Handmade oil paintings are not the easiest product to sell online; shoppers need to use their imaginations to visualize how a painting would look in their homes, says David Sasson, co-founder of wall décor e-retailer overstockArt.com. That’s why the retailer created an augmented reality app that lets shoppers upload images of their walls and place art on them virtually to test how it looks. They can even save images of the art on their walls to send to friends for feedback before purchasing.
The app is part of overstockArt.com’s strategy to be in front of the customers wherever they are, Sasson says. He’ll discuss the app and how it helps customers feel more satisfied and confident in their purchases at the 2012 Internet Retailer Mobile Marketing & Commerce Forum Oct. 8-10 in San Diego in a session titled, “Augmented reality: Making mobile shopping more than real.”
“The session will be about why we built the app,” he says. “The key thing is interacting with the brand—strengthening the relationship with the customer and pre-emptive distribution, basically being in front of the customer when they’re ready to look at us.” He says the app was inspired by imagining a soccer mom, who fits the company’s core demographic of high- to middle- income, middle-aged women, and asking where and when it could interact with her—from the sidelines of the soccer field, perhaps, or in the living room waiting for kids to return from school.
“There’s a lot of cost if they’re not happy, because we make returns so easy,” he says. “When you buy the wrong thing [online] it’s just frustrating. I’m one of those people who just doesn’t want to mess with returns, even if it’s easy.” Besides being unsatisfying for customers, he says, the company suffers from having items carrying its name sitting unhung around houses, further damaging the retailer’s reputation.
Before building the app, overstockArt.com tried various ways to increase the likelihood that customers would like the paintings they buy. That included offering an online form customers can fill out to get personalized art recommendations from a specialist, and an initial “view in room” tool for the web site that allowed customers to play with art on virtual walls as they do in the app. But Sasson says his team quickly realized that visualization tool would be much easier to use from a mobile device—no need to upload pictures from a camera and go back and forth between it and the computer.
“You’re available to an e-commerce customer 24/7 if you’re an e-commerce brand, but you’re more available if you’re mobile,” he says. “Utilizing your brand when they’re researching doesn’t guarantee a sale, but they’re more likely to order from you.” Mobile conversions from shoppers viewing the app and clicking through to the mobile site are more than 8%, he says, a rate he considers amazing for a company selling hand-painted art. The app has already surpassed 9,000 downloads.
“If you don’t have the time to work on a mobile app, then you really need to make the time—because realistically the fastest-growing part of e-commerce, and traffic on the Internet, is mobile,” he says. “There’s not a whole lot else you can do that’s more important than making sure you have a mobile strategy that should at least have a mobile-optimized site.”
Internet Retailer’s editors asked Sasson to speak because of his experience growing a brand on the web and keeping up with e-commerce’s shifts into mobile. He co-founded overstockArt.com in 2002, selling art out of his suburban Kansas home. Today the site has more than 20,000 daily visits and 120,000 repeat customers, as well as more than 20 employees on three continents.