9/17/13

Improved product photography helps Parts Town boost online sales

New technology provides 3-D and 360-degree views of products.

Paul Demery , Managing Editor, B2B E-commerce

To keep restaurant kitchens perking coffee, grilling steaks and steaming vegetables, Parts Town equips them with parts from hundreds of manufacturers. With some 400,000 SKUs available on its e-commerce site, it strives to make it easy for busy chefs and restaurant managers to quickly find and order online what they need to withstand the heat of the kitchen.

Parts Town launched its first e-commerce site five years ago, and the site along with a new mobile-optimized version has since played a key role in helping the company grow by double digits each year to reach more than $75 million, vice president of marketing and innovation Emanuela Delgado says. “Our growth has had a lot to do with e-commerce and mobile technology,” she says, noting that an increasing percentage of transactions are conducted online, the remainder through sales reps and call center orders.

One of the biggest challenges online, however, has been helping buyers make sure they’re ordering the right part for their Bunn coffee-brewing machine or Vulcan gas cooking range. And nothing beats the ability to see the part up close and in 360-degree detail, Delgado says.

Until recently, the company’s e-commerce site, Partstown.com, relied largely on its customer service reps to help identify the right products for online customers. Images of many of the parts it carries were not readily available from manufacturers; in some cases, a technical support person would trek into the company’s warehouse to check a part’s details for an inquiring customer.

In late February, Parts Town deployed in its warehouse equipment from Snap36, a provider of photographic technology and services, that can produce 360-degree and 3-D images of products. With on-site assistance from Snap36, by early June Parts Town had produced 25,000 images of products that shoppers can click to spin completely around before or after they zoom in to view minute details. When viewing a valve assembly unit for a Bunn coffee brewing machine from Bunn-O-Matic Corp., for example, a shopper can zoom in close enough to view the type of screws that fasten it and the small print on a label of specifications, then click to spin the enlarged image completely around in either direction.  

“We can now take images of 99% of our parts” on-site, Delgado says, noting that it may send a few odd-shaped items to Snap36 to shoot in its studio. After getting assistance from Snap36 in learning to operate the photography machine and produce an unusually high volume of images for the first three months of deployment, Parts Town figures it can now use its own staff to photograph more than 120 products per day. Its initial goal is to shoot around 60,000 of the most commonly purchased products among the 400,000 items carried on Partstown.com.

Each product shoot typically produces from 20 to 72 images, which enables the Snap36 machine to render the detailed zooms and 360-degree spins, Snap36 CEO Jeff Hunt says.

Once Parts Town produces its product images, it loads them on the Internet to Shotfarm LLC’s Shotfarm.com, which serves them as needed to Partstown.com. Shotfarm’s Rich Media Hosting for Ecommerce service starts at $49 per month.

Delgado notes that if the retailer needs to photograph 5,000 or more products in a month’s time, it could arrange for additional temporary equipment and technical assistance from Spin36.

Snap36 was founded in 2011 by Hunt, a former sales executive for Adobe Systems Inc.’s Adobe Scene7 rich media technology. Hunt is also an advisor to Shotfarm.

Snap36 provides photographic technology and services through three types of offerings:

● It will sell photography equipment starting at under $10,000 that clients operate in their own facility; it also provides training and makes its equipment available to rent instead of purchase.

● It will shoot products at its own Chicago studio for $50 to $150 per product.

● And it offers a managed service, through which it will use its own equipment at a client’s warehouse to photograph thousands of products at a cost of under $35 per product.

Topics:

3-d, 360-degree, Adobe Scene7, Adobe Systems, Bunn, Bunn-O-Matic, Emanuela Delgado, Jeff Hunt, Parts Town, photograph, Restaurant, Shotfarm, Snap36, Vulcan, warehouse, zoom

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