On July 9th eBay UK launched its new Image Search facility, and it’s a game changer. Similar to Google Image Search, within eBay itself there is now the capability to search by either taking a photo of the item you are interested in, or by uploading an image you have on your mobile device. eBay then searches its database and returns items visually similar to that pictured.
We’ve been playing around with eBay’s Image search and are quite excited about the facility. We were impressed by eBay’s capacity to distinguish what the items were despite distractions. There are also implications for the quality of images – no big surprises here – but here are two of our findings.
We used an iPhone and a Samsung Galaxy to search by image through the eBay app, and searched for around 25 different items including chairs, calculators, cups and socks, with a variety of backgrounds and distance.
The first thing is the search itself – it’s extremely easy to use, and as fast as searching by text. eBay has a more accurate match rate if the photo is taken close up of the item, not so accurate if taken at a distance.
From only two feet away a stress ball was incorrectly identified as a dahlia, but correctly identified from one foot away.
Secondly, the software seems to deal with backgrounds very well, surprisingly well.
The main takeaway though was the added text and borders – none of the search results, of any items, showed any image which had borders, watermarks or added text. The facility is so easy to use I can quite understand how it could rapidly become more popular.
A sample original photo (deliberately including distracting extras):
The eBay search results by image:
The screenshot only shows the first few results, which are mostly auctions and pre-owned, but there were plenty of brand new items further down. Interestingly, because the original photo was taken on a wooden desk, some of the matched photos were also on a wooden desk (although there were others with plain white backgrounds).
The results are very different from the Best Match top sellers:
Although it’s still a blunt instrument, the disparity does show how important it is to optimise at least the main Gallery image.
Amazon is also improving its visual search capability, and in the US they are rolling out added functionality to the IOS app in the US, called the Part Finder. This allows the buyer to take a photo of a missing nut, bolt or screw next to a one cent coin and Amazon will find the correct item by image search. This would be a fantastic resource but apparently at the moment it still has teething problems with exact matches.
In August 2018, is the additional option to find an image on eBay and drag and drop the image into the search bar to find visually similar items. As with all these advances in technology, the early software can be blunt – however as is always the way they rapidly improve and become part of daily life – watch this space.