by Jeff Hunt, CEO at Snap36
Last summer, Amazon launched a trial of 360-degree photography, making it available to a few vendors on the platform. After just 60 days, the results were in: including 360-degree photographs in product listings increased conversions. Now, many categories have the capability to include 360-degree images on their product pages.
There have been two major responses to this update in the industry: First, why did it take Amazon so long? And second: should we bother with 360-degree images?
Here, I’ll address both.
Solving for Tech, Quality, and Cost
Creating 360-degree images has been possible since about 2008 – and some brands have been using the technology now for more than a decade. So why did Amazon, the leader of online commerce, hold off on enabling these images on its platform?
For three main reasons: technology, quality, and cost.
On the tech side, think back to 2008 for a minute. The iPhone had been on the market for just a year. The iPad was still two years off. Only about one in five Americans owned a smartphone at that time, meaning we weren’t online nearly as much as we are today, and we were certainly not shopping on Amazon from our phones.
That meant we were on desktops and laptops, reading product descriptions and customer reviews – pretty normal behavior on larger screens. On mobile, that behavior changes. Screens are smaller, making reading less appealing. When shopping on mobile devices, people prefer images to in-depth text.
And shopping on mobile is becoming more and more common: Today, more than 87 percent of Americans own smartphones. During 2018’s holiday season, 60 percent of online shopping happened on mobile phones, as well as 40 percent of sales. Notably, mobile is growing much faster than other types of online buying: while sales from desktop devices grew by just five percent last year, sales from smartphones grew by 56 percent.
So that’s the tech part. Now for quality and cost.
In 2008, high-quality 360-degree images were expensive and hard to make, meaning that if Amazon had introduced 360-image capabilities, many brands would have ended up with either low-quality images or none at all. Neither was likely to help conversions, which would hurt both brands and Amazon itself.
There was another component to cost as well: because there was no scalable, automated way to capture 360-degree images in 2008, turnaround time was unacceptably long. By the time a company had its 360-degree images of a product, the product itself would likely be an older model, phased out, or obsolete.
Today, by contrast, 360-degree photography has gotten faster and much more affordable. Even small brands can afford the initial investment in photography, and doing so will enable them to reach a much larger audience of mobile shoppers. Amazon’s decision to give brands the ability to include 360-degree images now benefits everyone.
Why 360-Degree Images Are a Must in Online Retail
Brands that test 360-degree images universally see higher conversions. The automotive accessory manufacturer Gold Eagle Company reported a six- to eight-percent conversion rate increase immediately after introducing its 360-spin images on Amazon.
And one of our clients actually saw a 25-percent jump in top-line revenue from 360-degree images – when selling clear water bottles.
These results benefit manufacturers for obvious reasons, but they also benefit Amazon. When shoppers have access to 360-degree images, they feel as if they can interact with products as they would in physical stores, looking at them from every angle and with an incredible level of detail. This gives people increased confidence that they’re buying something they’ll like, which leads to higher conversions.
But conversions aren’t the only compelling result: retailers using 360-degree images also see up to 30 percent fewer returns. That’s wildly attractive in e-commerce, where returns have been described as a “plague” and are between two and six times higher than in brick-and-mortar sales.
Consider this, too: 33 percent of shoppers start their shopping journey at online retailer websites, regardless of whether they end up purchasing online or in store. It’s safe to assume that many of those searches happen at Amazon, but regardless, other retail giants will undoubtedly offer the ability to include 360-degree images soon. By having 360-degree images on your product pages, you have an opportunity to make a great first impression.
Specific Benefits for Toy Sellers
While 360-degree images can improve sales for any online retailer, there may be special benefits for those selling toys.
I’ve seen, for example, 360-degree imagery improving online conversions for as unlikely a candidate as laundry detergent. Why? Because shoppers are increasingly interested in reading labels to check for allergens or chemicals they consider harmful.
Because toys are usually for children, shoppers tend to be extra careful, preferring to inspect all sides of an item to make sure there aren’t any unexpected sharp parts. Then, too, information about choking hazards may be included on the back of a package. Reading it in its original format online can offer shoppers welcome peace of mind.
Yet another benefit of 360-degree images is that they provide a clear guide to what a product should look like when fully assembled, whether it’s the LEGO Harry Potter Hogwart’s Castle, the Avengers’ Compound, a puzzle, or a Barbie Dreamhouse parents are rushing to put together on Christmas Eve. Think of all the headaches 360-degree images could have saved you in the past!
Finally, toys are special among retail items in that they’re often given as gifts. This means they have emotional significance that ordinary purchases do not; many people still want to buy them in person and hand their loved one a physical thing they picked out, rather than sending a gift-wrapped box from Amazon. Yet Amazon will likely still be part of the in-person shopping process for many.
With 360-degree images in the picture, Amazon’s wishlist feature is more compelling than ever: parents and grandparents can consult these lists when picking out gifts in stores. They can compare the doll on the shelf to the one on the screen, rotating before their eyes. They can set it in their cart, knowing it’s exactly the right thing. Already, 60 percent of shoppers use mobile devices to get more product information as they shop.
Taking the Plunge into 360-Degree Images
For most toy retailers, then, the only real challenge to implementing 360-degree images is actually obtaining those images. They’re slightly more specialized than still photography, meaning you may have to find a new vendor to produce them. But the effort will be well worth it, as you’ll come away with not only 360-degree images but also 72 distinct images of your product that you can use in all other marketing, e-commerce, and sales needs.
Of course, getting an entire catalog of products photographed and updating listings will take some time.
But as online shoppers become accustomed to this feature, not having full-spectrum images will become a liability. Today, adding 360-degree photographs will let you stay ahead of the pack and position you to appeal to tomorrow’s online shoppers.
Jeff Hunt | CEO, Snap36
Jeff’s passion for imagery and visualization began early in his career at Eastman Kodak, McDonnell Douglas Unigraphics and PTC. From there, he veered down the Internet start up path, helping take Object Design and Cysive to public offerings pre-bubble burst. Joining Scene7 in 2002 (which was acquired by Adobe in 2007) imaging and Internet start-up were finally united. It was here that Jeff listened to his customers and recognized an underserved market in the 360° and 3D photography space…and voilà, Snap36 was born!