Picturing the Future of Retail Imagery

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As businesses remain 'out of studio,' experts share the importance of on-model imagery, how it affects consumer behavior, and the changing methods of storytelling.

In a time when “uncertainty” seems an overused sentiment and the only constant is ongoing change, businesses have needed to not only work ahead but plan for extensive possibilities and cater to pending calendars. New normals are forming and companies are questioning which new practices will have staying power.

Notably, in fashion retail, companies have been unable to engage in regularly scheduled photoshoots to capture imagery for new seasons during stay-at-home orders throughout the world. While brands are shifting seasons back for future deliveries, it remains to be seen if online retail will look quite the same. With many concessions being made because of coronavirus, will there be a season without on-model imagery? Traditionally, retailers show images of apparel both on-model and flat giving consumers a look into an item’s fit and style and provide an ongoing stream of content on social media.

Admittedly, many companies have already embraced new technology in large ways in the last several years. “Apparel manufacturers and brands that have invested in 3-D design tools are now reaping the benefits of this strategy in new ways,” said Greg Petro, chief executive officer of retail predictive analytics company First Insight. “Even though on-model product images are difficult or impossible to get right now, companies with 3-D capability can still present realistic-looking product images in online retail, avoiding the need to move to flat images.”

Many of these 3-D solutions create images to look so lifelike that it is hard to distinguish them from photographs. And further, the technology allows the user to get a 360-degree view of the products.

Moreover, at a time when everyone is feeling very disconnected and isolated, Petro said flat product imagery, as an alternative to on-model shots, might seem yet another impersonal interaction.

“It’s certainly easier for a consumer to envision herself wearing a product if it’s shown on-model or in a 3-D format,” Petro said. “When on-model photography is impossible, this may be an opportunity to leverage avatars, which are becoming more lifelike all the time. It will be interesting to see how the current challenges around photographing products on-model impacts a trend that had been gaining momentum pre-COVID-19: showing relatable models with a wide range of body types across the marketing mix and in e-commerce.”

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