August 16, 2002, 12:00 AM

How smart online retailers pick the winners among new product display tools

Instead of chasing every new product imaging technology, see what the competition does first, says Forrester Research. When 30% offer a tool, it’s time for retailers to test it out themselves.


Lands’ End and a few other online retailers consistently lead the way in rolling out online tools to enhance product displays, but it’s at a cost: $2,000 per product was Land’s End tab when implementing My Virtual Model two years ago. Though that cost has since dropped to $200 or less per product, the price of enhanced product display tools is still a barrier to their widespread adoption, says a new report from Forrester Research.

So how can retailers who must reconcile web site technology investments with competing demands keep up with the Joneses without breaking the bank? By not jumping the gun, and instead keeping a close eye on how many Joneses are implementing the new tools, Forrester says. Not until more than 30% of the competition has adopted a new product display tool is it clear that it could gain wide enough acceptance to raise the bar for others, suggests Forrester analyst Carrie Johnson; at that point, she says, it’s time for retailers who don’t have the tool to plan a test of it on their own site. Johnson suggests retailers test a few different products against a control group to compare results. And before e-retailers consider any new product display technology, they should make sure the basics are already covered on their site, she says. These include best practices such as having consistent image size and quality; short, bulleted text; accurate price information and real-time inventory availability.

84% of 92 online retailers surveyed by Forrester Research offered zoom on their sites. Only 17% of apparel retailers polled use virtual models, while only 10% of home goods retailers used color swatch technology and just 18% of electronics retailers use product rotation, animation or streaming video. “Although tools that enhance online product displays are cheaper and require less bandwidth than two years ago, only low-cost image zoom technology has caught on with retailers,” says Johnson. The upshot may be that manufacturers who want to drive sales foot some of the bill for enhanced product display at retail sites by working with third-party vendors that serve images to retailers, Johnson says.


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