It’s a cliché, but like many clichés, it holds true: The only constant in e-commerce is change, says Brian Sullivan, information architect for Hayneedle Inc., the operator of more than 200 specialty e-retail sites and the merchant that is No. 77 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. That principle applies to the images that Hayneedle offers up to its shoppers, too.
“Hayneedle's ability to react and adapt to those changes is crucial,” he says. “Operating hundreds of niche e-retail sites doesn't make that any easier. When designing for one experience, we need to keep in mind how that may work across all of our sites, and how that may change over time.”
That’s why Hayneedle uses the web-based MediaRich dynamic imaging tool from Equilibrium. The tool contains coding, or scripts, that helps the e-retailer make changes to such images as promotional banners and logos without Sullivan or his staff having to spend hours doing so via the digital equivalent of manual labor; the changes can include colors, messaging and layout. “I was spending more than eight hours a day producing our on-site promotional banners, and although they were templates, I still needed to coordinate with internal clients on messaging and other areas,” he says.
The work became more challenging as Hayneedle added more e-commerce sites. “I was spending more time getting the pieces together than finding time for new design projects. After learning how to build media scripts and having them incorporated into our site, I went from spending my entire workweek on banners to less than an hour a month,” he says.
The tool, for instance, enables Sullivan to better coordinate changes to the banners and logos that an affiliate site might use to promote a link back to one of Hayneedle’s niche e-commerce sites. And the tool also helped when Hayneedle was rebranding itself from NetShops about two years ago.
“When we rebranded as Hayneedle, we needed to be able to produce thousands of replacement banners and coordinate the change will all of our partners,” Sullivan says. “Using MediaRich enabled us to design once and execute an automated batch production in minutes, and have banners available to use immediately after review.”
The dynamic imaging tool also helps Hayneedle’s latest endeavor, its nearly year-old flash-sale site The Foundary. The retailer can quickly change images related to that e-commerce operation, especially as the retailer changes images to keep up consumer interest and reflect the different products for sale.
“The Foundary is a great example of how we are constantly adding source images, which are being dynamically served in many layouts throughout the shopping experience,” Sullivan says. MediaRich makes creating the image derivatives for multiple layouts throughout the site, banners and even e-mails a non-issue.”
Still, for all the ease, the spread of dynamic imaging technology can tempt e-retailers to play around too much with such tools.
“I'd say the biggest challenge of incorporating dynamic images has been finding balance between what should be variable and what should be consistent. It may be more beneficial to only allow a limited set of branded colors and fonts, rather than opening the floodgates to the possibilities of Comic Sans and a series of unflattering colors,” he says, referring to the much-maligned type font.