The Electronic Catalog: A Quick Look at Quick-Time Virtual Reality

A major drawback to selling via catalog is that a photograph provides only one view of a product. But Internet marketers can opt for quick-time virtual reality (QTVR), dimensional photography that offers 360-degree views of products. Customers can click on the photos to view the products from a variety of angles. The technology is not new — high-tech gadgets cataloger/retailer Sharper Image and apparel mailer Lands’ End have been using it for several years — but it has yet to be widely adopted.

One reason for the hesitancy among marketers could be the cost. The cost of a traditional, two-dimensional product shot is around $50-$200. But for a 360-degree photo shoot, which involves taking 36 photos of a product in 10-degree increments, Irvine, CA-based NuVisions Photography charges $300-$400 per product.

“And for a complete fly-around, in which we take photos of a product on 14 or 15 axes, it could cost from $800 to more than $1,000 per product,” says NuVisions’ studio director Greg Carter. The additional angles of the fly-around photo provide viewers with greater visual information. Online shoppers can click on standard rotation photos and “spin” the merchandise around to view items from all angles, as well as zoom in on product details. Fly-around photos, however, could enable a viewer to “flip” a bicycle helmet on its side to check out the inside padding as well as to view the exterior from all angles.

Although QTVR results in a video effect, no video is involved. “The quality of stills is better for product photography,” Carter says. “When customers enlarge the photos, the clarity of detail, such as fabric, is better than with video.”

HIGH-TECH SALES BOOST Three-dimensional photography and zoom-in capabilities have been shown to boost sales, says Lauren Freedman, president of Chicago-based Internet consultancy The E-tailing Group. “I’ve seen a 44% conversion rate from browsers to buyers, as result of dimensional photography, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers,” Freedman notes.

And since QTVR enables users to get a full view of products, it may also lower return rates — particularly for apparel marketers. “And if you can reduce return rates by even 5%,” Freedman says, “that’s your ROI right there.”

Besides cost, another reason marketers may be wary of adding QTVR to their site is that it can slow the load time of Web pages — 8-10 seconds a page for DSL connections, and as much as 30 seconds for dial-up. But while slow-loading pages generally increase Website abandonment rates among visitors, “a customer may feel a bigger image or a 3-D image might be worth the wait,” Freedman says, “and that could make a difference in whether or not he buys the product.”

A compromise could be to use QTVR — as shoe marketer Asics does — for photos of select or new products, best sellers, or items with fine detail that customers may want a better look at online.

Skokie, IL-based Anatomical Chart Co., a cataloger of medical models and charts, plans to introduce dimensional photography later this year to showcase its raised-relief charts, says senior vice president/general manager Bill Demas. The company also plans to provide the dimensional photos to its dealers for use on their Websites.

And St. Louis-based shoe manufacturer/marketer Naturalizer is testing dimensional photography, which it hopes to roll out in September or October. “We’re testing 3-D photography on a few products internally,” says Kevin Brandt, Naturalizer’s manager of Internet and database marketing. “We want to make sure that we can get everything up and running correctly, since we have a little fear that it might slow down the navigation on our site.”

Did you miss a previous Electronic Catalog article?

You can find it — along with other articles from past issues — on the Catalog Age Website at www.CatalogAgemag.com

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