There’s a new visual search player in town: Etsy. For those unfamiliar, visual search is a flavor of AR that lets users point their phones at real-world items to identify them. It provides informational overlays that are meant to contextualize such items or make them shoppable.

The latter is Etsy’s endgame, as visual search aligns with its mission to help users discover shoppable crafts. Like Google Lens, Snap Scan, and Pinterest Lens, its new feature lets users discover items available on Etsy by pointing their phones at visually-similar items in the real world.

Etsy says that its motivations for the new feature include the nuances of its wide product catalog. Because we’re not talking about a standardized set of SKUs that you may see at a Walmart or Amazon, it makes searching for random crafts by keyword challenging for users.

“With more than 100 million items in our marketplace, odds are that if you can dream it — or snap a photo of it — you’ll find something you love on Etsy,” the company said in a blog post. “We’re always investing in our marketplace to make it easier for sellers to grow their businesses.”

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In Living Color

So how does this look from a UX perspective? Available initially on iOS, users can tap a camera icon in the search bar to find things visually. After doing so, they can take a photo or choose one from their on-device photo library, which will then be used to surface visually-similar items.

“Similar” is the key term. In addition to finding specific items, Etsy could also find that there’s an unintended discovery use case. In other words, it can serve users visually-similar results that inspire new ideas or discoveries that deviate slightly from their original search intent.

Similarly, beyond the shapes and sizes of items, Etsy could help with another attribute that’s hard to capture in words: colors. Finding items that are a specific shade of green can be assisted through visual search. And color is a meaningful attribute of Etsy’s craft-oriented fare.

In a similar sense, the next visual search evolution for Etsy may be to follow Google’s lead towards “multisearch.” This lets users bounce back and forth between the advantages of text and visual search, and refine visual searches with text (e.g., “the same item in red”).

Speaking of evolutions and next steps, where could Etsy’s visuals search play improve? For one, there’s friction in the above process of uploading or taking a new photo. Google Lens and Snap Scan conversely let users dynamically identify items through the camera’s live viewfinder.

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Strategic Sense

Backing up, this is a logical move for Etsy. Its products tend to be highly visual in nature. Sometimes they can be found through descriptive search terms (think: “embroidered whale pillow”). But sometimes the nuances of rare crafts are better surfaced through visuals.

When viewing this move in a strategic sense, this brings Etsy further in competition with the visual search players noted above. They each have different use cases, but are increasingly moving into shopping as a cornerstone – and revenue catalyst – for visual search.

For example, Google Lens is all about broad-based topics… as that’s aligned with its “all the world’s info” M.O.. Snap Scan is meanwhile aligned with Snapchat’s persona for fashion. And Pinterest Lens is all about food and home goods. But shopping is common to all of them.

Considering all these players, Etsy’s visual search play is probably most disruptive to Pinterest Lens. The product and audiences of these two players are most aligned in terms of product discovery and inspiration for arts and crafts. We’ll be watching to see if Etsy can make a dent.

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