A guide to rich media

24.03.2010

As with traditional catalogues, online shopping suffers from a fundamental disadvantage compared with physical retail stores-shoppers cannot touch, wear, or test merchandise before purchasing. So it’s fair to say that presentation of products on a website can make or break a sale. With rich media, namely imaging and video, online shopping can engage and convert shoppers; offering features that complement and sometimes surpass the retail store experience. In short, rich media improve shoppers’ ability to fully visualise and understand products, bridging the touch-and-feel barriers of shopping online.

Rich-media applications can better engage shoppers by highlighting a product’s most attractive features and fine details-often delivering more information than a sales associate on the retail floor. Consequently, rich media have proven to grow revenues and conversion rates.

So what should online retailers keep in mind when deploying rich media on their sites? Here are some imaging and merchandising tricks online retailers should follow, as well as common mistakes made and how to avoid them.

  •  Integrate rich imagery

Image output is only as good as the input. High-resolution imagery produces the highest quality results and since rich imagery is the key component for building rich-media applications, etailers should make sure all of their content is consistent and of the highest quality to deliver customers the best online shopping experience possible.

Integrating rich imagery with dynamic zoom-allowing merchants to show fine features and details-gives shoppers more confidence to make a purchase. In addition to dynamic zoom, adding richer imagery to show products from all angles, potentially up to a full 360 degrees, tied with in-context views (where a handbag is placed on a model, for example), as well as dynamic colour swatching that allows consumers to view a product in all colours available, can be highly-effective for increasing sales.

  •  Content is king

A picture is worth a thousand words, and bigger is better. These sayings clearly hold true for visual merchandising in ecommerce. Not only is more product imagery highlighting different views and angles important to improving customer experience, making these images the hero, even up to full-screen on the page, is critical to engaging shoppers and enabling them to see the details they need to feel confident in adding items to their shopping baskets.

Some online retailers make the mistake of offering enlarged views that are not that much larger than the product-page view, which does not offer shoppers the visual information they desire. A key best practice to follow is to make sure that enlarged views are at least two times larger than the product views, and deliver the ability for shoppers to zoom in to examine merchandise as if they were looking at it in a store.

In fact, a quantitative independent consumer study recently published by Adobe Scene7 analysed consumers’ viewing experience preferences, and the results indicated that shoppers prefer mouse-over viewing, where hovering over an image without clicking on it shows a larger version of the product (the quickest method by which a shopper can attain added detail), and feel most confident making online purchases when they have visual information that includes full-screen views with the ability to interactively pan and zoom to view deeper levels of detail.

  •  Make it personal

When it comes to configurable and personalised products, rich-media applications that offer online customisation tools do more than just bridge the touch-and-feel barrier, they can even surpass the in-store experience by enabling customers to visualise online how their customised products will appear when they receive them. For example, instead of selecting a sofa fabric from a swatch in the store and imagining how it will look on the finished piece of furniture, online visual configurators enable consumers to see the final product in the fabric selection of their choice in real time. These interactive applications deliver distinctive and differentiated merchandise that increases the value and consequent sales price of custom items; they also increase customer satisfaction while reducing returns and shortening sales cycles. Interestingly, the previously mentioned viewer study also found that 75 percent of respondents wanted the ability to customise products.

  •  Movement has meaning

By adding video or animation combined with voice, merchants can tell shoppers a better product story than just through the use of dynamic imagery or static copy. Videos can demonstrate products in use, show and tell subtleties such as fit and feel, and turn a passive shopping experience into one in which merchants can “actively” sell. We know that users love to watch videos, and if offered a choice to click on a video versus any other rich-media type, users will click on videos most often. This has proven to significantly increase retailers’ conversion rates-in some cases doubling them.

Movement also brings more meaning to sites that have pushed videos (or animations) to their category pages, providing an experience that truly comes to life. Models walk in and out of shoppers’ screens, they move at the same time, and in some instances shoppers are able to purchase featured merchandise directly from the video or animation. This is a trend that will grow in 2010.

Online retailers shouldn’t be dissuaded to leverage video on their sites by thinking that videos are too costly to produce. Online merchandising videos are being produced in clever, cost-effective ways. For example, videos used from fashion show catwalks to sell complete outfits are then tied to outfit product pages where average order value can increase when consumers shop by outfit. There is also the traditional repurposing of broadcast advertisements and the cost-efficient alternative of producing videos in-house.

  •  Scale for sale

A scalable rich media platform can also impact a retailer’s bottom line by reducing time and production costs. Retailers just starting out with rich media should look for scalability and invest in rich media technology that can grow with their business. Scalability allows online retailers to leverage rich media across all products and pages on their sites, as well as all channels including mobile.

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