When words aren’t enough

Sep 01, 1998 9:30 PM  By

Pictures are worth more than a thousand words when it comes to selling-especially for online catalogers, which have only seconds to grab consumers’ attention. So some catalogers are experimenting with new imaging technology that enables Web users not only to view high-resolution images more clearly, but also to zoom in and out of photos to get more detail, almost like a satellite picture. By doing so, catalogers can minimize product returns while boosting online revenue.

“Some catalogers are resistant to moving onto the Web because the photo quality isn’t as good as in print,” says Kenneth Burke, CEO of Multimedia Live, an e-commerce Website developer for catalogers such as Frontgate, TravelSmith and French Country Living-all of which are experimenting with high-res image technology. “But with the new imaging technology available, catalogers can go beyond the print world and see real value in being on the Web.”

A number of manufacturers offer high-resolution imaging software specifically for Web-based photos. Computer and Internet products manufacturer Hewlett-Packard (HP) introduced its OpenPix ImageIgniter software in June. Compatible with all browsers, OpenPix enables consumers to select a specific area of the high-resolution image and zoom in to examine surface textures and details such as buttons, fabrics, and stitching, and view and print that image at whatever resolution they choose. In addition, Web catalogers can track and analyze what consumers are zeroing in on, obtain detailed activity reports for each image element, and track the frequency of views and prints. Catalogers can then identify which products might become best sellers. The OpenPix ImageIgniter software and documentation costs $4,995 per central processing unit (CPU). No plug-ins or special equipment are needed, according to the company.

PhotoDisc, which sells stock photography, realized early on that offering quality images was essential to its online business. In March 1997, the Seattle-based cataloger collaborated with $43 billion HP on OpenPix prototype software for use on PhotoDisc’s PowerPics Website, a Web-based collection of high-quality, full-color photographs for use by small businesses.

“Typically when customers enlarge an online image, all they see are bigger pixels. But with OpenPix, customers can serve up actual detail,” says Katherine James Schuitemaker, PhotoDisc’s vice president of marketing and strategic partnerships. “Plus, being able to track what images customers are interested in is critical, since we built our collection based on this information.”

Apparel manufacturer Levi Strauss uses the Hewlett-Packard program on an intranet system for its 10-country Asia-Pacific division, according to applications architect Dan Lackey. OpenPix’s enhanced image detail helps its merchandisers, product developers, and marketing personnel better determine which products to offer in certain markets, he says.

Faster downloading Some online merchants that offer high-res images have found that it takes consumers several minutes to download images-minutes during which the shoppers may exit the Website. But in July, imaging software developer Live Picture introduced PhotoVista and Reality Studio, programs that allow users to view high-resolution images quickly-30 seconds on average vs. the typical several minutes. And as with OpenPix, consumers can zoom in on images for closer detail. These programs require no plug-ins, and images can be saved in various file formats, such as JPEG and FlashPix. Bloomingdale’s, Spiegel, and SkyMall are just some of the marketers experimenting with Live Picture’s imaging software. Costs for the server hardware ranges from $2,500 to $10,000, depending on the number of CPUs.

Levi Strauss may use Live Picture’s software for its Canadian commercial Website (the U.S. Website is not transactional yet), while staying with OpenPix internally, Lackey says. “The ability to add video, audio and animation with Live Picture’s product may offer a richer customer experience, while OpenPix allows us to manage our internal merchandising processes,” he says. In August, OpenPix became the internal standard image program in the company’s U.S. division (which includes the Levis and Dockers brand), Lackey says.