E-commerce Link: Show and Sell
Add flexibility to your online sales presentation with on-th-fly image generation
Images sell. A Web site that actively uses its image assets as a merchandising tool has a distinct advantage in generating sales. Fortunately for online marketers, new dynamic imaging technologies let you use your images far more flexibly than ever before, vastly increasing the effectiveness of your online merchandising.
These technologies allow you to create any number of high-quality images, place them anywhere on your site, and capitalize on your Web site data to customize them for any merchandising need. You can even personalize them according to your customer data. This is all done far faster and more cost-effectively than traditional image production ever could allow.
How Dynamic Imaging Applications Work
As much as 50 percent of your online real estate may be occupied by images. Used properly, these images can be one of your most powerful selling tools, but they are static and they can cost a good deal to create. Every time you want to change a merchandising display you need to enlist your graphic designers and have them create your images manually.
In contrast, dynamic imaging technologies automatically create high-quality, customized, derivative images and place them on your Web site in real time. These technologies can take any high-resolution master image and render it in a number of different ways to create the merchandising images you need. You enter the parameters for each derivative image through a back-end interface. Your merchandising staff can set up image size, zoom, cropping, text overlays, graphic overlays, colorization and other changes. Dynamic imaging automatically can read Web page data, such as the image size parameters hard-coded into your page templates, and it can pull up customer data and campaign rules to create highly targeted images for specific uses.
A Basic Example
Let’s look at simple image production first. We will assume that your product pages specify a main product shot sized at 200 by 300 pixels. You first would store a large, high-resolution image—perhaps 600 by 900 pixels and 400 dpi—of a product in your back-end system. While setting up this product image via your Web site’s administrative interface, you simply would tell it which master image to use. Your Web site already has the 200 by 300 size parameter hard-programmed into it.
As that product page starts to load on the shopper’s browser, the system automatically will grab the large master image, reduce the resolution to the standard 72 dpi, size it to fit the 200 by 300 pixel space, and place it on the page in real time.
Using the same procedure, you automatically can create tiny images for thumbnails, medium-sized images for cross-sells and many others. But resizing is only the beginning.
The real power of dynamic merchandising becomes apparent when you delve into its merchandising capabilities. Here are four applications:
1) E-mail campaigns. You can use dynamic imaging to customize the Web site images you display to recipients of your e-mail campaigns. Let’s say you have identified a customer group that responds well to limited-time offers for apparel. You assemble an e-mail targeted to this group offering 20 percent off all slacks and shirts, for one day only. As is standard practice for e-mail like this, you include a source code so your Web site recognizes these recipients when they click over to your site.
Once the customer arrives at your site, the source code triggers a number of powerful changes. First, it launches a landing page with customized messaging, images and, say, three kickers at the bottom. The kicker images are popular shirts and slacks, and they all have a small graphic of a “burst” superimposed over them, with text reading “20% off today only.” Through its dynamic image overlay feature, the imaging application has placed your customized merchandising message over the image itself.
Furthermore, every shirt or pair of slacks on your site also display that 20 percent-off burst, but only for those shoppers who arrive at your site via your promotional e-mail. Other shoppers don’t see the sale messaging, because the site did not receive that particular source code. And when the sale day is over, the messaging disappears. You could have several promotions like this in operation at the same time.
2) Interactive zoom and zoom targets. A Forrester report from November 2003 found that 62 percent of consumers say that zoom is an important retail site feature. Yet few online merchandisers have embraced zoom so far, opting instead for the much simpler and less effective “view larger” link to an enlarged product shot. True product zoom allows customers to adjust the image size through on-screen controls, getting closer and closer to see all the details or stepping back to get a better overall view. Image resolution is adjusted automatically to keep the picture clear at all levels of magnification.
Zoom targets allow the merchandiser to set up the primary image to be zoomed directly to specified points. In the example shown (at left), the merchant has used the dynamic imaging application to set up three thumbnail-sized close-up shots of a PDA. When the shopper clicks on any of the thumbnails, the image is zoomed directly to that point.
3) Inventory notification. If your site has automated inventory tracking, you can pipe your inventory data into your dynamic imaging application to create visual low-stock alerts and to generate shopper interest. When the stock level on a particular item gets below a certain point, this event can trigger a message like “Only 6 left!” to appear directly on the image. As inventory clicks down, the message is dynamically updated to read “Only 5 left!,” “Only 4 left!” and so forth. This example uses the dynamic text feature, which renders text messaging directly on the image.
4) Interactive redecorating. Perhaps the most dramatic use of dynamic imaging is the interactive real-time switching of colors, patterns and textures. The Home Depot has made this feature famous through its online Kitchen & Bath Design Center. Here, you are presented with a baseline image of a room, and you have options to change the color, texture and pattern of the floor, cabinets, walls and other fixtures. There are hundreds of thousands of possible combinations in the demo alone.
The Home Depot did not build thousands of different rooms and take pictures of each. Dynamic imaging technology allowed it to outline key areas—the cabinets, for example—and provide color swatches for each color option. One advanced feature on the Home Depot tool even allows the realistic rendering of different textures or designs. Color, texture and pattern rendering is very popular with apparel sites, allowing several color options to be presented via a single photograph. Costs for photography can be significantly reduced, and new color options can be posted online in a fraction of the time.
The possibilities of dynamic imaging are limited only by your imagination and your merchandising strategy. Whether you tie in your Web site data or set all image parameters manually, it could revolutionize the way you look at online merchandising. Dynamic imaging puts visual merchandising in the hands of your professional merchandisers, allowing you to update images and messaging whenever necessary, and enabling you to create exactly the right image for any merchandising situation.
Ken Burke is president and CEO of Multimedia Live, an e-commerce technology and development company based in Petaluma, Calif. He can be reached at (707) 773-3434 or firstname.lastname@example.org.