How many times have you stopped just short of completing an online order because you were not sure of a product’s size, color or overall look?
If you’re like most online consumers, the answer is probably: many, many times. And e-tailers know it.
According to research by the Yankee Group, 81 percent of online consumers who use the Internet to research products, but do not actually purchase them, say the fact that they cannot judge the quality of the merchandise online is often what stops them from buying.
As a possible solution, many e-tailers are turning to the latest in product visualization software, which offers e-shoppers the ability to rotate and view a product image online, as well as the ability to zoom in close on product features, in an attempt to improve sales and enhance customer shopping experiences.
Such 3D technology offers many potential benefits, including increased consumer time spent on a site and to higher surfer-to-buyer conversion rates.
Even so, 3D shopping tech comes with its share of risks.
“When it’s used haphazardly — such as when online shoppers are forced to view rotating objects, or see product videos they haven’t specifically requested — that creates a situation that’s more likely to turn off potential buyers than to encourage them to buy,” Yankee Group analyst Paul Ritter told the E-Commerce Times.
Testing the Waters
So far, early test results from several major e-tailers indicate thatusing 3D visuals can have a dramatic impact on online sales.
Some of the most impressive numbers come from an e-mail test run on Mother’s Day by Gifts.com, an e-tail site backed by Readers Digest (NYSE: RDA). The site found that the conversion rate among 50,000 consumers who viewed a Mother’s Day pendant through a RichFX 3D video presentation was approximately seven times higher than among the 50,000 shoppers who viewed only the 2D version of the pendant.
In addition, Gifts.com showed a return on investment of US$2.77 for every dollar spent during the promotion, according to Gifts.com vice president Dan McManus.
“What made it work was the level of emotion we were able to generate,” McManus told the E-Commerce Times. “It allows a level of interactivity unavailable in any other medium.”
In the Bag
Other companies, including Nike (NYSE: NKE) and Eddie Bauer, have experienced similar positive results with 3D and zoom technology on their site.
According to visualization technology provider Viewpoint (Nasdaq: VWPT), sales of Eddie Bauer’s Daypack backpack collection saw a 25 percent increase when the product was featured online through Viewpoint’s 3D technology during last year’s back-to-school season.
Customers could interact with the bags online in a number of ways, such as virtually turning them over, zooming in and out, and even detaching their parts.
The premise for e-tailers using 3D is relatively simple: the more time consumers spend with a product online, the more likely they are to buy it. But like any new technology, the true success of 3D visualization software will depend on how convenient — and necessary — consumers find it.
“Companies do risk alienating and losing customers because of potential frustration,” Ritter said. “The technology has to be presented in a way that is not forced upon them. It has to be an alternative and made clear (to consumers) to only use the technology if they have the kind of connection to support it.”
According to Ritter, the majority of 3D technologies still require plug-ins,and their effectiveness is often limited by bandwidth restraints.
AOL in the Family
Nevertheless, a recent study on digital imaging by Jupiter Media Metrix (Nasdaq: JMXI) found that the overwhelming benefits to e-tailers far outweigh the risks.
“Excluding these types of advanced technologies for fear of alienating usersor making the online experience too difficult for them has no basis,” the report said.
Viewpoint’s director of strategic relations, Christopher Robin, told the E-Commerce Times that many of the resistances can be overcome by establishing relationships with hardware and software providers. Viewpoint, for example, recently announced an agreement with America Online (NYSE: AOL) in which the October version of AOL software will have Viewpoint’s 3D technology already installed.
Beyond the Door
According to Robin, Viewpoint’s 3D platforms can serve those with a low bandwidth and even those on 56K can use the technology.
RichFX, which creates entire 3D stores in which shoppers can “walk” through an online storefront, said it uses a streaming technology that compresses computer-generated video (CGV) up to 100 times more than standard MPEG video, enabling rich online experiences at low bandwidths.
Other technology providers, such as PointCloud, avoid plug-ins altogether by utilizing Java applets instead.
Whether the novelty of seeing backpacks spin around on the Internet will wear off remains to be seen. However, 3D technology can do more than zoom in and out of product images.
“Its capabilities go well beyond e-commerce,” Robin said. “There are tremendous B2B (business-to-business) applications, and this technology offers benefits throughoutthe entire business cycle, i.e., research and development, customer support, etc.”
For now, however, 3D visualization will likely remain a niche technology applicable for only certain segments of e-commerce.
“I think it will stay primarily within segments that make sense, such as furniture, jewelry — anything that requires a level of product detail or has an emotional appeal to it,” Gifts.com’s McManus said. “Do I think it applies to every product under the sun? No.”
The Right Stuff
The bottom line is that consumers will likely embrace product interactivity on the Web, if e-tailers are smart about how they use the technology.
“There are some areas where it absolutely makes sense and others where it’smore of a stretch,” McManus said. “The right way (to use it) is when youneed to create a level of detail beyond what you can do through othermedia, and where there’s a level of emotional appeal. Does it make senseto sell a book (using 3D)? Probably not.”
That’s all nice and will undoubtedly benefit the business and the consumer. However, I have seen so many sites where even the written information is too scarce, e.g. VCRs with 5 lines of description that I AM wondering whether the technology change will be enough… Much more important is to have a proper process of maintaining the product information on the web and also capture feedback about it’s “perceived” deficiencies.