The True Value Company is one of the world’s leading hardline wholesalers with a globally recognized brand providing its customers in over 60 countries an expansive product set with market-customized assortments at highly competitive prices, superior product availability, innovative marketing programs and a la carte value-added services.
For retailers with a presence both in physical and online stores like True Value, creating a continuum of the online-offline customer experience is crucial for brand loyalty and driving sales. Marketers are constantly on the lookout for better ways to bridge the disconnect between what happens in stores and what happens on customers’ screens.
One of the most effective ways to do that for today’s customers is to use rich media like 360-degree images that mimic an in-store experience on digital devices.
This article offers an overview of how True Value added 360-degree images to their marketing mix and improved outcomes for their online channels, along with some insight on the structures they had in place that made their success possible.
Background: True Value's Digital Marketing Infrastructure
Today’s marketers have many tools at our disposal – sometimes, it feels like too many. It’s easy to get distracted by the “next new thing” and forget about why we do what we do. At True Value, we’ve found success in part because we’ve been disciplined about keeping our goals in sight: deliver excellent experiences to customers wherever they’re searching and shopping.
We consider an experience “excellent” if it offers a product or service that both is relevant to the customer’s current life and delivers on what the customer expects from our brand.
For example, if a customer in Michigan is browsing Facebook the day before a major snowstorm is expected to hit, we might want to serve an ad of a snow shovel that’s received high customer ratings.
That customer might see the ad and think, “That’s right! I need a shovel this year! And salt!” And then place an order to pick up these items in their local True Value store before the first flake falls.
To make those kinds of experiences possible, we have several things in place:
- Geo-targeting: This lets us serve the most relevant content to every customer, as in the example above.
- Machine learning: These techniques help us adjust our efforts based on changing weather conditions. For example, 2018 saw a late spring in much of the country, which meant lower sales in areas that typically see a spring rush. Thanks to machine learning, we were able to push additional content to those people who were experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures and therefore had more need for outdoor and gardening products, which helped balance sales nationally.
- Customer data strategy: As we learn more about our customers – age, life stage, hobbies, etc. – we use that information to deliver content we think they’ll enjoy. Someone who regularly purchases equipment for plumbing jobs, for example, won’t get the same content as someone who buys gardening supplies seasonally.
- Social media advertising: This helps us reach customers in a very personal and intimate way so we can deliver content that’s relevant to where they are in the customer purchase cycle.
- Online retargeting and email marketing: These platforms help us stay in front of website visitors who leave without making a purchase. These efforts keep us top of mind and make it easy for customers to finish transactions as they browse the web.
When we add 360-degree photography to the mix, each of these efforts performs better.
Improving Online Conversions with 360º Images
Our product assortment is vast; we carry several sizes and versions of our SKUs as well as many well-known national brands. We know that 44 percent of customers visit TrueValue.com prior to visiting their local store, so we needed a way to provide them with as much information as possible online to aid in their purchase decisions. The addition of 360-degree photography to our website was a critical next step.
To take that step, we worked with a company called Snap36 to capture 360-degree images of products that are frequently browsed online, as well as, key promotional items.
Our thesis was that, if customers could rotate and interact with a 360-degree image of a product, they would get a better sense of what it looked like without physically touching it. They would, in other words, have an online experience that closely mimicked what they’d experience in our store.
And the beauty of digital marketing is that you can test this type of thesis because you can track the success of each effort closely.
What we found was remarkable: on social media, content that included 360-degree images yielded a 4.5 percent conversion rate – nearly double the industry average of 2.4 percent.
On our website, the results were even more dramatic. Pages that included 360-degree spinning images saw the following:
● Bounce rates decreased by 27 percent.
● Add-to-cart rates increased by 35 percent.
● Conversion rates (from product views to orders) increased 22 percent.
We’re encouraged by these results and have plans to expand our library of 360-degree images in the coming quarters, including in our wholesale vertical and in additional digital marketing assets for our retail customers.
Making 360º Images Work
As I mentioned above, 360-degree images allowed us to enhance the performance of our digital marketing. The brands that stand to gain the most from an investment in 360-degree images are those that have an active digital marketing program and are looking for ways to improve its performance.
To enjoy maximum ROI from 360-degree images, I recommend the following:
- Bringing them into an existing marketing ecosystem. Whether that’s a web catalog, online advertising, email marketing, or some combination, the infrastructure must exist. Spinning images can’t perform in a vacuum.
- Choosing an image vendor that can serve as a consultant and partner. Chances are, your company has never had or used these images before. Choose a photography partner that not only enables you to capture 360-degree images at scale but also offers insight into how you can use them to enhance your existing marketing efforts and develop new ones.
- Having a plan to track performance. This should go for any digital marketing activity, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. Knowing exactly how 360-degree images change your ability to sell empowers you to decide how and to what degree to scale your investment.
As consumers spend more time online and less time in stores, retail brands will have to find ways to translate the intimate physical buying experience into digital formats.