Ecommerce merchants are innovators. And many in that industry are finding new and better ways to sell products online. One of those companies is Spotlight Retail, an ecommerce firm with 30 niche websites. Its new “Spotlight Visualizer” enables consumers to see how an item will look in their own environments prior to purchasing it. John Montague, founder and owner of Spotlight Retail, spoke with us about it.
PEC: Tell us about Spotlight Visualizer.
John Montague: “Spotlight Visualizer is an interactive tool for end users to pretty much see what a product will eventually look like in their own space. It allows them to upload a picture–it could be of their backyard, kitchen, dining room, bedroom, even their office–anywhere the product they’re interested in is going to end up being located. Once you’ve uploaded your background image, you can then superimpose the product that you’re interested in on top of this picture of your space. So, you can have kind of a finished view of what it would look like.
“It’s always been the limitation of online retailers versus brick-and-mortar where you can walk in and wrap your arms around a product. We’ve all experienced those limitations in retailing online. Visualizer doesn’t allow you to get any closer to touching the product, but it takes you a step further than a brick-and-mortar would in the sense that you’re able to see what that product would look like as the finished view, or at least an idea of what it would look like.”
PEC: Does Visualizer work for all products?
Montague: “We’ve racked our brains to see if there’s any retail product out there that can’t be a part of Visualizer and we’ve yet to find one. Specifically, with our products and what we’ve used Visualizer for, there’s a wide variety of products. Someone could upload a picture of their driveway and see what a basketball system would look like installed in different locations on their driveway. Or a bounce house, let’s say, to see what it would like in their backyard. If you’ve got a blank space on a wall that you were thinking about recessing a fireplace into, this tool would certainly allow you to put in a whole bunch of different fireplaces to see the different look you would want to achieve. You can probably just point to anything on your desk and, say, ‘Let’s see what this phone or computer would look like on my desk.’ Visualizer essentially will help you get a finished view to see if it will look good. So, I don’t think there’s any limit to what type of products it could work for.”
PEC: Does your company deploy Visualizer on every one of your 30 niche websites?
Montague: “We’ve got Visualizer probably on three-quarters of our websites at this point. It’s super, super easy. It’s very plug and play and you can work on any website or ecommerce platform. It’s very easy to implement. All you have to do is just make the product that you’re looking at ‘Visualizer-enabled.’ It’s basically just rendering the product image with a transparent background and all of a sudden, you’re done. That product will be able to seamlessly be superimposed onto your customer’s picture and they’ll be able to see what it looks like.
“There’s also a drag and resize routine with a product image. Clearly, when you’re talking about a 2D picture over a 2D picture, if it’s not scaled to size, it’s going to look really awkward and defeat the whole purpose of having a Visualizer. But the end user can easily move the picture around and resize it so the perspective and the depth is correct as well.”
PEC: Did you develop and write the software yourselves?
PEC: The platform you use across all your sites is ProductCart, by Early Impact. Is that what you plug the Visualizer into?
Montague: “That’s correct. It works perfectly with ProductCart.”
PEC: Do you have plans to offer Visualizer to other folks who might want to use it on their platforms?
Montague: “The phase that we’re in right now is more to use it to better our own efforts and our own stores. We’ve kind of use our own sites as lab rats and test dummies for this little piece of technology, but I wouldn’t be honest if I said I didn’t think about reselling it. Certainly, I think there’s an opportunity to resell it and there have been some blogs and articles written about it and we’ve received a lot of interest. So, I think there’s definitely a demand out there for this type of product.
“What we’re looking into right now is creating a prepackaged deployable version that can be resold. We’ve just got to work out a few things and we want to implement more to the Visualizer as well. We’d like to get into that second phase of reselling it.”
PEC: Are you able to tell us the success to date in terms of how it has impacted conversions and cart abandonments?
Montague: “We don’t have a conversion code for the purpose of tracking Visualizer use at this point. We are working to create an ‘Add to Cart’ button directly inside the Visualizer window. That will finally create a link between the Visualizer itself and our checkout processes. That’s coming. Once we’ve got that ‘add to cart’ button implemented into the Visualizer window, we’ll have a direct link to the checkout and we’ll be able to start tracking conversions.”
PEC: How is your feedback from customers?
Montague: “The feedback has been pretty great. The customers overall are kind of wowed by Visualizer. It’s just such a unique tool and end user shopping experience that we’ve gotten great emails and calls about Visualizer. We’ve never received as much as one negative piece of feedback on it.”
PEC: When we last spoke about a year-and-a-half ago Spotlight Retail was 20 niche stores, and now it’s up to 30. Tell us a little more about your company’s growth and its prospects for the future.
Montague: “It’s growing really well. We’re at a vertical growth curve and we have been for the last couple of years. We’ve reached a point now, however, where we just need to reinvest significantly into the company to continue at the rate that we’re growing. There aren’t enough hours at the end of the day. We need to bring in more people in order to be able to keep growing at this rate.
“We’d like to keep adding 10 to 20 new sites a year and I think we can do that. We just need to grow our systems and our infrastructure to sustain that growth. We’re going through some good growing pains, let’s say, at this point, but I think there’s a threshold there once people start adding multiple stores. It’s really just a matter of time where you realize how time consuming each individual site is and you just have to keep building your infrastructure as you grow sites.
“I think we’re at a point right now where we need to either plateau and just get better at what we’re doing. Or, if we’re going to get going and [continue] adding sites we’re going to need to make some important and significant decisions and in growing the HR [human resources] side and our warehousing space and everything else. So, some growing pains, but good pain.”
PEC: What are the biggest management and system issues to growing so quickly, and sustaining that growth?
Montague: “From a logistical standpoint, the warehouse. We just started bringing on more products. Regardless if they’re drop ship products or inventory products, you have to deal with returns. You have to deal with the logistics of it. So, I think your shipping side and warehousing side has to grow to complement the amount of sites you’re going to continue developing.
“From an HR standpoint, your customer service has to grow, there’s no way around that. Your call center has to grow. You go from one bookkeeper to two bookkeepers because now it’s too much for one bookkeeper to handle. Do you go from two internal developers to three or four because now not only do you need more programmers to roll out new sites, but you need an equal amount to maintain existing sites. Do you start creating a middle management tier there as well from an operational standpoint? All of it has to grow.
“We just have to figure what we are in the biggest need for at this point in our growth, and you just have to bite the bullet and start adding those jobs to your corporate structure. Otherwise your growth will become stagnant really, really fast. And we have felt that over the last couple of months, where our growth efforts have almost come to a complete halt because our day-to-day operations are just consuming all of our time.”
PEC: Anything else on your mind for our readers today?
Montague: “I would say check back to SpotlightRetail.com for updates on Visualizer. If you’ve got any questions and you’re wondering if maybe the Visualizer could be a good fit for your operation, definitely let us know. Send us a message. There is an email link there on the homepage. Just keep checking that website for updates because I’m sure when we get into phase 2 we’ll have a prepackaged version to resell.
“Then, globally speaking, I would just encourage a lot of innovation. I think at the end of the day, the competition online is just so tough that you have to separate yourself from the herd. Every little effort you make, no matter how small it is, really goes a long way to generate more sales and to separate yourselves. So, through innovation, through better customer service—regardless of how competitive it is online–it’s such a massive market share. There’s room for everybody to earn their own share of sales. It’s just a question of how much you want to grow and how willing you are to innovate and to separate yourself from either a technological standpoint or even a customer service standpoint. There are still a lot of poor customer service companies out there. Period. It’s not that difficult to separate yourself.”