How to Make Visual Commerce Work in Retail

Visual commerce in retail

In the first quarter of 2020, the United States accounted for $160.3 billion in retail sales through e-commerce channels.

In 2019 alone, eCommerce sales increased by 11.1% more than total retail sales. This stat indicates that sales online are beginning to outperform more traditional methods of purchase.

Growth rate for eCommerce
Source: Digital Commerce 360

The growing ratio of online retail sales isn’t a new trend, either. Digital Commerce 360’s analysis of data from the US Department of Commerce reveals that eCommerce sales have been on the rise for over a decade. 

The COVID pandemic has only encouraged the popularity of eCommerce through the shutdown of brick and mortar stores. Even after physical locations reopen, customers may still be hesitant to shop in-store.  

However, this means customers aren’t spending as much time in brick and mortar retail locations. Because of this, they can’t ask a store associate about a product or try anything on before purchase. All customers have to work with is the information brands provide about products across online channels. 

If you don’t present the products effectively across all channels, customers may be more prone to abandon their shopping carts due to their unfamiliarity with the products. 

Visual commerce directly answers consumer anxieties while shopping online. If appropriately implemented, it elevates the visual quality of a brand as a method of generating sales.

Visual commerce as a concept isn’t a solution in itself. Ecommerce companies must closely examine their value add and offerings to develop compelling visual commerce content. Companies can follow the steps listed in this article to get started.

Use Visuals to Differentiate Your Retail Brand

Visual commerce is about more than creating a collage of interesting images on your website. The visual elements must be employed strategically to define your brand by differentiating it from competitors in the retail market.

First, it’s important to note that visual commerce includes more than just still images. Effective visual commerce often includes various media types, such as video, gifs, and VR elements. Regardless of the medium, all of your visuals should meet the following criteria:

● High-resolution imagery 

● Crisp visuals without blurriness 

● Visual content that reflects the brand

Cultivating high-resolution, clean images can be achieved relatively easily. However, it takes a bit more forethought to capture your brand through visual media. Consider your audience and target market. What do they want to get out of your products? How can you encourage them to involve themselves in your brand’s community?

Companies like Under Armour, an athletic apparel retailer, embrace their audience’s desire for improved athletic performance in their visual commerce materials.  

Under Armour example
Source: Under Armour

On the company home page, shoppers will find a video feed of action-packed, emotional athletic footage looping behind the message “Under Armour makes you better.” The videos strengthen the impact of the written message while engaging viewers with dynamic, moving content.

Furthermore, the website employs visual commerce to explain innovative initiatives like 3D product samples. In this case, the visual aids shoppers in clearly understanding an otherwise complex, behind-the-scenes process. This imagery allowed customers to understand how Under Armour is working to become a more sustainable brand.  

Under Amour product
Source: Under Armour

Here, customers are afforded greater insight into the brand than they would have received in-store. This allows Under Armour to make itself more accessible to environmentally conscious buyers. 

Interesting companies and technologies to watch for dynamic visuals:

  • Taggbox: allows users to adapt social media content and visuals into interactive, shoppable galleries
  • Typito: provides retailers with unique, dynamic text to overlay with visual marketing materials 
  • Canva: offers customizable video templates for retailers looking to introduce multimedia elements to their visual commerce platform

Along with many other companies that have strategically cultivated a distinct brand, Under Armour has leveraged visual commerce to differentiate its voice in a saturated retail market.

Showcase User-Generated Content

User-generated content familiarizes customers with how others engage and interact with retail brands. Their experiences can inspire new customers to become more comfortable with making online purchases from retail companies.

Presenting user-generated content on your website and social media accounts can be an effective approach without requiring additional marketing resources. Your team can select and feature content that already exists.

In some cases, customers prefer user-generated content to branded visuals anyway.

One of the most compelling forms of user-generated content is online reviews from past customers about their past purchases. The reviews allow customers to provide feedback while giving future clients insight into the buying experience. 

According to experts, 91% of consumers read online reviews to get a feel for a brand before making a purchase. On top of that, 84% of people trust reviews just as much as they would a word-of-mouth recommendation.

Women’s clothing brand, Selfie Leslie, leverages user-generated reviews and visuals on their website to encourage hesitant consumers to become more familiar with the brand and its products.

Customer Reviews as UGC
Source: Selfie Leslie

In addition to a star rating, the site allows past customers to comment on the quality of their purchase and include a picture of what their clothes look like while being worn. 

Fashion brands and companies with highly-visual products should consider introducing user-generated images to their on-site reviews. These elements help customers visualize the shape and fit of their clothing. 

Additionally, the product under review is tagged within the comment, which helps with product discovery. Customers can easily find and verify the quality of the products they’re considering for purchase.

Interesting tools and technologies to watch for user-generated content:

  • Snapppt: offers sales suite optimizations geared specifically toward shopping and retail
  • Yotpo: provides e-commerce solutions, allowing retailers to share user-generated visuals and reviews on their site
  • Annex Cloud: streamlines process for collecting permission and displaying user-generated content on retail sites.

Client reviews elevate your brand’s credibility, allowing hesitant buyers to see your services from a peer’s perspective. Such engagement level promotes a closeness to your brand that functionally replaces the need for a brick and mortar experience.

Make Content Immersive

Effective visual commerce techniques should leave your customers to feel immersed in your brand and products. 

This can appear challenging without a brick and mortar space. Still, retailers can leverage innovative technologies like AI, AR, or VR to enable customers to visualize themselves, enjoying your products before purchase.

One popular method of immersive visual commerce is using a “shoppability” tool that allows a user to click on a product within an image for purchase. After being engaged by a product in a photo, shoppers can easily click through to a product page

This makes the browsing process more intuitive and akin to an in-store situation. The more natural process will save people time scrolling through product listing pages by creating a more compelling experience.

Some retail sites replicate in-store occurrences even further, allowing customers to virtually try on products using their phone cameras and digitized products.

Engagement ring retailers and jewelry stores like Brilliant Earth have developed ways for customers to try on customized rings based on shape, carat size, and precious metal.

AR in retail
Source: Brilliant Earth

Virtual try-on opportunities take some of the pressure off of customers considering a big purchase. For instance, not many people would feel comfortable buying a diamond ring without trying it on first. Brilliant Earth anticipates and responds to this problem within their eCommerce experience to make users confident in their purchases.   

Interesting tools and technologies to watch for immersive content:RestAR: 3D product visualization company specializing in creating immersive shopping experiences 

VR online stores: retailers could partner with a VR company to create a virtual showroom, enabling buyers to conceptualize a product’s appearance

Immersive visual commerce allows customers to closely familiarize themselves with your offerings without stepping into a store, making the purchasing process more convenient without sacrificing consumer confidence. 

Visual Commerce Can Boost Ecommerce Performance 

Creating compelling eCommerce content that rivals the quality of an in-store experience can seem like an overwhelming challenge. However, visual commerce serves as an opportunity to distinguish your retail brand, even in competitive markets. 

By strategically developing innovative visual content that aligns with your established brand and immerses customers in products, you help hesitant buyers make purchasing decisions. Showcasing user-generated images and reviews further elevate your credibility, making your products seem more familiar to potential customers.

About the author:

Sydney Weiss researches and writes content on supply chain and retail topics for Clutch.

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