Boohoo is gearing up to make a big push of visual search.
The retailer first looked into visual search to assist shoppers with finding alternative styles when their size is sold out. Now better clued in to its capabilities, it’s using it to help shoppers recreate looks they see on Instagram. After a successful test on Boohoo’s U.K. website, in progress since July, Boohoo Group is getting set to roll out the function to the U.S. and its other fast-fashion brands.
In the last seven months, the retailer has introduced four iterations of visual search to its test audience — 70 percent of its online shoppers in the U.K. — each more finely tuned than the last. It launched its latest, the visual search camera, in December. When shoppers click on the camera icon living in the search bar, they can upload an image — from their photo gallery, Instagram, a website, anywhere — to find similar styles in Boohoo’s inventory.
“If you see something you love, maybe something a celebrity is wearing, you can just ‘Boohoo it,’” said Andrew Thomson, Boohoo’s e-commerce director. “You can come to our site and find something similar. We have such a broad range, if we don’t have it, there’s a good chance nobody will have it.”
He went on to say that visual search makes shopping the site — which has “thousands of dresses,” for example — less daunting.
But finding the right balance between the visual search tools available and the education required to introduce shoppers to the concept has been a challenge. “It’s not a new technology, but the utilization is still really new,” said Thomson.
Boohoo’s visual search tool, as seen on mobile
Thomson said it’s “too early” to comment on visual search camera’s specific effect on sales, but he did offer that when Boohoo shoppers interact with visual search, the retailer sees a positive uplift in purchase behavior.
As for sales, Boohoo is currently sitting pretty. In January, its umbrella company U.K.-based Boohoo Group — which also owns BoohooMan, Pretty Little Thing and Nasty Gal, acquired last February — reported that group revenue for the last four months of 2017 had almost doubled year over year, reaching $308.6 million.
According to Thomson, Boohoo’s shoppers are primarily females ages 16 to 24. The retailer’s adoption of visual search plays to their habits: They’re glued to their smartphones, and they don’t often use text-based search. Research by Accenture in 2017 showed 69 percent of young consumers are interested in making purchases based on visual-oriented searches alone.
“In the future, you won’t need to give many shoppers [visual search] cues,” promised Lihi Pinto Fryman, co-founder and CEO of Syte.ai, the technology company powering Boohoo’s visual search. “Millennials and Gen Z will just know that when they want something, they can simply tap on it to get it.”
She went on to say that Syte.ai’s tools, which provide shoppers with many style options, make sense for Boohoo’s current shoppers, because millennials are often looking for inspiration, not exact styles. “They see Selena Gomez carrying a Gucci bag. They can’t afford a $4,000 Gucci bag, but they can get something similar.”
By early March, assuming data and results from the tests remain consistent, Boohoo plans to roll it out to 100 percent of its U.K shopper base and put marketing dollars behind it. Next, it will expand the feature to its second most popular market, the U.S., and then to its Nasty Gal and Pretty Little Thing e-commerce sites.
Success will be measured by the adoption rate, at first. “We’ve seen enough to know that it’s going to happen; it’s going to become the norm,” Thomson said. “Of course we want it to drive conversion, too. And it will.”