Online Shopping Goes Visual: Hi-Res Images Replace Text

The text-driven model of e-commerce that emerged during the first 15 years of online shopping is giving way to a more visual model. Today, many consumers are more inclined to peruse high-resolution images of products posted by family, friends and online colleagues than read traditional product descriptions that appear as text. These same consumers will then often click through from the images to purchase products that sound and look the coolest.

“The emergence of new shopping habits driven by pictures and social interactions provides an obvious if untapped revenue source for image-heavy online communities like Pinterest, most of whom have yet to nail down a business model,” reports Wired. “It has also driven online sellers to begin to spend less time optimizing text for search engines and more time tweaking images to please human shoppers.”

“Social is very rapidly shifting away from text,” says Apu Gupta, CEO of Curalate, a firm that helps clients optimize images they post to networks like Pinterest. “It’s going to change shopping behavior both online and offline… This is the direction the world is moving — everyone has a cameraphone in their pocket, and the whole Web is becoming high def. In many ways we’re circling back to the days of our ancestors. Back when we all lived in caves we painted on walls. Now we’re pinning and reblogging and doing various other things to express our aspirations.”

“It used to be the only way you could get the latest trends was from fashion magazines like Vogue and InStyle,” suggests Jess Lee, CEO of picture-driven fashion community Polyvore that drives millions of clicks to online retailers each month. “The fashion editors would attend the shows, meet the designers, and deliver the trends to the masses via their magazines. Now the world is much more democratic and bottoms-up. A fashion blogger or a Polyvore user can be just as influential and reach millions of people. That’s why you’re starting to see designers focus on collaborating with bloggers and Polyvore users, rather than just hitting up the magazines for marketing support.”

Home renovation hub Houzz, which features more than 1 million photos from contractors and designers, recently invited photographers to offer their services to home contracting professionals. “The visual aspect on Houzz is what makes it attractive and suitable for home improvement,” notes Alon Cohen, the company’s president.

“Google has made a large fortune letting advertisers intercept the words people type into its search engine,” concludes the article. “For more than a decade, those words have been the ideal proxy for the intentions of a shopper. But shared images are rapidly proving themselves to be excellent proxies too — better ones, perhaps — and it seems like only a matter of time before a financially puny site like Pinterest, Polyvore, or Houzz grows to the point where it can give the Internet leviathan a run for its money.”