Posted on 14 April 2023

Visual interactions, enabled by smartphones and tablets, are changing the way customers shop and buy online. Application leaders must evaluate the top visual trends impacting commerce to identify opportunities to create competitive advantage.


Key considerations

To optimize the visual experience expected on mobile devices, technology leaders responsible for digital commerce technologies and experience should be considering following key aspects:

  1. Optimize product images for visual search engines and evaluate visual search technology within their commerce storefront.

  2. Reduce friction in product configuration activities by using new technology like 360-degree video and augmented reality to immerse the customer in the product experience.

  3. Bring check-out closer to content by making content shoppable. Streamline check-out for mobile devices by offering a one-click check-out.

Optimising for a mobile-first visual experience

The way consumers and business buyers are making their online purchase decisions is changing. Digital audiences are embracing new ways of conducting activities previously served through a commerce storefront. The rapid growth of visual interactions — such as visual search, video and immersive experiences — demands that digital commerce leaders adapt their technology strategy to new customer behaviors and preferences.

Mobile technology is at the forefront of these changes. Smartphones and tablets are the predominant devices of daily consumer life. In addition, mobile devices are enabling sales organizations and business buyers. The pervasiveness of mobile technology across B2C and B2B commerce experiences are a significant factor in achieving business outcomes.

  1. In a recent multicountry survey, 35% of respondents said they mostly (but also use PC) or exclusively use a smartphone for daily tasks like email, social media, calendaring, banking, and shopping.

  2. Amazon Prime Day 2018 had a 56% increase in mobile traffic compared with 2017. PC/laptop visits experienced a decrease of 14%, but overall visits to Amazon increased by 25% thanks to the strong growth in mobile usage.

  3. During Cyber Monday 2018, Akamai reported that mobile traffic on commerce sites exceeded desktop traffic for the first time.

Product discovery via search is often the first activity in the commerce experience. As smartphones equipped with cameras become the daily device of choice worldwide, a growing percentage of product discovery activities are happening via visual interactions. Images and video are taking a prominent position in the customer shopping experience — people are taking photos and using them to find similar products using visual search. In addition, purchasing is expedited when customers buy directly from streaming video or from social media images using buy buttons.

For complex products that require configuration, customers are now able to view products in 2D/3D using configurators. 360-degree video provides a compelling emotional experience of the product. Product visualization using augmented reality to display the configured product into the purchaser’s environment is now available and becoming more common in B2C and B2B product configurations. The ability to provide immersive product experiences improves the customer’s confidence in their purchase and, therefore, improves conversion. Once the products are selected and configured, optimizing the check-out process for mobile devices is critical to support conversion.

As both B2B and B2C shopping and purchasing behaviors evolve, so must commerce strategy. Application leaders must evaluate these behavioral changes and emerging technologies to deliver a more visual commerce experience for their customers (see Figure 1).

Commerce Funnel Optimized for a Mobile-First Visual Experience

Figure 1. Commerce Funnel Optimized for a Visual Experience



#1: Enable Visual Search

Text-based keyword search has reigned supreme for many years at the top of the commerce funnel. Visual search is an important new technology that is changing the way shoppers and buyers streamline their commerce journey. Instead of entering a text query, visual search technology enables a user to identify items via image matching, often with a photo uploaded by the shopper via a mobile device. The capability to leverage visual technology to find similar products is becoming a critical aspect of the product discovery process in both B2C and B2B commerce customer journeys.


Product Discovery Using Visual Search

With more than 1 trillion photos taken by consumers every year, application leaders responsible for B2C commerce technologies cannot ignore the impact — and opportunity — that visual assets play in the product discovery process. Social media sites are overwhelmingly visual platforms, and can function as the start of a B2C commerce customer journey for product discovery. Pinterest, Facebook and Snap are all investing in visual search technology, with a goal of enabling commerce. For example:

  1. Pinterest Lens reportedly receives 600 million visual searches every month — up 140% year-over-year since its launch. Product Pins provide pricing and inventory availability to support conversion.

