As online buyers of business and industrial products want more and easier ways to find what they need, W.W. Grainger rolls out a new visual search tool in its mobile shopping app, shown above.

Searching and securing maintenance, repair and operations products online isn’t always a desktop computer experience.

With the new tool, products can be searched and located in three seconds or less.

Increasingly, as B2B ecommerce becomes more mobile even more digital, purchasing is being pushed to the job site.

To aid in getting purchasing managers faster access to a slew of MRO products in the field, on the factory floor and elsewhere, W.W. Grainger Inc. is rolling out a new feature to its mobile app: visual search.

Grainger_Photo Search 1

The Grainger app invites buyers to ‘search with a picture’ to find products.

With visual search, MRO buyers—whether they have an account or they are just using Grainger.com as a one-at-a-time online purchaser—will be able to use a new visual search tool to find and purchase Grainger’s full inventory of two million MRO products. With the new tool, products can be searched and located in three seconds or less, Grainger says.

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The new visual search tool app lets Grainger’s customers use the camera on their Android or Apple device to scan a bar code, enter an item number or upload a photo to find the particular product or multiple items they are looking for. They then can complete a mobile purchase.

Grainger—which says about 71% of all sales come through its various digital channels, including electronic data interchange, e-procurement, Grainger.com and related ecommerce sites and its KeepStock inventory management service—isn’t giving out key details about the new search tool for its app, such as how many purchasing managers have downloaded and currently are using it.

Grainger_Photo Search 2

The Grainger app shows results of visual search on Apple and Android devices.

Photos help answer tough questions

So far, Grainger also isn’t saying how many purchasing managers are using the new visual search feature or what specific types of products they are looking for. “While we would not offer numbers on this, we are very pleased with customer usage of this tool thus far,” Grainger says.  “Grainger search by image is enabling customers who call with challenging questions to send the call center a photo in helping to problem solve and sales is using the tool to find products more quickly for customers.”

Other app features let users chat with a product expert and find a nearby branch, among other features.

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Voice search, too

The new visual search tool is the latest search technology update to its ecommerce and mobile commerce business. The Grainger app already lets users conduct advanced keyword search and search by additional criteria. A voice search tool also is available.

With its new mobile visual search feature, Grainger is looking to gain a competitive and technology edge in B2B ecommerce, the company says.

Visual search is relatively new to most B2B ecommerce sites. Amazon.com is one other ecommerce site that offers it.

But Grainger sees its new visual search tool as an advanced mobile tool that gives Grainger customers more and better ways to procure the MRO products they need how and when they want them, says vice president and chief product officer Brian Walker. “This (visual search tool) is quicker, more reliable and smarter than others out there, and it gets smarter the more it’s used,” Grainger says.

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