Image Credit: Yotpo Studio
William Harris
August 27th, 2016

Visual Commerce: What Is It And Why Is It Important?

You have more competition than ever. You need to stand out to survive. But how?

Table Of Contents

Visual commerce is one way to stand head and shoulders above your competition. After all, the internet is a largely visual medium. So how can you get started using that to you (and your business’s) benefit?

What is Visual Commerce?

First, let’s go over some definitions. Visual commerce is an umbrella term that includes, but isn’t strictly limited to:

  • Highlighting visuals of your product (in use, up-close shots, 360 degree views, videos, etc.) on your store — not just on the product pages, but throughout the store
  • Collecting user generated photos and videos (from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, etc.) and repurposing them into your visual marketing materials
  • Adding shoppability layers to visual content on your site — letting users click on photos to be taken directly to product pages

Essentially, the idea behind visual commerce is that you’re taking the “normal” visuals that people expect when they visit an online store to the next level.

Instead of just having two or three product photos, you have those product photos, plus a super engaging video, authentic customer photos, and maybe even a virtual try-on feature.

When it comes to visual commerce, your goal is to use the visual tools at your fingertips to create the best online shopping experience you can.

Why is visual commerce so important?

The biggest obstacle you’re overcoming, as an online seller, is that people can’t actually touch your products, or see them up close and personal.

The key to selling is making the customer see who they’d be with your product in their life – and why they absolutely need it to make their life better.

When the only thing your customer has to look at is a few pictures of the product on a white background — or at best, a model — they have to do more thinking to see the product in their life.

This is probably one reason that organic, Instagram-style UGC photos increase conversion rates by 25% over professional photos.

At one point, going the extra mile with visual commerce would have helped increase sales, but wasn’t strictly necessary.

But now, with eCommerce becoming an increasingly crowded space, your customers need to be able to see your product as much as possible, whether it’s visual photos of the product being used by normal people who look like them, videos or 360 views showing how it looks in 3D, or both (or another combination of different forms of visual commerce like virtual reality!).

In addition to that, social proof (via seeing other people using your product) can help you sell more by influencing consumer behavior.

How eCommerce Stores Use Visual Commerce

Today, it’s not about whether or not the best brands have great online visual merchandising – it’s a necessity, not an option – but rather how they use visual commerce to their advantage.

Nike is a great example of a brand using strong storytelling imagery on their homepage, with a large animated hero image that links the user to a specific footwear collection:

Example of Nike's visual commerce

Lush uses a similar tactic on its homepage:

Lush homepage using visual eCommerce tactics

Adidas uses this tactic on their women’s landing page, but takes it to the next level by letting the viewer click straight through to the products in the photo:

Adidas landing page integrates visual techniques

Modcloth adds user consumer generated media to its visual commerce techniques, with an entire page that highlights outfit photos sent in from users:

Modcloth's user generated photos

Photos range from those that look professionally styled and/or photographed to fun bathroom selfies, and users can like and share images.

Click on any image, and you’re taken to a list of products in the photo and similar products that you can purchase from the Modcloth site:

Modcloth's shoppable UGC photos

Visual eCommerce Trends

Obviously, having large and in-action shots of products scattered throughout an online store is a strategy multiple stores are adopting — make sure that you’re adapting those experiences and images for mobile devices, too.

Adding 360 views and/or videos of your product on the product pages is another step to take, as it’s quickly becoming the standard.

Aside from having more (and larger) images and videos, user generated content is an eCommerce trend on the rise and it’s a great way to incorporate more visual commerce into your store.

This means taking content that your customers have created (like photos or videos) and showcasing it on your site or visual social media accounts, like Vanity Planet does with customers who use the #VPBeauty hashtag when they post an image to Instagram:

Vanity Planet's shoppable Instagram gallery

Aside from being useful in a visual commerce sense, this encourages their fans and customers to post on Instagram and tag their brand.

For Vanity Planet, it’s also responsible for a whopping increase of checkouts by 24%! The checkout rate of their most popular item soared from 6.56% to 8.11% – which added up to an extra $8900 in sales over 10 days.

Given that the Instagram engagement rate is higher than any social channel, using UGC or setting up a shoppable Instagram is a smart strategy. In fact, Instagram online shops allow followers to shop Instagram easily as it provides an easy 2-step process to product pages.

You can also have users submit images with their reviews, as ModCloth does, showcasing them with the review and also collecting them at the top of the product page:


User generated photos like these are great because they can significantly add to your visual commerce efforts and affect the consumer decision-making process, all without you having to dedicate a huge amount of time and money to them.

Everyone wins: your customers are happy to be featured, your products get extra visibility on social media, and you get extra visual content to use on your site and in your marketing.

In short:

To keep up with the next wave of eCommerce, you need to have a visual commerce strategy — and start implementing it.

Some of these ideas can take longer to build, but you can get started today by taking simple steps, like:

  • Adding videos on your product pages
  • Encouraging customers to write reviews and include photos or videos, creating user generated images
  • Showcasing user pictures your product in action, re-sharing their images on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and so on
  • Staying up-to-date with the latest Instagram marketing tips and strategies
  • Plus, using a visual commerce platform to curate those images and showcasing them on your website’s product page and homepage


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