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Visual Commerce – Content + Commerce Evolved

Jeri Kelley
Product Strategy - Oracle Commerce

Unlike a lot of folks around my age who are migrating toward city living and fighting a move to the suburbs, my husband and I recently took the opposite approach.  With a toddler, a massive dog, and a baby on the way, we made the decision to pick up our life in Boston and move to a more laid-back (read: less expensive) place to call home - Montana.   There have been many positives to the move, but one major downside is the lack of local retail options I’d become accustomed to in Boston.  I’ve always been a big fan of shopping online for items such as clothes and make-up but I was use to being able to go into a store to touch and feel bigger purchases – like furniture, sporting equipment, etc.  

As if the move wasn’t complex enough, we purchased a home that needs a complete renovation.  If you’ve ever gone down the renovation path, you know it requires lots of imagination, creativity, and of course new, big purchases – everything from cabinets to light fixtures to furniture.  How was I going to do this with the limited options of physical retailers in my area?  Luckily, a lot of brands are taking the next step with their online sites to improve the experience, but I was surprised by how many brands still don’t incorporate anything more than standard product shots to help shoppers make decisions.    

In my quest for the perfect new purchases for my house I started thinking a lot about the types of experiences brands are offering to bring their products to their customers so they can visualize how the product looks, feels, and functions while shopping online.   I want to see what that new couch will look like in my living room, know how the motion activated on/off feature of the facet works…you get the picture.   The term visual commerce is used often to describe this type of content or experience but what does that actually mean?

Early on, visual commerce was used to describe photo / image sharing sites such as Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Houzz, etc.   Photosharing is now a global obsession with over 1.8 billion photos per day being uploaded and shared.  With many of these photos endorsing products, how do brands capitalize on the exposure?

These sites were initially focused solely on information and idea sharing, but quickly jumped on the commerce bandwagon.  Pinterest and Houzz are making it easy for consumers to buy either directly on the photosharing site or make it as easy as possible to find the product.  In fact, I purchased some new kitchen chairs within about 5 mins of seeing a picture of them on Houzz – I saw them in an actual setting (not a staged product shot) and I was able to make a quick decision to buy them.  Brands that are connecting with their consumers through these sites are reaping the rewards. 

But, with the vast amount of images being uploaded daily, how are brands suppose to aggregate all of this content and use it to their advantage?   Companies like Pixlee, Olapic and even Baazarvoice through their acquisition of FeedMagnet are coming to the rescue and offering solutions that help brands collect, curate, and expose social content.   All of these companies offer a slightly different approach but the end goal is to improve customer engagement and conversions using socially-shared content.    For example, Ulta has a great social gallery by Olapic that encourages customers to share their experiences: 

Brands also continue to embrace video as a way to enhance the online experience for their customers – not that this is new as companies have been embedding videos into product detail pages for a while – but the way brands are using video is changing.   Take the companies such as  TVpage or Invodo.   These companies take video to the next level with players that you can embed direct product links (with the goal of a purchase).  

TVpage offers entire video channels tied back to products / brands to increase conversions.   Tillys.tv is a great example on the TVpage platform of how brands are using video to offer more visual experiences. 

And, finally, going beyond images and videos, are interactive visuals.  Brands are mixing interactive media types (videos, spin photography, and 3D product tours) to offer new experiences.   Invodo offers a “new spin on shopping” with their spin photography technology.   And, Marxent Labs creates visual experiences through 3D and augmented reality product demos.   I think Marxent says it best in one of their case studies around what visual commerce is all about “[brands need to] help customers see how products fit into their lives.”  

Isn’t that what visual commerce is all about?  Helping the customer experience a product without being able to physically touch or see it. 

I’m excited to see where brands take and use all of cutting-edge “visual commerce” technology.   I think we are just at the beginning of what’s possible and look forward to exploring this topic more in the coming months.

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