Walmart Rivals Google With Visual Search Tech


Walmart is testing out its own in-house visual search technology through Hayneedle, the home furnishings retailer it obtained through its acquisition of in 2016.

The new tech has slowly been made available on Hayneedle over the past year. Customers simply take a photo of a piece of furniture they are considering for purchase by snapping a picture in someone’s home, a retail showroom, or even on a page in a magazine. The app then uses the image to find similar products on the Hayneedle site.

“We’re continually focused on improving the customer experience,” said Shelley Huff, vice president of Home, Walmart U.S. eCommerce and president of Hayneedle, according to sources. “And I think in the home industry that’s particularly challenging just with the breadth of offering of the products, and the fact that the majority of customers don’t really know what they’re looking for in terms of home furnishings. It requires, in many cases, a large level of inspiration.”

“If we look at how we can enable that shopping experience…and give them more confidence in their purchases and their ability to find products, visual search plays an incredible role,” Huff added.

A team at Walmart Labs worked on the backend machine learning pieces for the new platform, while Hayneedle provided the site’s product catalog, as well as trained the system and integrated the technology with its own site. Hayneedle’s head of Engineering, Benjamin Dekarske, says that teaming up with Walmart Labs has been beneficial for both sides.

“We don’t have the dedicated core technologists that Walmart has with Labs, and Walmart gains from Hayneedle a platform [for visual search] that they don’t have to scale to Walmart’s scale — they can try it out at Hayneedle’s scale, then learn from and grow from there.”

This was also the first time Walmart Labs has worked directly with one of the retail giant’s acquisitions to develop a new technology.



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