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Pinterest is soon launching a way to search for products with your smartphone camera

TechCrunch TechCrunch 28/06/2016 Matthew Lynley

Pinterest today has a new tool for finding things that you might want to buy — and they’ll be things you see in the real world.

Here’s how it will work: go to Pinterest search and tap the visual search button, point your camera at anything you’re interested in, and it’ll automatically do a visual search for everything you see. Pinterest will populate the photo with a bunch of objects it thinks it is recognizing, and a user can tap on any dot to get recommendations for similar items.

All the new visual search tools will be rolling out in the next few months, the company said. And the updates to visual search are just one part of a series of updates that the company said it would roll out at an event this morning in San Francisco.

It’s part of a bunch of updates that Pinterest rolled out today, including new updates to its visual search tools. Now, when a user opens up a photo on Pinterest, it’ll automatically detect the objects in the photo that the company thinks it can find similar products. They appear as dots on the screen when a user taps the visual search button. Users can still resize the image boxes to further refine the search on Pinterest.

This is essentially tapping into a huge edge that Pinterest has over other online commerce companies. Pinterest has heavily invested in visual search tools, which enable users to search for products and other pins on Pinterest based on a simple image. There are other image-search tools on the web, but Pinterest is one of the few companies that has been very public about the major focus it’s placed on visual search.

With the update to the visual search with a camera, this actually moves Pinterest’s access to a user’s buying experience even closer to moments of initial awareness. It’s difficult for an e-commerce company to tap into moments where a user is likely to make a lightning decision to make a purchase based on something they see in the real world. There’s a critically short window of time that any retailer has a chance to capture, and that’s something that brick and mortar stores excel at. By adding a tool like its camera search technology, that helps the company tap into that moment, but with an online shopping experience.

That’s natural for a company like Pinterest: It’s a largely visual experience, and that provides a more engaging experience than text — which helps the company push users to convert into potential customers. Pinterest is able to tap into users from all moments in the purchasing process, whether it’s becoming aware of certain products and brands, to searching for them and declaring interest, and then to finally buying them. Because Pinterest has access to all these touch points, it can work with partners to advertise against them — and offer advertising tools that simply aren’t available to other networks.

In addition to the big updates to visual search, Pinterest is rolling out new commerce tools that will follow users around the web, giving them an option to search for products and buy them on any medium they choose.

The biggest update for this likely sits with a new “shopping cart” that the company is rolling out. Users that see products they like that are purchasable on Pinterest can add them to a shopping cart, which is accessible on any other platform where the user has their account active. So if a user sees something they like on their phone, but isn’t ready to buy it just yet, they can purchase it on their iPad later. Or, as of now, they can purchase it on the web. Pinterest is rolling out purchasing for its web versions, moving the purchasing experience beyond simply its applications.

Brands will also get a new potential touch point for consumers: branded pages. If a user is searching for a specific bag they like, they can jump over to the retailer’s page, where they can see similar products from the same retailer.

These commerce tools are important for Pinterest, because again, it has access to all the points of a consumer’s buying experience. All this is par for the course for a company like Pinterest, which expects to continue raking in a ton of business from its advertising and commerce partners. A majority of content on Pinterest is business content, which makes creating a smooth purchasing experience important for the service.

And it’s really only a startup like Pinterest that can pretty casually roll out new, major updates to a visual search engine and a buying experience, simply because tools like these don’t exist on other commerce sites. As much as Pinterest is a large social network with more than 100 million users, it’s a commerce experience that helps users find products they might want to buy — whether that’s from a curated shop, to an organic searching experience, to highly targeted ads using Pinterest’s ever evolving and growing set of advertising tools

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