April 29, 2004, 12:00 AM

Do more pictures = more sales? SmithandNoble.com looks for the answer

In response to customer demand for more pictures, window ware retailer Smith + Noble prepares to launch online custom product visualization technology.

Window ware and home décor retailer Smith + Noble LLC gets feedback from customers almost continuously-in focus groups, through surveys and from its call center that receives tens of thousands of calls per week. “Customers always ask for the same thing," says director of online marketing and business development John Hoven. “More pictures.”

In response, Smith + Noble is beefing up its online imaging capacity with functionality from RichFX Inc., with which it expects to go live within the next month. The new imaging capacity will give customers the ability to mix and match the elements of custom window and home décor treatments online, allowing them to visualize custom products before they buy. “We’re looking to do less text and more images,” says Hoven. “So we’re redesigning product pages to be less text-heavy and more interactive.”

Hoven says the redesign will include an icon or link that will direct shoppers to the new mix-and-match option, supported by RichFX’s dynamic imaging technology. For its wood window blinds category, for example, clicking on the icon or associated link will bring up a pop-up window that shows an image of the wood blinds product, with all of the possible wood colors and cloth tape options to complete the blind displayed beside it.

“The customer will have the ability to remake the wood blinds image that is on display, choosing from any of the wood colors and tape colors. They’ll be able to see how the blinds they design look on the screen,” Hoven says. Currently, only a representative sample of blinds and tape combinations is available as static images online.

Hoven says Smith + Noble isn’t letting concerns about connection speed at the customer end hold it back from deploying the custom-imaging feature. “The majority of our customers-about two-thirds more than the industry average-access us through something other than a dial-up connection,” he adds.

Smith + Noble will use its Coremetrics Inc. analytics package to measure the impact of the new visualization functionality on several fronts, including the number of visitors who engage the feature and whether it contributes to site stickiness; and straight conversions plus any increase in average order size from those who use the feature. It also will look at its impact on offline orders for actual swatches and samples. “We might actually see that go down, if customers decide to make a purchase instead of wait for a swatch because they can visualize the order online,” says Hoven. “In that case, swatch orders going down would not be a bad thing. We look at the whole picture and try never to look at a single piece of information in a vacuum.”


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