The Argos iOS app has a new trick: it can search by image, meaning you can feed it a picture of something you saw on Pinterest and it'll give you a surprisingly expensive flat-pack high street catalogue shop version of it. Yay!
"Users simply take a photograph or upload a saved image of their desired item to the app which instantly searches the entire Argos online catalogue for similar furniture, curtains or homewares. The technology does this by recognising distinctive features such as the shape, colour and style of items in the image."
We've seen this kind of tech before, and generally it doesn't work nearly as well as you'd imagine. Nonetheless, we gamely gave it a go, and at first we were fairly impressed – a photo of our dark wooden media unit returned some pieces of furniture that matched quite well:
OK, admittedly, all that's happened here is that the image analysis has said "OK it's a wooden TV unit" and searched the app for wooden TV units, which you could have done yourself. Most of the ones in the results aren't the same type or tone of wood and wouldn't match. But some of the results were pretty similar, so we were heartened.
Then we tried a rug:
As you can see, the app has analysed something light-coloured and something wooden and found some things that are light coloured and wooden. Admittedly, we did take the photo sideways, which the app doesn't correct for – so we tried it again the right way round:
Much better! But again, all that's happened is the app has noticed it's a grey rug, and pulled up some grey (and blue) rugs. None of them are very similar, and the fourth product on the list is a blue bath mat.
On the whole, then, this isn't easier than searching with words -- you can type "grey rug" faster than you can grant camera permissions and line up a well enough lit, framed and oriented shot that the app understands that you wanted a grey rug, at which point it will throw up exactly the same results.
Still, it's cool, and some people will no doubt find it a handy way to shop – especially if they're uploading images from Pinterest, Instagram, home decor blogs etc. rather than taking pictures of things they already own, like we did.
The Argos iOS app also allows you to place furniture in your home using AR, which combines with this feature to make quite a handy 3D home design function. Definitely more realistic than the tableaus I used to make by ripping out products I liked and pritt-sticking them onto a page.
Still, there's no point taking a snap of a £10,000 designer sofa in your trendy boutique hotel and expecting something similar on an Argos budget. You'll get a generic sofa in a similar colour AND YOU'LL LIKE IT.
Mark Steel, Digital Director at Argos, comments,
"Customers are increasingly using social media platforms, such as Instagram and Pinterest, as a source of inspiration so visual search has the potential to transform how we shop for the home. By creating it in our app, we’re intentionally putting this exciting new technology directly into the hands and pockets of our customers who are using mobile devices to shop more than ever.
Customers seeking a product or even an entire room set they’ve discovered online, or seen in a friend’s home, can now browse our vast range of homewares and furniture to find great value similar items in an instant, simply using a picture."
It is the most British thing ever to see a piece of furniture in your mate's home and snap it on the Argos app instead of just asking them where they got it from. Go forth and creep on your mates' furniture, Argos iOS shoppers. Android, you'll just have to stay indoors like always.