July 1, 2010, 2:50 PM

Photo enhanced

New technology enables Hunter Douglas to show window coverings in shoppers’ virtual rooms.

Lead Photo

The Hunter Douglas photo upload tool

Hunter Douglas Inc. may have stopped sales from retail web sites a few weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean the company has given up using the web to encourage sales. The U.S. unit of Netherlands-based Hunter Douglas N.V. has launched technology that enables shoppers to see how the company’s high-end blinds and window coverings will look in their homes. The tool allows shoppers to upload photos of their own rooms and then click to select from among 4,300 SKUs to add to the photo, producing a high-quality peek at what the items would look like after installation. The “Upload your own photo” tool is part of the site’s iMagine Design Center, a visualization technology that enables consumers to change wall colors and other room features to determine which window coverings and blinds are best for a particular space.  

Consumers using the photo tool can save their configurations in a workbook offered through the Hunter Douglas site, says Linda Bellitt, director of marketing and research.  The selections will be saved as long as the shopper accesses them from the same computer and does not delete the needed cookies. “The intention is to help consumers with the research part of the window-covering purchases,” she says. Consumers can visit retail stores to complete transactions.

Shoppers who settle upon specific items after using the photo uploading technology can write down the SKU and item numbers, or print out a PDF description, and then take that information to a store that sells Hunter Douglas products, she says. Employees at retail stores generally will not be able to call up the shopper’s selection unless that shopper has arranged to send the saved information to the store prior to visiting, Bellitt adds.

The tool also provides tips designed to help consumers take the best photos; adjusts lighting based on room conditions—for instance, opaque fabrics would darken the room, while sheer materials would allow more light to seep through; enables consumers to mask large objects such as furniture that are located on front of windows but cannot be moved; and gives the option of showing window treatments mounted inside or outside the window frame.

The photo uploading tool took 18 months to develop, with one of the main challenges making sure that images look the best they could, she says. Hunter Douglas hired digital marketing agency Enlighten for the imaging work and Visualize It Ltd. for software development.  She declines to say how much the work cost.

The tool launched on May 17, and so far the service has yet to make a significant splash. The iMagine Design Center takes in no more than 20% of traffic to the Hunter Douglas site, and the photo tool has absorbed 2% of the site’s traffic, Bellitt says. But that could change by later this year. Hunter Douglas plans to launch a promotional effort for the photo tool in July, a push that will include making the tool more visible on the site and could involve national advertising, she says.

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