Visual Search 2018

New Tools from Pinterest, eBay, Google and Amazon Increase Accuracy, Utility

Executive Summary

Visual search has taken off in the past two years, with Pinterest, Amazon, Google, eBay and most recently Bing launching major visual search tools. They join a number of smaller tech firms and marketplaces that have their own visual search tools embedded in dozens of apps. We expect visual search’s growth to accelerate in the coming years.

How has visual search gotten better in the past year?

The accuracy of visual search has improved as image recognition tools have access to big training sets of images, and visual search engines learn about the implicit questions users ask when submitting images. This has created a virtuous cycle, where more people use visual search, which in turn creates more accurate visual search tools.

How many searches are visual searches?

Visual search remains a tiny fraction of total search volume, perhaps topping 1 billion monthly searches, compared with hundreds of billions of text searches. Even so, growth has been strong, with Pinterest, for instance, seeing monthly visual search jump from 250 million in February 2017 to 600 million in February 2018.

What’s the advantage of using visual search?

Visual search is good at answering questions that are hard to verbalize, such as, “What goes well with this shirt?” or “What breed of dog is that?” As such, it has not cannibalized textual search, instead working in tandem with it.

What are the marketing possibilities?

Visual search currently does not contain advertising, but marketers can already benefit by embedding visual search in their apps to improve the user experience, creating rich media experiences from traditional printed media and enabling search in multilingual contexts.

What should marketers be doing?

Optimizing images for visual search is still very early, but marketers need to build their image libraries, catalog them and think of ways in which the physical world could spur a visual search.

WHAT’S IN THIS REPORT? This report looks at the current state of visual search and how consumers are using it. It also lays out how marketers should think about visual search as it rapidly evolves.

KEY STAT: Visual search was the technology US and UK millennial internet users would feel most comfortable incorporating into their digital shopping experience, at 62.2%.


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Table of Contents

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Visual Search Breaks into the Mainstream
  3. Key Visual Search Platforms
  1. Marketing Applications for Visual Search
  2. Key Takeaways
  3. eMarketer Interviews
  1. Read Next
  2. Sources
  3. Media Gallery

Interviewed for This Report

Ted Mann
Interviewed August 23, 2018
Omar Seyal
Head, Discovery Product
Interviewed August 1, 2018
Mike Boland
ARtillry Intelligence
Chief Analyst
Interviewed August 9, 2018
Sally Huang
Lead, Visual Technologies
Interviewed August 30, 2018
Ben Plomion
Interviewed August 31, 2018
Doug Williams
Senior Product Manager, Deep Learning and Computer Vision
Interviewed August 21, 2018


Yoram Wurmser


Caroline Cakebread
Junior Analyst
Rahul Chadha
Director, Report Editing
Andrew Lipsman
Principal Analyst
Natalie McGranahan
Senior Researcher and Taxonomy Manager
Nicole Perrin
Principal Analyst
Victoria Petrock
Principal Analyst