We recently recorded a growing trend in the online retail industry. Over the past 12 months, the number of retailers using ‘360 spin’ imaging – where a consumer takes control of an image and can view and zoom in on a product from many different angles – has doubled. This is based on the fact that we now help 50 big retailers, who on average are seeing use of this type of imaging increase sales by 25% to 30% compared to products shown with flat imaging.

We estimate that currently only 5% of online retailers are using 360 spin imaging – and less than 2% are using it across their entire product ranges – but the industry’s growing appetite for the technology is evident.

So what’s causing this trend?  

It’s a direct result of the phenomenal growth of e-commerce and consumer expectations. 12 years ago, IMRG reported that the UK market was worth an estimated £1.8bn, with around six million people shopping via the internet. Fast forward to today, and e-commerce sales are expected to reach £77bn in 2012, with 37 million online shoppers.

Looking back, online retail started with people putting words onto the internet. Then they began adding home-taken photographs. Things then evolved, when retailers put very large images online so people could really see what they were buying. Five years ago, John Lewis was a great example of this. Retailers realised that a very good quality image helped to get the benefits of the product across to the consumer in lots of different ways. A cliché it may be, but a picture really does say a thousand words.

Next up was video, which allows the consumer to see how clothing fabrics hang and flow, for example. But it doesn’t give control to the consumer – they simply press play and stop.

Now retailers are finding that 360 spin and 3D imaging allow the consumer to take control of the image. It’s the closest thing they can get online to handling the product instore. What I mean by control is that they can turn the product around, upside down and inside out – have a look at what they want to see and zoom in on the areas they want to zoom in on. The benefits are that the consumer sees the product in far greater detail, and psychologically they feel that they’re in control. They’re not being sold to: “I’m buying this because I can look at it how I want to, when I want and in the way that I choose.”

The difference between 360 spin and 3D is this. On a 360 spin image of a shoe, you can spin it horizontally. With 3D, you can do that, plus you can also spin it vertically. You can then see inside of the shoe and look at the sole. Mobile phones are another item that benefit from 3D images, where people need to see ports that often appear on the top or bottom of a handset. Jewellery is another, as you’ll often have fine detail and hallmarking over the item.

Going back to video – it’s an interesting, complementary area to 360 spin. Video gives what I’d call in certain product areas ‘sales sizzle’. For example, at a fashion show, you’d sit at the side of the catwalk and watch the models walk down the runway wearing clothing. You might say “wow, that looks good”, but you don’t go straight to the till and buy the outfit. You go to the section of the shop where that outfit is likely to be. You pick it up, turn it around, look at the detail and you may try it on. If you think of the role of online selling in that situation, even though you can watch a video of a model making the outfits look fantastic, you still want to click on the product, do a 360 or 3D spin and zoom in on detail, to see how it might suit you.

In summary, the video creates the sizzle, and the 360 or 3D image provides a sophisticated selling tool guiding people towards a purchase because it empowers the consumer to make an informed decision.

Best practice

Managing consumer expectations is important, so you need to give a consistent experience across your website. The average of 25% to 30% sales uplift retailers report is not achieved if the imaging features on a handful of products. You have to use it on a wide range of products to see that sort of increase. The consumer doesn’t know what to expect if the imaging is scattered across the website – if they see a whole batch of 360 images in one section, they’ll become familiar with the technology and start using it to their advantage. Retailers see a significant uplift in conversion rates when consumers get a consistent experience. Sales uplifts have been reported by retailers within a month following A/B tests, when a sizeable part of their range is available to view in 360.

When looking at the decrease in returns as a result of using sophisticated imaging, retailers typically see between 10% and 12%. We put this down to two things. The customer is making a more informed purchase, because they can see the product clearly, and they feel empowered and in control.  Giving the customer complete control of viewing a product from every angle and zooming in on fine detail increases satisfaction and reduces returns.

These types of images also cut down on the number of general enquiries customer service departments receive about individual products because people can see them better. For example, people may wonder how many USB ports a laptop has, and if they can spin the product around from all angles they can see for themselves.

The future

Where are we likely to be in a year’s time with online imaging? Things are moving at such a fast pace, we’re struggling to work out what’s going to be happening six months from now. From a SpinMe perspective, we’ll be working with bigger and bigger retailers across their entire studio needs, looking after 360, 3D, flat imaging and video.

At the moment, 20% of our retail clients use 3D imaging. They start with 360, then differentiate themselves from competitors by using 3D, so we’ll likely see a rise in the use of 3D.

Many retailers are taking an international view. Some are setting up studios in China, for example, to photograph products at source, reducing costs. It’s all about creating workflow efficiencies and processes, while giving the customer the best possible online viewing experience.

David Brint

David Brint


David Brint is Director of Sales and Marketing at SpinMe.