What is visual commerce and why it matters for online retail?

visual commerce, visual marketing, ecommerce marketing, visual content marketing, instagram marketing

Convenience. Practicality. These are the two main things that usually come to mind when consumers think about online retail. Not very exciting, is it? On the other hand, beautiful product displays, tempting window shops and the smell of novelty are things that associate us with traditional brick-and-mortar shopping. Up until now unique shopping experience was typically reserved for physical retail. But things are changing. Enter visual commerce. In this article we’ll talk about how visual commerce is changing our expectations in online retail and why it’s so important for online stores and brands today.

What is visual commerce?

Visual commerce can stand for many different things, from tracking hashtags on social media platforms, collecting user-generated content and re-purposing this content in marketing campaigns, to adding shoppability layers on visual assets so as to create shortcuts in the shopping funnel.

visual commerce, product video, product page, online retail, beauty retailer, beauty brand
Example of how Lush.co.uk uses large product videos as part of its visual commerce experience

In its most essential form, visual commerce is the concept of enriching customer experience with powerful, inspirational and enticing visual content that prompts shoppers to engage, convert and form a preference for a brand or online retailer. While this might sound all too generic, the secret is in the “visual content”. This element includes an arsenal of product imagery, product videos and user-generated content that give a powerful, “out-of-the-box” portrayal of a product or a brand.

visual commerce, product page, ecommerce, online retail, beauty video, product video
Maybelline.com is using powerful imagery and product videos as part of brand’s online visual commerce efforts

You might think: “Wait a minute, but we always had visuals on our online retail sites. That’s what helped us sell online in the first place!” While this is true, the new generation of visual commerce takes this concept one step further and gives visual assets more prominent role in the on-site marketing mix. Visual assets evolve from playing the role of accessories in the online retail, to acting as conversion magnets that lure shoppers to discover new products, to “play” and engage with them digitally and to purchase them online.

visual commerce, online retail, ecommerce, product images, product photos
Adidas.co.uk lets shoppers discover products straight from the images and convert early during browsing sessions

All shoppers are visual creatures, but online shoppers are even more so, given that the senses of touch, taste and smell are suspended in the online retail setting (for now, but big hopes for 2030!) and shoppers have to rely on the audio and visual cues to experience the product online.

The pillars of visual commerce are engaging product video galleries, large multi-angle product photos, authentic user-generated content and marketing tools that enable content discovery, curation and optimization. They not only visually enhance the online shopping experience, but also directly affect online conversion rates, shopper behavior on site and engagement with the store.

Why visual commerce matters for online retailers?

Our shopping journeys differ in many ways from those of past generations. We get a glimpse of new products on our Instagram feeds and Pinterest boards, we research our future purchases with the help of YouTube product videos, we get promotional offers on our Snapchats and we feel a connection with brands who don’t shy away from using emojis when answering our questions on Twitter, all while juggling multiple digital devices throughout the day.

Nothing kills the thrill of shopping like following the trail of clever marketing teases just to land on a bland e-commerce website that just doesn’t speak the same language visually. You don’t convert shopper with a stock product photo when they’ve just been exposed to an amazing UGC on social media. You give them more of that UGC content and curate experiences!

Consider this:

These are just some of the many indicators that we’re on the verge of something new that promises to help e-commerce evolve. The transition towards more visual commerce could signify that we’re on the brink of breaking the proverbial fourth wall between shoppers and online retailers, something no other on-site marketing strategy was able to achieve before.

What’s next in visual commerce?

In the digital world the lines between browsing and shopping are blurry, as every visual cue turns into an opportunity for getting another new customer. That’s why it’s important for online retailers to keep the momentum going when shoppers land from social media to their product pages.

It’s clear that visual content makes a difference in how consumers shop. What remains to be seen is how online retailers will move from just featuring visuals on their websites to creating new experiences where visual content is at the heart of commerce.

About Miljana Mitic

Miljana is Content Marketing Manager at Goodvidio. She has a cool PhD in social media marketing and writes about trends and best practices for product videos, UGC, online retail and visual commerce. Fascinated by YouTube pop-culture and startups.

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