opinion

A Look at the 3D Future of Online Merchandising

A Look at the 3D Future of Online Merchandising

When shopping online, how important are product images to you?

Let’s say you want a new pair of shoes. You visit an online store, search your desired category, and find a style in your size and within your budget. The product listing only pictures the shoes from their left side. Returns are not allowed. Would you buy them?

As effective as a copywriter may be in describing a product, the importance of optimizing product images should not be underestimated.

The single image hints at what the shoes look like at the front and back, but not inside or underneath. You can only assume the right side is identical to the left. The product description states the color and materials but is by no means comprehensive.

You’re torn: “What should I do?”

You leave the site page open and browse your options at a few more online stores. There are styles that interest you, but the color, size or price isn’t right.

“I don’t have time for this,” you mutter in frustration. The duration of order processing means you need to buy now.

So, you revisit the original pair. “I can always sell or gift them if it doesn’t work out,” you reason with yourself, justifying the purchase.

Now, imagine the product is a vibrator.

Based on the price and brief description, the toy ticks your boxes, but it is only pictured from the front. Would you add it to your shopping cart?

Chances are you’ve come across vibrators and dildos with what looks like a straight shaft from the front but are actually curved when viewed side-on. It might do wonders for your G-spot or prostate if that’s what you’re after, but if not, what then?

Now, put yourself in the shoes of a first-time sex toy customer.

Giddy with excitement and a few glasses of wine, you go online and buy what looks like a classic vibrator. You can’t help but fantasize what its perfectly straight, cylindrical shaft will feel like.

Finally, it arrives. You hurriedly unbox your order only to be met with a curved G-spot vibe. This is not what you wanted. Talk about a buzz kill. Would you make another purchase or is that a complete turn-off, literally and figuratively?

Picture it in more ways than one

All too often manufacturers supply retailers with limited product images. And all too often retailers do not take full advantage of the images that are supplied.

At brick-and-mortar stores, this may be a non-issue for customers who can evaluate products by reading about and experiencing them via touch, sight and, in some cases, sound.

This sensory aspect of the customer experience takes on even more importance for adult goods.

As the most intimate products we can buy, it’s not unreasonable to argue that we need to experience sex toys to truly understand how well they fit our needs. Like a bottle of wine, you can’t tell how good a sex toy is just by reading about or looking at it.

But what do you do if you’re an online retailer trying to make a sale?

Research suggests that for products like these, strengthening the sensory and social aspects of the online customer experience is foremost, then look to entertain and convey information.

Online shoppers often have high purchase uncertainty about adult goods and other products that are best physically examined because they cannot directly interact with them. Providing more information won’t always solve this problem.

So, use a hero image that is immediately identifiable and attention-grabbing. It should tell shoppers what the product is and why they should buy it.

In practical terms, this may involve including a close-up of a key product feature, or a few words or icons summarizing its main benefits. You could add a persuasive statement such as “new” or “improved,” or an example of the product in use, for example being held.

Remember that supposedly classic vibrator? An effective hero image would show the shaft curvature so it cannot be mistaken as straight. You could even picture the vibe from the front and side-on within the same image.

Optimizing the hero image using practices such as these can increase sales by 10 to 30 percent, according to digital research agency data.

But don’t rest on its laurels.

Aim to include images of the product from as many angles as possible to give shoppers a more complete understanding of whether it meets their needs. Here, cropped images zooming in on key features and videos displaying the product in an appealing way can be particularly helpful.

Then play up the social aspect of the online customer experience with lifestyle photos of the product in use, featuring human models where possible.

Remember, the aim is to mimic the sensory sensations the product evokes offline.

As effective as a copywriter may be in describing a product, the importance of optimizing product images should not be underestimated. Humans are visual beings and if a picture tells a thousand words, imagine the effect of multiple.

When 2 dimensions become 3

It is, nevertheless, a challenge to bring the emotions and engagement of brick-and-mortar stores into online retail.

Or is it? Enter the world of 3D product imaging.

With 3D imaging, online retailers give customers a graphical product representation that’s interactive. Customers can choose which part of the product to see, zoom in or out, rotate the item, and view it in motion while vivid, lifelike animations and sound effects bring it further into life.

3D technology also allows for augmented reality, where customers can see products in their own space, as well as customize items to their specifications.

There are strong signs it’s what shoppers want, with European luxury goods retailer TSUM increasing its conversion rate for shoes and bags by 40 percent after successfully digitizing products in 3D.

Retailers are representing other categories in 3D too, from delicate lingerie to domestic fit outs.

Given the intimacy of sex toys, it seems a necessary step for online adult goods retailers — and more practical than you may assume.

Creating a 3D product view can be as simple as photographing an object with a digital camera, uploading the images to a processing platform then embedding it into your website or augmented reality application.

Here’s the rub: manufacturers, distributors and retailers must work together to ensure the adequacy of product images in both quantity and quality. Remember, 2D lays the foundations for 3D.

In the online adult goods market, customers have increasingly more choices and product pages that create a virtual sexperience will have the competitive edge.

Vanessa Rose is content lead and in-house product expert at Wild Secrets, Australia and New Zealand’s largest online retailer of adult goods. She has a background in psychology, gender studies and corporate wellness, and gets physical outside the office as a qualified personal trainer.

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