Strategies Furniture Retailers Can Use to Improve eCommerce Product Imagery

Strategies Furniture Retailers Can Use to Improve eCommerce
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  •    Author: Mike Jasfer
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Historically, furniture shopping was something customers preferred to do in physical storefronts, even once ecommerce options became available. 
 
Three major factors drove this preference: first, furniture tends to come at higher price points than ecommerce favorites like clothing and books. Second, online imagery made it difficult to get a sense of proportions, true colors, and what an item might look like in the real-life setting of a home or office. Finally, shipping and return costs can be significant – an unwelcome risk, given the potential for an item to look great onscreen and terrible in real life.
Today, however, furniture is among the fastest-growing categories in ecommerce, thanks in large part to the improved product imagery options available for furniture retailers to communicate their products to shoppers. Those options include virtual photography, augmented reality (AR), and interactive 3D. 
Here, I’ll offer an overview of how each can help furniture retailers improve product imagery and ultimately increase sales.
Virtual Photography for Furniture Ecommerce
Today, the standard furniture ecommerce site includes two-dimensional pictures of some or most of a retailer’s inventory. Shoppers who want a color or pattern different from what’s shown in the image must take a leap of faith that they’ll like the color or pattern spread across an entire armchair or sofa when it arrives at their door.
Obviously, that’s not ideal: few shoppers can afford to gamble in that way; even if they’re guaranteed a full refund for returning a product they don’t like, nobody wants to go through the process of returning furniture.
And yet it’s unrealistic to expect furniture retailers to photograph every possible variation of their products and host all these images on their sites.
Enter virtual photography.
Generated by a computer program and based on CAD or other files that contain product information, these images offer several benefits to furniture retailers:

They can be generated without a studio photography session, meaning they cost about 1/1,000 as much as comparable images taken with a camera.

Because they rely on computer files, they can be generated whether or not a product has been manufactured.

These images are infinitely customizable: with the right inputs, they can render any variation a customer wants to see.

Collectively, this means customers no longer have to take a leap of faith to order furniture online: with hyper-realistic 2D images created via virtual photography, they can see exactly what they want on their screen before ordering. While that can nudge an online furniture shopper toward buying, an even more powerful push comes when furniture retailers combine virtual photography with AR.
At ThreeKit, we developed the Virtual Photographer™️ to handle this for companies like Crate and Barrel, Steelcase, and Herman Miller. 
AR for Furniture Ecommerce
Augmented reality – that is, the blending of real-world settings and digitally created imagery – burst into public awareness with the launch of Pokémon Go a few summers ago. The smash-hit phone game let players looking at their phone screens view Pokémon characters superimposed on the streets before them.
Furniture retailers can use similar technology to let shoppers superimpose images of the furniture they’re considering on images of their homes. 
After creating the image of an armchair with the fabric of their choice, for example, a shopper could use AR to see how that armchair would look in various parts of their living room and see whether it matches the existing décor. 
The shopper doesn’t have to be particularly tech-savvy, either: today, Apple and Google Android phones have AR capabilities built into their operating systems.
By making available a combination of virtual photography and AR, furniture retailers can greatly increase shopper confidence. This, in turn, both increases a shopper’s likelihood to buy and decreases their likelihood to return.
Interactive 3D for Furniture Ecommerce
Yet another tool furniture retailers can use to improve their ecommerce efforts is interactive 3D. This form of computer graphics lets users see and engage with 3D renderings of products. 
In the case of furniture ecommerce, interactive 3D can benefit retailers who offer highly configurable pieces like modular sofas. Because customers can create near infinite variations of the product, it’s impossible to pre-render hyper-realistic 2D images of every possible configuration.
But with real-time interactive 3D, customers can get a full view of what their creations would look like, which increases their confidence in making a buying decision.
HermanMiller is taking advantage of this capability with its ThreeKit-powered chair configurator, which lets shoppers customize desk chairs and view 360-degree images of them in real time. Shoppers can even share links to their custom creations with friends and family (and, conceivably, coworkers).
The ROI of Better Visuals in Furniture Ecommerce
It’s one thing to claim that better visual representations of your products will increase sales; it’s another thing to look at how improved visuals perform in the real world.
Our clients have found improved performance at every phase of the shopping and buying process:

Conversion rates, meaning actual sales, increase an average of 40 percent. Better ecommerce visuals translate to more people hitting the “buy” button.

Sale price increases by an average of 20 percent. Not only are more people buying, but they’re buying, on average, goods with a higher total dollar value.

Returns fall by 80 percent. When customers see a visual representation of exactly what they’re buying – and even have a chance to see their purchase in the context of their home – they’re far less likely to return their merchandise. That’s a major win for furniture ecommerce, where shipping costs can otherwise discourage purchase.

For retailers that introduce new products, colors, or fabrics on a regular basis, these savings can be even more significant: rather than having to invest in a studio photography session every season, you can simply input CAD files of your latest product iterations into your visualization software and let visuals populate as needed to display your latest offerings.
Adapting to the Mobile Present of Furniture Ecommerce
As long ago as 2015, mobile web traffic outpaced desktop traffic. As of last year, 79 percent of smartphone users have made at least one purchase from a mobile device. And during last year’s holiday season, 40 percent of ecommerce purchases happened on mobile devices. 
Ecommerce is, increasingly, mobile commerce, which means that images are only becoming more important: with limited screen real estate, retailers must use the most communicative content possible which almost always means rich visuals like virtual photography, AR, and interactive 3D.
While furniture retailers were once immune from the concerns of ecommerce, today’s shoppers want the convenience of shopping for furniture online. Brands that hope to maintain relevant will have to offer shoppers ways to mimic – and even improve – the in-store experience by offering high-quality, customizable images and ways to visualize products in their intended environment. Retailers without this type of rich content will be effectively asking customers to make a leap of faith in purchasing – and that’s never an effective strategy.
 
 
Ben Houston is the CTO of ThreeKit, a software platform that helps B2B buyers explore products in 3D, Virtual Photography, Augmented Reality, and VR. ThreeKit enables an immersive experience so manufacturers can drive engagement, trust, and more sales.

Furniture Industry News and in depth magazine articles for the furniture retail, furniture manufacturers, and furniture distributors.
Read other articles by Ben Houston

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Strategies Furniture Retailers Can Use to Improve eCommerce
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