April 5, 2004, 12:00 AM

In online sales, pictures are worth 1,000 words

Some e-retailers still struggle with the basics of online product images, but for others, the next generation of dynamic imaging tools is in development.


In the scramble to get web sites operating smoothly and efficiently and the battle to get customers to their sites, product images have taken a back seat at some e-retailers. But that should change as site operators come to understand the power of product images as a primary merchandising tool and not simply as supplement to text-based sales efforts, says Doug Mack, CEO of dynamic imaging software and service provider Scene7.

Many sites “have blown it when it comes to imaging,” Mack says. “They have spent so much time acquiring customers and getting them to the right section of the site, then they show them a terrible-looking product. When you can’t touch and feel the product, the image has to do the selling job.”

If they show images that are small or grainy or don’t provide enough visual options--for instance, simply describing in text that a product is available in other colors rather than showing those colors--e-retailers drop the ball because they’re not showing the customer something that’s visually compelling, he says.

In terms of imaging functionality, many sites are still at the bottom of what Mack calls the “need pyramid.” At the foundational level, e-commerce sites require crisp, high-resolution, well merchandized product images. With that in place, sites then should layer on the ability to view greater product detail with functionality such as zooming or clickable swatches. Beyond that is the notion of e-catalogs. “The idea is not just to provide a good web experience, but to link the traditional channel of the catalog into it. That gives people, especially novice web shoppers, a very comfortable way of transferring over to the web,” he says.

Such functionality is a prerequisite to the next generation of online product imaging, which Scene 7 is developing technology to support cost-effectively, Mack says. That includes the ability to visualize custom-designed products online, the greater use of dynamic images in e-mail, and farther along, dynamic imaging platforms that routinely deliver multimedia sales pitches online.

“We’re after delivering rich media types over a web page, in e-mail or in an e-catalog, so it`s not just a series of disassociated activities but wraps it together in a way that becomes how every consumer want to shop the web,” he says. “You could completely surround the consumer in the buying process and drive a high conversion level.”


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