Visual Search Technology and Chargebacks
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 precursor to visual search is image search, a service that search engines like Google have offered for quite some time. With image search, you provide an image file—a saved JPEG, a picture from your camera roll—and the search engine tries to find similar images on the web.
Visual search goes beyond this by analyzing the image provided and using machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify what the image contains, and searching the web for matching objects or products—not just similar images. Amazon, Google, Bing, Pinterest, and other search engines and retailers have come out with visual search features.
For example, say you take a photograph of a person wearing a particular orange shirt you’d like to find. Provide that photo as input for an image search, and you’ll get pictures of people wearing orange shirts. Use visual search instead, and the search engine will identify the brand of shirt and show you links to stores that sell it.
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.
Visual search is part of a broader category of “sensory search” technologies that involve auditory (such as voice) and tactile inputs for web searches.
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? While there are no obvious dangers or chargeback hazards where visual search is concerned, this would 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.
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.