- Consumers see online images as more trustworthy than other online content, according to a new study by Intent Lab, a research partnership between Performics and the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.
- Thirty-six percent of respondents in the study have used visual search, the same rate as voice search. Among respondents, 59% think visual information is more important than textual information, while 41% think textual information is more important. More than 85% placed more importance on visual information than text when shopping online for clothing or furniture, and about half preferred visuals over text in all categories except for electronics, household goods and wine and spirits.
- Twenty-four percent said the growing distrust in what consumers see online is based on the impression that promoted products show up first in visual search results, even when they aren't a best match. Sixteen percent think visual search returns are created by paid social media influencers, and 15% say they are created by brands and are biased.
Visuals are increasingly important for engaging consumers, especially as people are spending more time on their smartphones. As the Intent Lab research shows, visual search is closely linked to search engines and social media platforms where consumers are relying more on imagery. Consumers can search photos rather than text listings, while some platforms use image recognition software to deliver search results based on a mobile device's camera. Other platforms let users choose features using icons or photos to offer more precise results.
Marketers increasingly see visual imagery as the most important form of content for creating emotional connections with consumers. Millennials especially prefer images over text while shopping, especially in fashion and home furnishing categories. "Visual expressions" — including emojis, GIFs and stickers — are better at communicating thoughts and feelings, 36% of millennials say, according to a Harris Poll and Tenor study. Meanwhile, Google has worked to upgrade its visual search functions by incorporating machine learning.
As consumers grow more skeptical and distrusting of what they see online, they are also turning some of those sentiments to visual search, with consumers viewing results as influenced by brands. This can be a turn-off, the Intent Lab research suggests. Consumer trust in digital experiences has been at a low point, following high-profile digital privacy breaches like Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal. Satisfaction with social media dropped 1.4%, while online search engines and information rose 3.9%, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index's 2018 E-Business Report.