image itself using artificial intelligence to try to match it to other images it has indexed.
Visual search goes beyond this by using artificial intelligence to analyze the content of the image and identify specific objects present in it. It can then search the web for matching objects or products—not just similar images. Amazon, Google, Bing, Pinterest, and other search engines and retailers have begun offering visual search capability in recent years, with Pinterest's visual search function being particularly popular among users.
Visual search is part of a broader category of “sensory search” technologies that also includes auditory search, which uses audio input, such as a recording of a voice or a song playing to perform a search.
For an example of visual search, say you take a photograph of a person wearing a particular orange jacket you’d like to find. Provide that photo as input for a reverse image search, and you’ll get pictures of people wearing orange jackets, people wearing orange shirts, people who look similar to the person in the photo, etc. Use visual search instead, and the search engine will try to identify the brand of shirt and show you links to stores that sell it, or find similar shirts available for purchase.
For merchants, especially those who sell products that don’t carry a lot of identifying information, the potential benefits of visual search should be readily apparent.
It is inevitable that consumers will gravitate toward eCommerce platforms that allow them to browse and shop in familiar ways that feel like navigating a brick-and-mortar store: listening, touching, and most of all visually examining the things they’re thinking about purchasing. According to Search Engine Journal, 35% of marketers are already working toward optimizing for visual search. Whether you’re planning on being an early adopter or you intend to hold out until the technology matures, it’s likely that visual search will be a big part of your marketing strategy in the years ahead.
What Do Merchants Need to Know About Visual Search?
For the most part, merchants should be engaging with visual search as a beneficial tool that can help connect them with shoppers eager to find their products.With that in mind, one of the first things you can do is optimize your image SEO. That means using high quality, original images with descriptive captions, good contextual placement, and so on.
To take things a step further, you can identify the platforms that are providing you the most visual search traffic (or the ones where you’d like to increase your presence) and learn how to tailor your images for better rankings.
What about drawbacks? The main concern with visual search is that it doesn't exclusively find the exact product pictured in the input image.Since the search is based on appearance alone, if there are similar-looking products available, it will often pull up those as well. One the one hand, this means customers looking for a product similar to one you sell, but not exactly the same, might instead choose to buy from you. On the other hand, some customers might not realizing that what you're selling isn't the exact thing they're searching for. If you're not careful, these customers could wind up feeling cheated.
The best thing merchants can do to prevent this is provide as much product information as possible. Brand name, materials, size, weight, and other relevant details can help your customers confirm that your product is what they're looking for. Providing images from different angles, as well as interior or cutaway shots if applicable, can also help customers visualize the product they're getting, helping you avoid returns as well as chargebacks.
This would also be a good time to discuss how misleading marketing materials can create unrealistic expectations in consumers’ minds, which leads to disputes and chargebacks when they end up disappointed with the product.
While it’s easy for ad writers to include copy that exaggerates the benefits of a product or makes promises that can’t be backed up, visuals can be just as misleading if you aren’t careful.
Just think of some classic examples from traditional marketing: the fast food burger that looks nothing like the photo, or the action figure that isn’t very action-packed when it isn’t being played with by professional child actors on a sound stage.
These examples are clichés, but when a consumer is excited to try a new and unfamiliar product and discovers that its qualities were exaggerated or invented, they can easily feel like they were cheated by the merchant and decide that they are legally and morally justified in disputing the transaction with their bank.
Sometimes you can fight and win these chargebacks but it’s always better to prevent a chargeback from happening in the first place. If you’re getting “not as described” or related reason codes on your chargebacks, it’s time to take a close look at the ways in which your marketing might be contributing to the problem.
When you’re optimizing for visual search, keep in mind that it’s always possible that the images that get the best search results might not be the ones that present your products in the most accurate light. It does you little good to land a new customer if they're going to end up feeling taken advantage of. Even if a chargeback doesn't result, this can hurt your reputation.
The Bottom Line on Visual Search
Visual search offers merchant a powerful new opportunity to expand their market, increase their exposure, and reach new customers. As with any new marketing platform, there will be hits and misses as merchants figure out the best way to make use of it, and when trial and error leads to unhappy customers, chargebacks may be the ultimate outcome.
Don’t let exciting new marketing possibilities turn into big chargeback headaches. Be honest and accurate in how you portray your products and services, both in text and visually. Have a plan to deal with an increase in customer service inquiries if you’re making a big push to expand your customer base, so that you have the capacity to deal with their issues promptly. Chargebacks can come at you from unexpected directions, so never forget to factor them in to your plans.
What Is Visual Search Marketing?