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Marks & Spencer introduces photo search for online shopping

British retail brand Marks and Spencer has introduced a photo searching capability to its mobile site to help people find products they like using other images

Marks & Spencer (M&S) has introduced an image searching capability to allow online customers to find products they might like by using photos to search.

The feature, dubbed Style Finder, allows consumers using its online mobile site to use photos of clothing to find similar products in its menswear and womenswear ranges.

Jim Cruickshank, head of digital product and user experience design at M&S, said part of the retailer’s reasoning behind introducing the capability came down to consumer convenience.

“We know our customers are busier than ever and are often most inspired when they’re out and about. Style Finder helps customers instantly find what they’re looking for, without the need to manually search and filter through our products,” he said.

Customers can upload a photo, or use their smartphone camera to take a new one, and in return will be shown similar looking items from M&S’s own range.

The mobile shopping era has made social media a very important part of consumers’ day-to-day shopping activities, with many experts seeing social as one of the “most powerful tools” available to retailers.

There has also been a shift towards stores becoming locations for experiences rather than purchases – many consumers will shop for similar products on their smartphone devices while in a competitor store.

For M&S, part of Style Finder is encouraging people to use pictures they have seen in social media, magazines or while browsing in other shops to inspire their purchases with the M&S clothing brand.

The tool uses artificial intelligence (AI) developed in partnership with e-commerce virtual search firm Syte to assess images and return the closest match, then customers can use further filters to find products based on metrics such as size, price and colour.

AI is becoming a huge focus for retailers, which are aiming to find the best way to utilise the massive amounts of data they have been collecting over the years.

The British retailer’s Snap To Shop service is part of M&S’s strategy to become a “digital-first” retailer to cater for its consumer’s shift towards mobile shopping.

The brand aims for a third of all of its clothing and home product sales to be through online transactions by 2020.

Three-quarters of the brand’s online traffic now comes through mobile devices, and Cruickshank said introducing features such as Style Finder is a way of improving its customer experience along the retailer’s “digital transformation journey”.

In the middle of 2018, the brand announced it would be speeding up its plans for digital transformation as its profits suffered as a result of shifting consumer behaviour, and it also admitted its online offering wasn’t as good as that of some of its competitors.

Over the past year, the retailer set about introducing more digitally focused initiatives, including partnering with Founders Factory with the aim of investing in startups.

M&S also partnered with Decoded to create a programme aimed at teaching 1,000 of its employees data skills.

But Marks & Spencer isn’t the only retail brand experimenting with offering consumers new ways to shop, with Argos launching voice shopping through Google Home Assistant, and Asos launching a digital assistant to aid customers in finding the right fitting garments.

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