At Tommy Hilfiger’s see-now-buy-now runway show in Los Angeles last month, crowd goers not only had the ability to sneak a peek at the latest designs, but they could also snap photos on their mobile phones to identify products and shop them instantaneously.

The gimmick was enabled by visual product search technology, an emerging capability that allows anyone with a smartphone to take a picture of a product and immediately identify brand details and connect to e-commerce sites. Much like Shazam helps users identify an ambiguous song playing at a restaurant, visual search can cull through data points to locate the designer of a jacket worn by a fellow patron at a convenience store or a purse seen on an advertisement on the train. The Tommy Hilfiger partnership was directed by Slyce, a service that uses recognition software to locate products captured in real life, onscreen or on print advertisements.

“Tommy came to us with one of the more ambitious and out-of-the-box use cases we’ve seen, where they didn’t want to just identify one piece of clothing, but an entire look from a runway model walking down the catwalk” said Slyce CEO Ted Mann.

The result, which was developed in just one month, was what Tommy Hilfiger called the first runway recognition app. While Mann wasn’t able to provide data or information about conversion rates for the partnership, he said that on average, Slyce’s retail partners experience 20 percent month-over-month growth in total number of visual searches. Mann said this is contingent upon developing a strong user experience, which for Slyce means accurately locating a product 90 percent of the time.

“Cameras keep getting better and better, and people are using their cameras for more and more,” he said. “I wouldn’t say [visual search] is mainstream but it’s certainly growing at a pretty accelerated clip. When I can’t describe something easily, it’s so much easier to just take a picture.”

Slyce has evolved dramatically since it came on the scene in 2013. Its first retail partner was Neiman Marcus in 2014, and it has since expanded to include a roster of 25 major retailers, including Nordstrom, JCPenney, American Eagle and Express. The draw was that users can go to the retailer’s apps and share photos to find an exact match or similar styles within the brand’s inventory. It has in turn set the bar for several other emerging platforms, like ViSenze and Pinterest’s Lens feature, the latter of which was rolled out to select users over the last couple of weeks and will available to all in the weeks ahead.

Much like Slyce, Lens offers users the ability to use visual search technology to find elusive products in real life. Just yesterday, Pinterest also launched visual search inside Pinterest browser extensions, which allows users to use the technology outside of the Pinterest site when browsing online. Now consumers can hover over an image on any site and be shown the product, or related products, to view and shop without being required to capture a photo and input it to the Pinterest platform.

“Because humans are visual creatures, we use our eyes to decide if something looks good or if it matches our style. Pinterest is built for open-minded discovery,” said a Pinterest spokesperson. “Sometimes you spot something out in the world that looks interesting, but when you try to search for it online later, words fail you. You have this rich, colorful picture in your mind, but you can’t translate it into the words you need to find it.”

At ViSenze, 80 percent of its clients are retailers, which CEO Oliver Tan said makes sense in the fashion and beauty industries which are inherently visual. Tan said his company is focused on bringing the experience of shopping in-store to the online experience, by not just providing an exact match of a photo, but also alternative options.

“In the space of fashion, online shoppers consider color, shape, pattern, silhouette — we delve deeply into concepts like these to extract attributes,” he said. “If you walk into a store and you pick something up, but you don’t like the pattern, you ask to see more options. We’re trying to do that in the online space. It’s all about approximating that same experience.”

Ultimately, the aim is for visual search technology is to help enhance the online shopping experience and expand visibility to a larger set of products, and thus, profit.

“The next chapter of e-commerce is helping consumers find the products they didn’t even know they wanted, and visual search is an enabler of that type of discovery-driven commerce online,” said Apu Gupta, CEO and co-founder of Curalate. “For example, how many times have you walked into a store, picked up a shirt, and thought, ‘This is great, but do you have anything like it?’ Offline, that type of discovery is really easy. Online, you’re left on your own, and that can be frustrating.”