With an emerging generation of visual and imaged-based shoppers, it's increasingly important for brand marketers to display their products in an accessible and appealing way, with 75% of younger shoppers wanting image search functionality built into the online purchase process, according to research from visual search experts WeSEE. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

The company's own research shows that images regularly inspire purchases and, as consumers search the social web, brands need to create a more sophisticated and multi-layered visual/social shopping experience.

Some 74% of the consumers surveyed said that traditional text-based keyword queries are inefficient in helping them find the right items online, with 15% of these shoppers saying they regularly have trouble finding what they're looking for using keyword searches alone.

Considering that 73% of consumers shop online by entering a search term into a search engine, retailers that rely solely on keyword search could miss out on significant business.

While search is currently one of the dominant methods for online shopping, many are starting to prefer a more personalised experience when shopping online. In fact, 40% of shoppers said they would like their online shopping experience to be more visual, image-based and intuitive. One in four (25%) said they would like items suggested based on websites they've previously visited, while 16% said they'd like product recommendations based on images they've shared, liked or uploaded, and 12% said they would like to be able to buy items they see on social networks without navigating away from the page.

Visual generation
The study found that shoppers aged 18-34 make up a new 'visual generation' for whom images regularly inspire purchases. Four in ten (40%) of under-35's said they have used their mobile device to take a picture of a specific item on the high street to buy online when they get home, while only 30% take pictures to inspire shopping at a later date.

These visual shoppers are interested in the latest shopping technologies. Three-quarters of 18-34 year-olds would like more visual technologies incorporated into online and mobile shopping, while 45% under-35's would like to be able to take a picture of an item with their mobile and be linked directly to a site to buy it (it is perhaps noteworthy that Amazon trialled a platform like this, but it has since been removed from the retailer's mobile app).

One in three (32%) said they would like to be able to upload a picture and be shown similar items, and a third (33%) said they would like to be able to know where to buy high street versions of celebrities' outfits as seen in pictures online.

Social discovery
One third of consumers (33%) said they like discovering new brands online but find it difficult because they simply do not know where to look. As such, consumers reported that they are increasingly turning to social networks to find new brands to try. Overall, 25-34 year-olds are the most visual social shoppers, with 15% reporting that they browse for products visually on image-based shopping sites such as The Fancy or Etsy. Of all the social networks, Facebook (which owns the image sharing network Instagram) was voted the most useful site when it came to finding items to buy online.

More than one in three shoppers (37%) said they would like social networks to link directly through to sites where items from images are available to purchase, rising to two out of three shoppers (66%) in the 18-24 age bracket. However, the majority of consumers said they would not want social networks to become pure e-commerce sites, suggesting that brands and social networks must find a more sophisticated and balanced approach to social shopping, or risk losing their user base among all the commercialism.

"Retailers must move away from purely text-based descriptions of items to help shoppers find what they're looking for," concluded Adrian Moxley, chief marketing officer for WeSEE. "Younger generations of shoppers are much more visual in the way they use the web and are very mobilised when it comes to shopping and sharing purchase ideas with friends."