Why Text-Based Searches Don’t Work for Fashion

The way we currently shop for fashion online is broken. While most of us get inspired to shop on social media – 75% of Instagram users visit a brand site after seeing one of their products on the app – the flow from inspirational image to checkout still isn’t smooth. We see a picture of a beautiful coat, then go on a retailer’s or brand’s online shop to try and find something similar. We type keywords – coat, long, blue, maybe it’s wool? – set search filters, scroll, scroll, scroll. Can’t really find what we were looking for. Annoyed and discouraged, we abandon the effort. No coat for us, and no sale for the retailer. There must be a better way.

Why text doesn’t work for fashion

Describing fashion with words is difficult. To prove just how unfruitful text-based searches are for online shopping, we set up a test where a group of users first used only text, search filters and scrolling to find a product, then just an image to find the same product. The objective was to find this blue maxi dress:

Using only text and filters, it took on average 4 minutes to find the product. 70% of users found the dress eventually, whereas the rest gave up the search because they couldn’t find the desired product.

By uploading the image to Zalando’s Fashwell-powered visual search tool, users were able to find the desired product in 31s, so 8 times faster than with text.

Images Inspire Us to Shop, So We Should Use Them to Shop

From the results above, we can infer that searching with images is not only a lot faster than searching with text, it also yields a higher success rate. We live and breathe images, on mobile and social media. Images are key for our communication and inspiration. So when it comes to searching for fashion, it only makes sense to use images to find the products we are looking for.