April 15, 2010, 11:47 AM

How 360-degree spins and robots help Golfsmith.com save time and make money

Snap36’s tagline, “We get around,” is exactly what the new vendor is trying to do with its service that helps retailers quickly take photos to add 360-degree spin technology to a web site. The company launched just last year and has about 10 customers. One of them, golf supplies retailer Golfsmith.com, is finding that products with the special spin feature have conversion rates at least 10% and sometimes as much as 30% to 40% higher than products without it.

Snap36’s tagline, “We get around,” is exactly what the new vendor is trying to do with its service that helps retailers quickly take photos to add 360-degree spin technology to a web site. The company launched just last year and has about 10 customers. One of them, golf supplies retailer Golfsmith.com, is finding that products with the special spin feature have conversion rates at least 10% and sometimes as much as 30% to 40% higher than products without it.

Golfsmith.com heard about Snap36 through its rich media vendor Adobe Scene7, says Eric Mahlstadt, Golfsmith’s senior online store manager. The retailer began adding spin photography in July when it relaunched its site. The feature now accompanies ‘hundreds’ of its products, Mahlstadt says.

“Interactive 360- degree views offer customers an opportunity to get closer to the product while shopping online,” Mahlstadt says. “Golf players can get a very granular level of product detail before making a purchase. The size, shape and overall appearance of clubs are all key to players’ preferences and, since golf clubs in particular are a technology-driven product line, every bit of extra information, visual or otherwise, helps the customer make the right choice when shopping in an environment where they can’t pick up the actual club to examine it.”

In addition to clubs, Golfsmith uses 360-degree rotating views for handheld golf GPS devices and golf bags to highlight details that Mahlstadt says could otherwise be missed—even with zoom and high- resolution product images.

Adding the 360-degree spin sets was relatively easy for Golfsmith because the retailer had already implemented a click-to-zoom feature from Adobe Scene7, Mahlstadt says. “Really, the new part was the process of taking the 360-degree photography,” he says.

The secret to that photography is the robot, says Michael Dreas, director of photography for Snap36. Snap36 works with a Czech Republic-based company called PhotoRobot that manufactures machines, or robots, that snap pictures of an image placed on a rotating table. The robots automate the time-consuming task of taking the many photos necessary to produce a spin effect, says Dreas. When working at full capacity a robot snaps a picture every three seconds, Dreas says.

“If you want to do a really nice 360-spin you need to take 12 to 72 photos with multiple angles,” Dreas says. “It just doesn’t make sense for an Internet retailer to pay $500 to $ 2,000 for spin images for one product.” That’s the amount that Dreas estimates a human photographer would charge.

There are several varieties of the Snap36 machines. They include a table that acts as a base for most 360-degree and 3D product spins and shots. There is also an automated mechanical boom that allows the camera to move up and over the product. Larger machines include a platform, a large turntable designed for items that don’t fit on the table, such as appliances, motorcycles, furniture and mannequins.

Snap36 will take photos in its studios or travel to the customer. It also leases and sells the robots. Dreas says robot sales are growing as more retailers want to have the machines on hand to photograph new products as they arrive.

“We sold our first set of robots in December,” he says. “And we’ve sold three this year.” Each sale included three to four robots, Dreas says.

Prices range from $6,700 to $13,800 for the robots and various accessories. Training and installation is $1,000 per day plus travel expenses. Snap36 suggests three days for installation and training, but it can be more or less depending on the order. When Snap36 takes the photos, it charges $100 to $400 per product. Large products such as gas grills are on the higher end.

“We are trying to keep it similar to what one would pay for static photography for an item,” Dreas says. “You’d pay $100 for one good image, but we’ll give you 36 for the same price, and faster. One shoe company we worked with was spending a couple hours to shoot 10 pictures. We came in and were able to shoot more images in three minutes and get those pictures into a computer in less than four.”

In addition to Golfsmith.com, Snap36 customers include Helzberg Diamonds. Clients have full rights to use the photos however they please, Dreas says. For example, he says some are using the images on their packaging as well as their web sites.

Golfsmith chose to send product samples to Snap36 and have the vendor take the pictures. Snap36 returns the shots to Golfsmith via the web, using File Transfer Protocol, or FTP, which is designed for transmitting large graphics. Golfsmith usually receives the photos within a week, Mahlstadt says.

After completing some minor touch- ups, Golfsmith uploads the images to its Scene7 Directory. It then uses Scene7 web tools to build a spin sequence, putting the images in order and choosing a logical starting and finishing point. “The spin set viewer we use is very basic with a clean white background and a minimalist approach to controls that reduces visual clutter and allows the imagery to be highlighted,” Mahlstadt says.

Completed spin sets are saved back to the Scene7 Directory with numeral codes. Golfsmith’s product page template locates the spin set for each product and displays a 360-degree graphic link beneath the standard product image on the site. A click of the link launches the viewer. Scene7 updates each day so that that new spin sets are picked up automatically.

Golfsmith pays Snap36 per item shot, Mahlstadt says. “This allows us to cover hot new products when appropriate and on a selective basis since it’s not currently feasible to provide a 360-degree view for every product in our assortment,” Mahlstadt says.

Golfsmith also was able to convince its manufacturers to help pay for the technology. “No one wants their competitor to have the extra edge, so it’s an easy decision for manufacturers to share the cost with us,” Mahlstadt says.

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