  2. In February 2019, Facebook acquired visual search technology company GrokStyle, which we expect to see incorporated into Facebook’s marketplace shopping experience.

  3. Snap Inc. rolled out a visual search tool for its Snapchat app in partnership with Amazon. The tool allows Snapchat users to take a picture of an object then search for it on Amazon.

Social media may not be suitable for B2B product discovery, but opportunities for applying visual product discovery use cases may reap even greater returns. Finding suitable replacement parts, for example, can be much more effective when a technician sends an image of a product to an internal purchasing agent, who then uses it to search a parts catalog using visual matching. In

another example, Grainger, a global industrial supply company, has a mobile app where you can upload a photo to a live chat agent for purchasing assistance.

Whether a B2C consumer shopper or a B2B buyer, global search engines are critical to product discovery. Indeed, Google introduced Google Lens in 2017, which allows users to identify and search for objects by using their smartphones’ camera viewfinder to retrieve information about those objects. Playing catch up, Microsoft’s Bing search engine now offers similar capability to that found in Google Lens, allowing users to take a picture then search for similar products online.

Large retailers are turning to innovative technology partners to incorporate visual search functionality into their branded storefronts. For example:

  1. ASOS, the UK fashion retailer, launched a tool called “Shop the Look” that can be used across its catalog of more than 85,000 SKUs to help shoppers find similar items from photos they upload.

  2. Boohoo, an online retailer in the UK, incorporates visual search into its main search toolbar to allow shoppers to upload a photo to search for similar-looking items.


Visual Search Is Evolving

The ability to use an image to find an exact or similar match is a nascent technology space. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube continue to use text search to return image and video results, enabled by text tagging of visual assets. Google’s strategy casts a wide net geared toward everyday use by smartphone users to identify objects in their space, rather than as a commerce-first shopping enabler.

It is clear that there is significant investment in visual search and visual recognition technology. Visual recognition technology has achieved error rates of lower than 5%, which has prompted adoption: 30% of organizations that have deployed AI for digital commerce experiences have done so by implementing visual search technology. Although visual content has been pervasive in our daily life, it’s currently in its infancy, but will be driven by new cultural expectations for ease and convenience. Several recent developments indicate that visual search will not only be important in and of itself, but will also augment other technologies. For example:

  1. Amazon’s Echo Show presents an image in response to a verbal request, confirming that the correct product has been selected for ordering.

  2. offers a chatbot that interacts with consumers using images. Designed as a shopping tool,’s chatbot allows customers to share an image that it then uses to find matching products.

  3. Syte provides a visual search engine that uses AI and graph technology to model product features and match items with increased accuracy over previous-generation visual search tools

Advancements in artificial intelligence will power ever-more-sophisticated ways of interacting visually to effectively find products and services. Voice-driven, natural language, and visual- and gesture-driven interfaces are likely to converge to make commerce discovery and transactions seamless across modalities.


#2: Build Immersive Experiences for Configurable Products

Consumers already have a preference for purchasing certain goods online; in general, the more generic an item is, the easier it is to purchase it online. As products become more configurable, the ability to complete a purchase with confidence becomes more challenging. Immersive technologies are being applied to bring clarity and confidence into the commerce process. Immersive technologies such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and 3D video and interactive rendering allow the user to better visualize or experience a configurable product. The best immersive technologies enable the user to interact directly and in real time with the visual representation of the product. Immersive technologies can be applied to product experiences for a wide range of configurable products, anything from personalized coffee mugs to excavators.

VR experiences typically require a head-mounted device (HMD), and create a deeply immersive experience by providing a 3D environment that responds to a user’s actions in a natural way. AR overlays a 3D representation of the configurable product onto a background, which is captured live by the camera of a smartphone or tablet. 3D visual configuration is made possible by Web Graphics Library (WebGL). WebGL is a JavaScript API that is used for rendering high-quality 3D graphics in real time within any compatible web browser without the use of plug-ins. Each technology has its unique applicability to enable product visualization and achieve a more immersive commerce experience.

