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Visual commerce: Purposes, platforms, and tools

Siavash Moazzami-Vahid

Imagine trying to buy a sofa without seeing it. How will you know whether a green two-seater will look right in your apartment — or whether it’s better suited to your grandparents’ retirement home? Visual commerce shows customers the products they’re buying to judge for themselves. But it’s no longer enough to just have a handful of product photos on your site.

eCommerce stores need to invest in visual commerce to stand out online. Only 2.17% of visits to eCommerce websites globally convert into purchases. But companies can boost that percentage by making sure the content on their site shows off their products to build trust with potential customers. A reported 45% of shoppers said that “high-quality images” were among the top reasons they trust a company when shopping online.

To elevate the visual experience beyond simple product images, you need to think about content infrastructure and your tech stack, so you provide customers with a first-rate shopping experience.

An illustration representing visual commerce on a mobile phone.

Visual commerce is about everything that is visual, and at one point is also about selling a product/service.

Section titled What is visual commerce?

In eCommerce, the term visual commerce applies to all the visual elements and content that shape a customer’s journey, such as:

  • Simple product images
  • GIFs, videos, or 360° views of the product
  • Interactive product demo
  • Live Commerce - Using video streaming to showcase products or interact with customers in real-time
  • Virtual/Augmented reality showrooms

Keep in mind that visual commerce goes beyond what directly connects to your product, and can be in the earlier stages of a customer's journey. For example:

  • Any interaction with visual-based content on social media - especially consumer-created posts
  • Customer education videos/images that are not directly about a product, but instead are focused on cultivating a culture
  • Most traditional advertising - including billboards, video ads, etc.

Put simply, visual commerce is an umbrella term for all the visual capabilities that an online shop can have in order to enhance the customer experience. These capabilities can be as basic as a couple of pictures or as complex as a full virtual experience.

Section titled The benefits of visual commerce for online retailers

Visual commerce helps your products stand out from the competition, so you can catch the eye of discerning shoppers. While there are many different ways companies can use visual commerce on their sites, there are three core benefits for eCommerce retailers (and their customers).

Section titled 1. Create more compelling product pages

When retailers start thinking about visual commerce, they often think of adding more images of the product. Instead, you should consider a more in-depth definition of “enriching” your product pages. Don’t just stick to static images. Try adding product videos, user-generated content (UGC), and 360° visuals too.

For example, footwear retailer Mahabis offers product photos, 360° visuals, an unboxing video, and a short video of the product in use on the product page for its women’s summer slipper. Shopify found that adding simple 360° 3D models of your products can increase your conversion rates by up to 250%. Adding more and different product visuals gives customers a better idea of what your products look like, helping them engage with your products. A 3D image or a GIF provides a much more realistic image of a product than a simple (usually highly edited) image.

An example of visual commerce provided by Mahabis

Mahabis product pages feature 360° visuals, product videos, and customizable color options.

The different types of visuals help potential customers view the product from every angle, similar to if they picked one up in a brick-and-mortar store. In addition, they help build buyers’ confidence that the items they order will look like the products on your online store and meet their expectations.

Section titled 2. Give customers a more personalized shopping experience

Personalization is an increasingly important part of the online shopping experience; 45% of consumers say they’re likely to take their business elsewhere if brands don’t deliver a personalized experience. Visual commerce can help you tailor the browsing experience, so customers can see that you have products that suit their tastes and needs.

Many companies are already using AR or VR to enhance their visual marketing capabilities and provide a personalized shopping experience. These technologies can truly change the way people shop, from “trying on” make-up to “placing” furniture in your living room. For example, make-up brand Clarins has added a virtual try-on experience to some of its product pages and social media. This lets customers see how different shades of lipstick or eyeshadow would look on them without going into a store and physically testing out the products.

An example of a Clarins product page

Clarins adds ‘try it on’ AR functionality for many of its make-up products.

Alternatively, simply showing more variations of your products will help customers tailor your products to their tastes. Change static, 2D images into configurable 3D or 2D images so that customers can view the product in their choice of color, size, pattern, or configuration.

