In the first quarter of 2020, eCommerce sales in the US reached US$160.3 billion through combined online channels.

ECommerce sales are increasing by about 11% per year, more than total retail sales. While in 2020 there is an obvious reason that online sales are outperforming traditional sales (lockdowns due to the pandemic) there is evidence to suggest that the high performance of online sales will continue even after the pandemic is predicted to end.

However, one of the drawbacks for retailers of almost exclusively online sales is that customers need to rely on visuals, rather than experience, to determine if they want to purchase a product. This means that shoppers are seeking a highly visual experience that allows them to better understand the fabric, dimensions, quality of finish and overall appearance of an item before purchase.

Brands need to ensure that they offer an exploration of each product they sell online to engage customers and sell products. For those brands that do not have a strong reputation, this can be difficult, as they are required to present more items across a variety of channels to connect with potential customers.

Visual commerce needs to be compelling, engaging and high quality, but it isn’t the solution to sales. It is a component of search, selling and conversion that needs to form the basis of any online marketing strategy to ensure that people can become familiar with your brand, your products and your image.

Visuals to Differentiate Your Brand

Visual eCommerce is about defining your brand through imagery. When you think of well-known sports brand, for example, they often use hero shots of sports stars wearing their clothing, sweating or working out in branded clothing. These images make it very clear to the consumer that the brand is associated with sport, fitness and sports celebrities.

Visual commerce is more than stills. Effective visual commerce includes various media types, such as video, GIFs, memes and VR elements. The more diverse your visual media, the better your website performs on search engine rankings, which means more organic traffic. Your visuals should meet the following criteria:

  • High-resolution imagery
  • Clear, professional photography or graphics
  • Concept and deliberate communication that is consistent throughout the imagery

The visual concept needs to capture your brand intention. If you are retailing homewares, your images would show how your products would be used in the home, giving your audience a sense of who might be interested in your products and how your products could be used in the home. You create a relationship through the visuals so that your ideal customer can see themselves with the product and imaging how it would fit into their lifestyle.

Placing glossy and alluring images on landing pages that invite people to imagine themselves are part of the picture is the drawcard of expert marketing campaigns launched by some of the world’s biggest retailers, like IKEA and Zara Home. There is a clear message and products are shown in ways that people can understand through simple and subtle messaging.

The use of dynamic imagery, clear brand messaging and immersion of your ideal customer into the world you have created online is the work of expert marketers, who go about creating a world with clear messages, attractive landing pages and a high-quality website experience that draws customers in. For homewares and furniture, the sales cycle can be a little longer, so the imagery is focused on creating a journey, while for clothing retailers the sales cycle tends to be shorter and the focus can be on encouraging shoppers to imagine themselves in the clothing, living the life the models are portraying, be that sexy, fun, smart, sophisticated, or any other number of ‘ideal’ images used to boost a brand voice.

Promote User-Generated Content

User-generated content is a valuable tool that can help new or emerging brands to secure customer trust and loyalty. Posting user 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 help to not only promote your brand within your desired market but develop loyalty among customers.

One of the most compelling types of user-generated content is customer reviews. People like to share their positive experiences and allowing customers to post their feedback about your products and services is a great way to help secure sales. It is also a great way to respond to customer feedback and mitigate customer concerns. If, for example, a customer makes a complaint, you can immediately respond and show your customers how you deal with complaints with immediate action or response that answers questions.

According to experts, 91% of consumers read online reviews to get a feel for a brand before making a purchase. A further 84% of people trust reviews to the same extent that they would a word-of-mouth recommendation.

One of the best ways to make use of visual user-generated content is to encourage customers to post images on your Instagram of them wearing your clothing, or using your product. People like seeing other ‘real’ people wearing your clothes, for example, as it helps them to relate more easily. While a model looks great in your clothing, we know they have been styled and the clothes adjusted to fit, while seeing everyday people wearing items is easier for people to relate to.

Fashion brands and companies with highly visual products should consider introducing user-generated images. You can encourage posting by hosting competitions or give-aways, and featuring ‘most liked’ images on your website. This appeals to people’s sense of identity with your brand, especially if yours is an exclusive or niche market brand.

Additionally, tagging the product under review in the comments helps with product discovery. Customers can easily find and verify the quality of the products they’re considering for purchase.

Content Immersive Visuals

One of the most effective ways to reach customers online through visual content is with immersive experiences, such as VR, AR or AI technologies.

Many makeup brands are now offering shoppers the ability to take a selfie, then apply products online, or assess their skin for the best products to address a condition such as dry skin, or apply hair color and style. The fun and interactive visual experience can engage shoppers and keep them on your website, also encouraging additional purchases.

One 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.

However, you need to give shoppers a reason to convert to sales, and not abandon their cart by ensuring that the fun visual tools work, and your site navigation is easy and seamless. Do not ask people to move between their phones and computers, offer the full experience on your mobile site and website, and take the time to ensure that the speed and quality are superior. Some of the best and biggest brands get this wrong, so ensure that you hire professionals to implement the tools.