How Visual Commerce Is Changing Retail 

New developments include AR and VR

June 8, 2017

Retailers are increasingly exploring the application of visual commerce, in which visual media—images, video and augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR)—serve as the language of ecommerce.

“As consumers have become more comfortable with images, and technology better at interpreting them, images have become more central in ecommerce,” said eMarketer analyst Yory Wurmser, author of a new report on the subject. (The full report, “Visual Commerce 2017: How Image Recognition and Augmentation Are Changing Retail” is available only to eMarketer PRO subscribers.)

Listen in: In the latest episode of eMarketer’s “Behind the Numbers” podcast, eMarketer analysts Yory Wurmser and Cathy Boyle discuss new developments in visual commerce and how retailers are responding.

In a PowerReviews survey of US internet users in September 2016, 40% of respondents said they “always” search for visual content, and a further 32% “regularly” search for it.

Most consumers prefer to see at least a couple images of a product before buying it, according to Salsify’s September 2016 survey of US digital buyers. Nearly three in five respondents said they prefer to see three to four images, and only 1% said they prefer not to see any photos.

“We’ve used data analysis against 9 million products to calculate what product content impacts conversion on major websites,” said Peter Crosby, director of marketing communications at product content management platform Salsify. “There is no question that images are among the most important criteria that drive buying behavior.”

The same survey found that 35.1% of digital buyers said they would be more likely to buy a product after viewing a video of the product, while 37% said they would not. 

“The issue [with video] is postproduction,” said Gilles Rousseau, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Splashlight, a digital photography agency. “It's expensive, time-consuming, and requires significant technology to retouch video.” Rousseau also pointed to the challenge of keeping videos from loading slowly or dropping in areas with poor reception.

Retailers and suppliers who spoke with eMarketer agreed that images are important throughout the consumer journey. “We think visual commerce will be valuable for our business, both in the browse phase and in the find phase,” said Jess Jacobs, director of marketing at online decor and furniture retailer Wayfair.

“Smart retailers believe that content influences and generates search intention as well as buying intention,” added Oliver Tan, co-founder and CEO of image recognition company ViSenze.