Section titled 3. Boost your eCommerce marketing efforts with user-generated content

Content generated by other customers and users does a lot to build trust with potential customers. According to a study of more than7,500 U.S. consumers, “77% of consumers always or regularly seek out visual content from others who have already purchased a product.” This social proof feels more trustworthy than the images on your product pages. Based on the same study, “80% of consumers say that a photo from another customer is more valuable than one from a brand or retailer” when they’re planning a purchase.

Companies are starting to understand the importance of UGC for their customers and are featuring customer photos more prominently in their content — either on product pages or social media. For example, clothing brand Stronger has a ‘seen on you’ section on its product pages. It brings in customers’ posts from Instagram and turns them into shoppable galleries, where you can click through to the showcased products from the customer photos.

Stronger's social proof 'Seen On You' page.

Stronger adds UGC on its product pages, so customers can see their products in real life.

Just like Stronger, you can share other customers’ content on your social pages or build a dedicated user-generated content gallery on your website. You can also allow users to upload their own visual content as part of their reviews. These are the reviews everyone really cares about — as evidenced by product pages on Amazon.

Section titled What To look for when choosing a visual commerce platform

Many companies who want to invest in visual commerce start by looking for specific “visual commerce platforms.” If you’re looking for a visual commerce platform, start by understanding what you need in terms of technology and tools. We’ve identified four must-have features if you’re looking to elevate the visual content on your eCommerce store.

Section titled 1. Image optimization

Image optimization is the ability to format the photos, illustrations, and pictures on your store so that your content still loads quickly. This enables you to have lots of high-resolution images on your eCommerce store without compromising on site performance.

For example, the Storyblok Image Service makes it easy for you to optimize and resize images on your eCommerce site. It gives you high-quality images in the formats or sizes you’ll need for different devices and platforms.

Section titled 2. AR/VR support

AR/VR support is the capability to add augmented reality and virtual reality content onto your site to provide customers with a personalized shopping experience. It’s increasingly popular with shoppers; Gartner claims that 30% of Gen Z and millennial shoppers wish for AR/VR features to be incorporated into their online shopping experiences.

While adding AR or VR functionality into your eCommerce store may sound intimidating, there are several emerging strategies for incorporating this tech that are becoming popular with online retailers:

  • Create a virtual environment for your customers to move around in to make their online shopping a more immersive experience
  • Hold virtual events such as new product launches
  • Gamify your content and offers, such as providing virtual scratch cards offering unique discount codes

Section titled 3. Content reusability across channels

Content reusability is being able to use visual content across multiple channels and locations on your site. It helps you maintain visual consistency across different channels, such as social media platforms, apps, browsers, and on mobile or desktop.

Additionally, content reusability makes it easy to provide a true omnichannel experience for customers — something that many companies struggle with. According to Twilio, “Just 24% of businesses say they are investing successfully in omnichannel personalization, with departmental silos and legacy infrastructure as the key barriers to success.” You should make sure content reusability and omnichannel can be handled easily with your current visual commerce platform, as issues can mount up quickly when dealing with large amounts of visual data.

Section titled 4. Integration options

When comparing visual commerce platforms, look at the different integration options that are available. Your best option will be a platform that integrates with other tools in your technology stack, so you don’t have to build custom integrations (or risk losing valuable transactions or data if your tools don’t connect properly).

Choosing a visual commerce platform with lots of integrations means you can add new tools to your current tech stack with ease, without having to risk the integrity of your set-up — or worse, having to completely rebuild from scratch. For example, Storyblok integrates with many eCommerce platforms, including Shopify Plus, BigCommerce, and Shopware.

Section titled Bring your visual commerce strategy to life with Storyblok

Storyblok is a headless content management system built to handle visual commerce. It keeps the backend of your site separate from the frontend, connected by an API. This gives you unparalleled flexibility over how your site looks because you’re not limited to the existing themes or designs on traditional monolithic CMSs.

Many companies like Marc O’Polo, Bols, and Stronger (the clothing retailer we looked at earlier that excels at using UGC on its product pages) use Storyblok to power their visual commerce. Learn more about Storyblok to find out how we help eCommerce companies like you reap the benefits of visual commerce.