Breathe New Life Into Shopping Experiences With Interactive Visual Content Tools
A new generation of visual tools is now available to bring the physical environment into the shopping process, allowing consumers to locate, evaluate and share products in new ways. Thanks to the near ubiquity of smartphones, consumers are viewing — and creating — more visual content than ever. This has made image-centric social media networks among the most popular destinations on the web. Instagram’s user base grew 25 percent between 2016 and 2018, according to the Pew Research Center, and Pinterest and Snapchat have likewise risen to prominence as mobile-first, visually rich social destinations.
This cultural shift is also shaping expectations for shopping. Whether searching for a product online by simply taking a picture of it or virtually displaying an item in your home, consumers are using mobile devices to uniquely blend physical and digital environments. Retailers that want to offer rich, interactive visual experiences that combine product information with real-world context should consider the following tools:
Discovery: Visual Search Delivers Instant Matches
Shoppers who like a friend’s style or who want to synch colors can increasingly use their smartphone cameras as search input mechanisms. A new generation of visual search tools use artificial intelligence (AI) to parse the elements of digital images and locate products in similar categories or colors.
Not only do these tools connect the physical world to retailers’ product catalogs, they also give mobile shoppers an alternative to typing text searches on tiny screens. Furthermore, because visual search relies on different input, it can surface precise matches and long-tail items that traditional product searches might miss. Unsurprisingly, this combination of benefits has broad appeal: 52 percent of consumers say they would like access to tools that display similar or related products based on their phone snapshots, according to personalization provider RichRelevance.
The biggest names on the internet are already seizing on the potential of visual search. Google, Amazon.com, Microsoft, eBay, and social platforms Snapchat and Pinterest have all rolled out visual search features, and the popularity of the technology is growing. Pinterest’s Lens feature, for example, has seen 140 percent year-over-year growth. As the technology becomes commonplace, more and more retailers will have the opportunity to offer visual search as a means to connect shoppers with relevant items instantaneously.
Consideration: 3D and AR Tools Put Products in Context
Once shoppers have located potential solutions, they want to know how products will fit their specific circumstances. In the past, this assessment was trial and error, with online shoppers buying multiple sizes and styles and sending back the rejects, raising return rates for e-commerce to north of 20 percent while driving up reverse logistics costs for merchants.
Now, though, visual tools that use augmented reality (AR) and 3D imaging give shoppers the ability to virtually "try before you buy." AR e-commerce tools display digital products in real-world environments to help shoppers gauge fit, match colors and styles, and design physical spaces, while 3D products let users manipulate views to inspect items from every angle and scale. Consumers crave this information, with 57 percent of respondents in a Vertebrae study saying they wanted help visualizing products in their environments, and a quarter seeking to use virtual tools to try on new looks.
With the technology for viewing AR and 3D visual content within the web browser now widespread, merchants are increasingly integrating these tools directly into product pages rather than siloing them in specialized apps. Leading brands are already seeing a payoff. For example, users of the AR app for the social network Houzz are 11 times more likely to purchase than other site users, while e-commerce site Tenth Street Hats reported a 33 percent lift in conversion for products offering an AR-powered “try it on” feature.
Re-Engagement: User-Generated Visuals Inspire New Purchases
Post-purchase, shoppers are apt to showcase their wares on social media. Some 100,000 “unboxing” videos showing buyers opening packaged purchases are produced weekly, and “haul” videos showing off piles of loot from shopping trips are similarly popular. Instagram photos and stories showcasing new looks, makeovers and dorm room decor are rampant.
These visuals aren’t just about bragging rights; user-generated photos and videos are trusted input when it comes to making purchase decisions, with shoppers seeking confirmation that products work for others like them. More than eight in 10 shoppers seek out visual content from customers when evaluating products, and 65 percent of consumers are more likely to trust products that have user-submitted photos or videos in their reviews, PowerReviews found.
As technologies that merge the physical and digital worlds become more widespread, merchants have the opportunity to showcase their products in new ways. Visual input from shoppers and new imaging techniques can help shoppers locate more relevant products, evaluate them more accurately, and share more real-world feedback, ultimately leading to more sales and satisfaction.
Vince Cacace is founder and CEO of Vertebrae, a web-based 3D and AR solutions provider for e-commerce.