Customers using the Asos app can upload a picture to search for items

Customers using the Asos app can upload a picture to search for items

Asos has launched a new tool that enables shoppers to search for clothes and accessories using photos, as part of a heavy investment by the UK online fashion retailer to improve site infrastructure, drive agility and speed up innovation.

Shoppers using its iOS application can click on a new camera icon in the search box and upload a picture of a friend, a screenshot from Instagram or a photo of a magazine page. The app will then search over 85,000 lines on the Asos website to find similar-looking products.

Investing in the mobile experience is key for Asos given around 80% of its UK traffic and nearly 70% of orders come from a mobile device. Shoppers are also spending around 80 minutes per month, on average, in the Asos app.

The retailer says it operates a "build-measure-learn" approach to innovation – including holding regular internal hackathons, partnering with fashion-tech start-ups, accelerators and VC firms, and using data and customer test groups to continually improve user experience. At present, it employs a tech team of around 900 people, with plans to add a further 200 next year.

Its AI-powered recommendation engine uses big data and a smart algorithm to learn customers' preferences over time.

The new visual search tool is powered by an external third-party, not disclosed by the retailer. And while only available for UK customers at present, there are understood to be plans to roll the service out on an international scale.