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The Death of the Static Image

Posted on 6.18.2014

Russ Somers, VP Marketing, Invodo

Imagine clicking through search results only to find a visual wasteland of a site. No hero photo, no product images, no alternate views. You’d feel abandoned. Plain text and links aren’t enough to sustain online life as we know it today. 

Not long ago, most websites looked like that visual wasteland. Technology evolved and visitor expectations increased, so we marketers upped our game to match. 

Now we face another challenge. Will we rise to it? If we don’t, we’ll leave our visitors feeling as abandoned as we’d feel in that visual wasteland. 

Experience is the New Image

Brick-and-mortar retailers are responding to showrooming pressure by playing their trump card – hands-on experience. When that experience is augmented with rich online-style information like ratings, reviews and multimedia, this “webrooming” can be hard to beat. 

Lowes, for example, just launched an in-store “holoroom” that allows in-store consumers to walk through a virtual version of their dream home. Switching colors, changing appliances and moving walls is as easy as a finger swipe on an iPad.

Compared to immersive and interactive environments like that, static images are no longer enough. So let’s serve what consumers really want: experiences. Rich, interactive, visual commerce experiences.

Spin and 3D Experiences

360 images, or Spin photography, has been a secondary element of online merchandising for some time. However, some retailers are giving those views a long-overdue upgrade. The content quality, player UI and content management headaches of legacy 360 images all leave something to be desired.

Lenovo merchandises Spin Photography aggressively on its Thinkpad Helix Tablet – note the ‘View 360 Spin’ on the hero image. Anything merchandised directly on the hero image is, you’d think, something the merchandiser considers of major importance. 

Tippman takes it a step further, merchandising Spin photography as the hero image on a product page. As an experience, it’s not at all like a gallery of static images. It’s more like handling the product in-store, turning it to see the features that interest you most.

You can expect to see many sites going beyond single-axis Spin in the near future. 3D Spin – rotation on all axes – comes even closer to that in-store experience of having the product in hand. If online merchandisers are going to provide experiences rather than just images, it’s a logical step. 

Video Becomes Interactive

Eighty-nine percent of online retailers now use video, according to the e-tailing group, so we can consider it a proven merchandising tool. Sites such as eBay, PayPal, and even Amazon have used video to replace a static homepage image. 

As effective as it is, though, video is often a passive “lean back” experience. Can video evolve into a more interactive “lean forward” shopping experience?

Kerastase, a L’Oreal brand, seems to think so. Their page on managing color-treated hair offers a video in the hero spot. Clicking on the video brings up something new, though. The video player is shoppable, offering an in-video shopping experience. Products are merchandised in a shopping pane for maximum cross-sell and upsell. 

That’s far from the only type of shoppable video experience out there, of course. “Hotspotting”, or adding clickable elements to a video, can lend itself to merchandising relevant products along the story arc of a lifestyle video. Shoppable video can lend itself to “choose your own adventure” navigation in which the visitor makes choices along a journey. There are plenty of uses for that, ranging from inspiration to self-guided product support.

There are many possibilities here with one thing in common: the visitor is no longer a passive viewer. Just like in Lowes’ “holoroom,” the visitor becomes an active participant in a visual commerce experience.

Other Visual Commerce Experiences

Cyberpunk author William Gibson once said, “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.” The same is true of the new visual Web. 

Virtual and augmented reality are already here. Guided online walkthroughs of consumer electronics devices like smartphones can make online shopping as immersive as an in-store experience – and realizing the full potential of that device’s operating system virtually is probably closer than you think. 

The question isn’t whether new interactive experiences will replace images. The question is how quickly we’ll move to keep up with that new consumer expectation to avoid being left behind in the visual wasteland.

Russ Somers is vice president of marketing for Invodo, the business video experts. Russ leads Invodo’s marketing team, managing product marketing and lead generation as well as driving the company’s marketing communications, social media and PR initiatives

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