For decades, retailers have focused on creating immersive experiences, understanding the importance of using multiple senses to attract and engage consumers in physical retail settings. Delivering these immersive experiences in online ecommerce environments requires similar thinking as well as appealing to a customer’s sense of sight, arguably the most important one of all.
As consumers, our eyes are very discerning. Product images and videos help us to quickly determine if a brand or product is relevant and worth a closer look. The visuals we see as we click and scroll on an ecommerce site set the tone of that shopping trip. And even if we don’t have an intent to purchase at that particular moment, we remember what we see. That visual experience will help with ongoing brand perception and eventual recall down the road.
Ecommerce should bring in-store experiences to life in an online format, so retailers today are leveraging the latest technologies and visual elements to accomplish that goal. As such, websites today are more visually rich than ever before, providing realistic ways for a shopper to evaluate an on-screen product. Beyond product imagery that shows every angle and up-close details like fabric or stitching, retailers also use video embedded on product pages featuring someone wearing or using that item. Some are even venturing into 360-degree video and augmented reality (AR), allowing a consumer to visualize a product at scale in their home.
With the increasing importance of visual content online, retailers must keep their finger on the pulse of trends in order to use content most effectively. From my perspective, personalization and user-generated content (UGC) are two major items of priority.
Personalizing ecommerce content to a specific shopper can be highly influential: Customizing an online retail experience takes into account localized information such as region, currency, season and even current weather conditions, showing only the products that make sense for any customer in that segment. Where we see personalized content utilized most frequently is in product recommendations, whether it’s when a shopper first arrives on the retailer’s site or via a ‘Customers Also Viewed’ carousel of images on a product page. This can bleed over into targeted email campaigns or even social media ads.
Personalized content can do more harm than good if it’s irrelevant to the shopper receiving it, which is why it’s important that a retailer utilize data to tailor these experiences based on the shopper’s purchase history and preferences. Think about services like StitchFix or Nordstrom Trunk Club — these subscriptions curate items they know will suit a customer’s taste and style, and they’ll only drive conversions and continued membership if they provide actual value to the end user. The subscriber may have requested a particular piece in their next box, or the stylist may provide options that pair together for a complete outfit. Personalized content online should be approached in the same way, showing a shopper exactly the products they want, along with items that complement each other.
Personalization can be adopted by any brand, but embracing it as an ongoing content practice requires the management of a tremendous number of visual assets. Every item will have a handful of corresponding product images, plus every color option or variant of that item must have visuals to support it. It all adds up to a massive library of files. To prioritize personalization, retailers must consider how they’ll streamline or automate the utilization of such content across all ecommerce channels.
Content created by fellow shoppers are being featured prominently on e-commerce sites: Lifestyle photography and other visual media are table stakes for retailers today. Branded content has already evolved to look and feel more like what’s seen in social media feeds, with a hope of feeling relatable and familiar to consumers as they engage. But going a step further, many retailers today are beginning to utilize the very content generated by shoppers. Paired with branded content and boosted by personalization, UGC visuals on ecommerce sites are highly influential.
Across all industries, people who view UGC during their shopping journey convert almost two times as frequently as those who don’t see UGC along the way. A recent survey we conducted found that 70% of Gen Z and 78% of millennials find photos and videos created by their peers to be especially helpful in making purchase decisions.
Furthermore, 58% of consumers said they generated more content in 2020 than the year prior, including video and written product reviews. UGC creation is on the rise, so it’s in a retailer’s best interest to figure out how to harness its persuasive power to their benefit.
That being said, managing UGC doesn’t come without its challenges. Incorporating UGC into an existing content workflow can introduce new complexities. Retailers must think through the following questions in building a UGC strategy:
- Do we have a process in place for requesting or collecting user-generated content, and is it secure?
- How will we ensure the content meets our brand guidelines, or how will we quickly edit assets so that they meet our needs?
- Can we quickly crop, center, resize or reformat files so that they can be viewed in high quality across every device and channel?
- What do we communicate to users about our rights to their content and how we may reuse their images or videos for brand purposes?
To leverage content most effectively, retailers need to reassess workflows and supporting technology: Personalization and UGC are two content trends worth analysis by today’s retailers, and should be pursued with a careful eye on scalability and the impact on web performance as well. Devices and connections are getting faster, and there are more device and file formats to contend with, requiring companies to get smart about their internal architecture to cater to each specific end user. Luckily retailers aren’t navigating it alone — technology exists to help automate the optimization of the content, streamlining the associated workflows, too.
I discussed these trends, among others, in a recent Retail ThinkTank brainstorming session with Alicia Esposito, Monetizing and Personalizing UGC, Rich Media and Influencer Content. If you’re interested in learning more about content use cases and the imperatives for embracing new content formats, check out the video here.
Gary Ballabio serves as Cloudinary’s VP of Technology Partnerships, where he helps manage the company’s integrations and go to market strategies. Ballabio has over 20 years of experience in the digital media industry focusing on solutions for the high tech, media and entertainment and ecommerce verticals.