Community Blog Trends and Innovations of Image Search in the Retail Industry

Trends and Innovations of Image Search in the Retail Industry

In this article, we discuss how image search technology can be applied to the retail industry in the form of mobile virtual assistant and targeted campaigns.

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By Henry Lee, Solutions Architect, and Charles Tse, Staff Solutions Architect

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and big data technologies have helped fuel innovations in the retail industry. Cutting-edge products, including Alibaba Cloud's Image Search and Machine Learning Platform for AI, have transformed the way customers interact with and shop for products. Customers no longer need to queue up in brick and mortar stores; they can also conveniently search for products by performing a quick image search.

However, the usage of image search technology is not limited to a simple product search on e-commerce platforms in the retail industry. In recent years, we have witnessed an increasing number of initiatives to provide new customer experience through the integration of simple image search service. This includes using image search for stock keeping unit (SKU) search as well as for matching products with source materials and or patterns.

This article shows how image search technology can be used in different areas other than e-commerce platform product search.

Mobile Virtual Assistants

An innovative application of image search technology in the retail industry is the development of mobile virtual assistants. This solution is intended to help customers to choose the right product with virtual assistance, reducing labor costs as well as optimizing stock keeping.


There is always an issue to promote new products in reseller shops. For example, the shops may not have enough assistants, the shop assistants may not have the latest product information, or they are not familiar to all items in the product line. Furthermore, products with similar packaging makes it challenging for customers and shop assistants to determine the right item.

These problems can be easily solved by simple app integrating with image search service. For example, we can provide a virtual assistance through a membership application or QR code. Through the application, the customer can take a picture of the product to retrieve product information including product features, pricing, comparison, as well as guidelines to choose the right items.

If customers have more questions, we can integrate online customer services (such as a chatbot or service center) to support the customers by providing personalized services. This flow can easily link to other follow up promotions such as coupon or product recommendations. Additionally, this approach can be one of the channels for O2O integration by allowing customers to purchase from online shops.

Targeted Marketed Campaigns


As marketing becomes more competitive, promotional games have become a popular strategy in marketing events. But just providing fun experiences is not enough. For organizations, the profitability of these marketing campaigns are dependent on these questions:

  • How to link these campaigns back to the promotional items?
  • How to encourage and incentivize customers to visit brick and mortar retail shops to experience the targeted products?

Image search technology plays an important role here. Say for example, to encourage customers to visit offline retail stores, we can incentivize them through image search or augmented reality (AR) apps. We can develop a game that rewards customers with coupons by searching and scanning relevant products in a store. By using this approach, we not only improve customer experience but also help boost sales for targeted products through the mobile application.

SKU Search


To facilitate the stock keeping unit (SKU) search for internal staffs or production line partners, normally we need tag products to allow the keyword search. Due to the growth of data volume and complexity of product tags, which are hardly standardized, this becomes a burden for internal operations.

Additionally, there are lot of products cannot be easily described or searched by keywords alone. This may include jewelries or clothes made of different yarn and stitch patterns. In such case, image search is a viable alternative. This may not totally replace product tagging and keyword search, but help it can complement and improve our search result and thus increasing work efficiency.


The retail industry is rapidly evolving and image search technology has become an essential element for e-commerce in the data technology (DT) era. Companies such as Taobao has successfully integrated image search and big data technologies onto their platforms, helping them to achieve over $30.8 billion USD in GMV in a single day during the 2018 Alibaba Double 11 Shopping Festival.

To learn more about Image Search on Alibaba Cloud, visit https://www.alibabacloud.com/product/imagesearch

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