Amazon Adds 360 Image Capabilities for New Categories

Though the world of ecommerce is always innovating and evolving, at its heart much of online shopping is simply trying to emulate and replace a fundamental, age-old interaction: holding an item in your hands. When you go to a store, you can pick something up, look at it closely, and inspect each nook and cranny. Flat, 2D images of a product on a website will never compare to actually looking at the real thing.

The news that Amazon is now allowing 360-degree photography across a wide variety of categories is both exciting and a bit perplexing.  It’s exciting because 360 images give customers a much more nuanced look at the products they are researching, allowing them to virtually interact with the item in a more meaningful way.

It’s perplexing because this technology is neither new nor particularly en vogue. The original push for 360-degree photography started over a decade ago, and while it’s always been considered a novel and useful tool in ecommerce, it’s hardly a revelation to the product page. Here’s an example of how the technology looks and functions on an Amazon product page.

360 image

Welcome to the Bright, Bold Future of 2008

Anyone who’s bought items online in the last ten years, especially from brand websites, has probably interacted with 360 spin images. The technology is particularly great for clothing, as it lets you see the item from all angles like you’re looking at it on a mannequin. Spin images have also become invaluable for auto repair products, allowing customers to virtually unbox and look at the part from all angles, increasing customer confidence in their purchase.

So why is Amazon only now getting around to adding 360 images as an option for vendors? According to Forbes, they held out this long because they were wary of the potential for technical and quality issues if things didn’t go smoothly rolling out the technology for millions of vendors.

At first, only select vendors in certain categories were offered the ability to use the feature, giving Amazon the ability to monitor and control its quality and effectiveness with a smaller sample group. Vendors in most categories on Amazon are now offered the option of using the technology on their product pages.

360 Images Offer Increased Sales at a Premium Price Tag

According to Snap36, which has been offering comprehensive 360-degree and 3D imagery services since 2008, virtually every product that introduces 360 product images sees an uptick in conversions. They claim that even a company selling clear bottles saw a 25% increase in top-line revenue when they started using the technology.

But 360 images are a boutique product in the photography world and come with a boutique price tag. This sticker shock has pushed away many vendors who would otherwise be interested in implementing the technology and led others to try their own do-it-yourself options, with varying levels of success.

When the website didn’t see strong enough returns from an initial investment in 360 photography, they bought a motorized cake turner and shot a video for YouTube with SEO-optimized content instead. They claimed this boosted the product’s conversion rate by 72% in one week, and it’s now one of their best sellers.

Amazon the Tastemaker

360 images have already become an invaluable tool for clothing, automotive, and home improvement websites, to name a few, but outside of a select handful of categories, they’re not an essential part of the product page. Regardless of the niche market, they’ve enjoyed so far, 360 images can be inherently useful in selling virtually any physical item online.

Images are the most important part of the product page, and 360 images offer a virtual product tour that regular images can’t. Amazon’s decision to host 360 technology across a variety of new categories has the distinct possibility of widening its appeal.

There is no underestimating the sheer force of Amazon’s ecommerce influence, and if they say a decade-old product photography trend is the hot new thing, it will likely see widespread resurgence and adoption.

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