Voice and visual search as replacement for text search?

insights  July 30, 2018

Over the past few years, the use of voice and visual searches has increased enormously. Voice search currently has a lead on visual search in terms of use. Approximately 40% or millennials have used a voice assistant prior to making a purchase. Predictions for 2020 claim that half of all searches will be voice or image. Will text searches be replaced by voice and visual search in the future?

Voice search
Voice-enabled commerce is a new trend to be taken seriously. For example, a pizza can be ordered, a restaurant can be searched or a location can be looked up, all by means of your own voice. These voice searches are performed by using Amazon Echo or another voice-controlled device such as Google Home. Research shows that 25% of Americans have a voice-controlled device in-house. Of these, Amazon Echo is the most popular. However, it also appears that it will take a while before these voice-assist products will be as popular as smartphones and tablets. This is because people are still slightly concerned about security, privacy and the lack of images. The advantage however is that voice shopping reduces friction compared to online shopping on the desktop or mobile. There is no need to pick up a device and you don’t need to type or click on anything.

Advances in artificial intelligence have brought visual search on the fast track

Visual search
Visual search is not as new as voice search. In Google it can be used since 2003 by means of reverse image search. However, advances in artificial intelligence have brought visual search on the fast track. The wording of a search can sometimes be difficult. The useful thing about visual search is that you no longer have to give a description of an item. This step can therefore be skipped in the search process.

Nowadays, visual search engines can recognize an item on a photo in the same way people can. A computer receives an image after use of visual search and this produces results. For example, you see someone on the street wearing a sweater that you like, but you don’t want to bother the person by asking where the sweater was bought. You therefore decide to take a photo of the sweater and search for results using Google Lens, Bing Visual Search or Pinterest Lens. This gives results of the sweater (for example where it can be bought), but also results of items that match or resemble this sweater.

Replacement for text search?
Despite the developments and increasing popularity of voice and visual search, text search is unlikely to be replaced. This is because not every situation is suitable for the use of voice search, for example because speaking aloud in the situation is not desirable. Also visual search is not always an option: not every desired item is physically present and can therefore not be found through visual search[1].

All these different ways of searching will complement each other rather than replace one another. This means that people have more options to choose from and use different search modes depending on the specific needs and situation of that moment.

[1] Bing Ads (2017). Future of search, AI, bots, voice search, and digital assistants in marketing.

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