The general release of AR SDKs for most Apple and Android devices has allowed organizations to offer unique experiences to their consumers via the mobile phone or tablet that the customer is already carrying. AR content turnkey platforms (such as Zappar) are making it easier for organizations to create content that developers can in turn incorporate into mobile apps using standard development tools. Examples of AR mobile applications include:

  1. Overstock and Wayfair offer mobile apps that allow a shopper to display life-size renderings of furniture, rugs or other household products into the consumer’s physical space.

  2. Sephora Virtual Artist is a feature of Sephora’s iOS app that scans your face, recognizes your features, and allows you to “try on” different makeup looks using your phone camera as a virtual mirror.

B2B and B2B2C business models arguably have more opportunities to improve outcomes using immersive and visually interactive product experiences. Companies that implement visual configuration solutions see significant improvement in their deal win rate, lower costs for drafting design files (such as CAD), and lesser need for rework in the factory. The best experiences can overlay a photorealistic image of the product on location (see Figure 2 and “Innovation Insight for Visual Configuration” for more examples).

AR Visualization of a Glass Building Using a Smartphone

Figure 2. AR Visualization of a Glass Building Using a Smartphone (Source: Animech)


The practicality of offering B2C VR experiences has been hampered by the low adoption rate of HMDs by the general public. There are, however, optional peripheral headsets (Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR and Daydream, for example) that can be used in conjunction with mobile devices and may warrant consideration for some commerce use cases that are best-served using a VR experience.

Several examples of B2C VR experiences include:

  1. StubHub’s ticketing mobile app utilizes 360-degree photos, with or without the use of Google Cardboard, to show the user the actual view from the seats they are considering purchasing, including any objects blocking the view.

  2. Macy’s provides an in-store VR experience for customers to design their living spaces by placing digital furniture on an iPad with the help of a sales associate. Then the consumer puts on a VR HMD to experience the living space at actual scale and to even walk around the room to view it from all angles.

  3. Visual product experiences using immersive technology can lead to a higher commerce conversion

rate, lower returns and increased customer loyalty.


#3: Facilitate Quick Check-Out to Maximize Conversion

The suitability of mobile devices for visual content such as images, video, AR shopping tools and visual product configuration, presents the most compelling opportunity of all: ease of check-out using a mobile device. Mobile commerce conversion is continuing to gain ground. Its rise is propelled by a number of factors, including better connection speeds, bigger and more interactive screens, and a critical mass of mobile payment options. Commerce conversion on mobile devices offers a significant opportunity: Bringing mobile conversion to parity with desktop would have represented an additional $9 billion of B2C online sales during the U.S. holiday season in 2018.


Make Content Shoppable

One key step in driving mobile conversion is to bring check-out closer to content. For decades, brand and marketing teams have been creating emotionally engaging, rich content to promote the image of products and services. That content should be shoppable, feature user-generated content (UGC), and be repurposed across the brand’s entire digital footprint. For example, reviews are crucial for brands, which is why innovative commerce sites include the ability for users to easily upload images and video in the on-site ratings and review section of a product page.

Most brands invest in blogs, videos and other digital content to build customer engagement, provide information about products and communicate clear brand messaging. However, an evaluation by Leading analysts’ interview of 62 consumer electronics brands revealed multiple points of failure in adopting shoppable content (see Figure 3).

Consumer Electronics U.S.: Adoption of Shoppable Content

Figure 3. Consumer Electronics U.S.: Adoption of Shoppable Content

Content that fails to connect to a point of purchase is deadweight, resulting in lost sales on the part of the organization, and frustration and degraded loyalty on the part of the customer.


Implement a One-Click Check-Out Design

Amazon’s iconic one-click check-out patent expired in September 2017. Amazon pioneered the concept of customer-centric design and frictionless check-out with that feature, which it enforced effectively during its patent tenure. For example, Apple paid an undisclosed annual sum to use a version of that same technology in its iOS app store. One-click check-out is such a critical component of a frictionless commerce experience that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is working on a standard that would support a one-click payment through any site via credentials stored on their browser. The dominance and genius of Amazon’s customer-centric design has set user expectations for ease of customer check-out.


Share this article