Why the future of retail belongs to Visual Discovery

How Pinterest is changing the way customers make purchases, all over the world

Retailers have just begun to understand and exploit the potential of Visual Discovery. But what exactly is it? In order to get our heads around the concept, we need to look at how social networks, and Pinterest in particular, have exponentially increased features that allow users to search for, view and catalogue what they want to buy. But “visualizing a product” in itself is not a new concept. In fact the roots of the revolution started many years ago by shopping malls, which invested shopping with a new, deeper meaning than simply making purchases, lie in this very idea. Shopping malls were no longer just places in which to buy things, but instead spaces in which to enjoy experiences. The entire setup (from the merchandising to the sales assistants, and how the spaces were laid out) was designed to excite consumers and help them “find something new to buy,” without necessarily immediately knowing what type of purchase they were going to make. This new format allowed people to browse, spot something in a store and try it on and it worked for the majority of product categories, from clothing to entertainment and food.

What changed with the introduction of smartphones and apps?

The advent of smartphones equipped with high-quality cameras has boosted the domination of images. This has changed the way we communicate on a professional and personal level, but also how we explore the world using social networks.

The approach is still fairly similar to that of visiting shopping malls, only that now customers can embark on the same exploratory journey without leaving their homes, simply by using an app on their smartphones. Pinterest – for example – helps people to carry out searches using images and keywords, allowing them to navigate through millions of possibilities, before selecting, cataloguing and viewing similar or related items on a bulletin board: this process is called “Visual Discovery” and allows users to add annotations and manage purchases according to their preferences in a way that was not possible before. Customers are now essentially able to organize their wish lists using collections of images that vary greatly, involving anything from candy to tattoos. And it is by creating these collections that the urge to buy is born, i.e. the desire to make real life correspond as much as possible to online image boards. More than 200 million people use Pinterest on a monthly basis and 9 out of 10 people say that the app helps them make purchases.

What are people looking for?

Certainly not products priced on a white background: users prefer to “discover” items as per their own tastes and imagination, through evocative photos of products placed within a setting, so that they can personally identify with what they’re looking at and see scope for making the purchase their own. And this is where the difference between Visual Search and Visual Discovery comes in. The former involves image searches with precise intent, while the latter implies a search guided by emotion and curiosity. Lifestyle photos have a profound influence on user discovery and purchasing pathways, precisely because they allow people to imagine products in their own hands, and in their own daily lives. Social networks are therefore evolving to allow retailers to upload their entire catalog online, adding their products to bulletin boards, searches and customer feeds in order to showcase them without sacrificing the emotional side of the discovery process.

Customer journeys using multiple visual touch points

So, what can be done to intercept this trend and customer preferences? Retailers and marketing managers can start by building a real visual language that molds to the customer phase in terms of brand imagery interaction. The visuals that may be relevant at one stage may not be so at another. For example, a customer may initially be satisfied with 2D images of a product placed in different contexts, however, closer to the purchasing phase and at the end of the Visual Discovery process, the customer may expect some more technical information regarding their purchase, such as a 360° product view. Once the product has been purchased, customers may even create “user-generated content” on social media by tagging the brand and contributing to the initial Visual Discovery phase of other users.

New tools that aid the Visual Discovery experience

Pinterest has developed a new tool called “Lens,” which allows people to find products and ideas inspired by objects they see and photograph in the real world. All they have to do is take a picture of the item in question and use Pinterest to look for pairings, similar items or other products in the same style. Lens uses machine vision technology, which allows users to identify and recognize objects in a photograph, then suggests similar products from millions of images shared by other users.

Cameras are no longer just tools to help us “remember,” but “magnifying glasses” used to interrogate and learn more about the world around us, and the experiences we can access.

It is up to retailers to actively participate in these experiences, and allow themselves to be “discovered” through Visual Discovery.

Bizeta Retail Solutions has always worked closely with retailers in order to exploit the potential of the digital world and create better connections with customers. Contact us for more information.


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