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New ‘Virtual Photographer’ Makes E-Comm Product Images 1000x Cheaper

There’s a lot to love about e-commerce—like the lower overhead costs and ability to showcase more SKUs online relative to the limitations of brick-and-mortar. But getting product photos up and running on web stores remains a costly challenge for many retail outlets. ThreeKit, which bills itself as an “online visualization company,” wants to change that.

The Chicago-based startup, which raised $10 million earlier this year, has a new e-commerce tool up its sleeve: the Virtual Photographer. The software is based on technology ThreeKit founder and CTO Ben Houston developed for Hollywood special effects and used in top-flight films and TV shows ranging from “Games of Thrones” and “Harry Potter” to “Silicon Valley.”

The world of e-commerce moves quickly—and traditional approaches to product photography largely haven’t adapted to the times, Houston said.

“As the industry grows and customers come to expect high-quality product imagery not as an amenity but as an industry standard,” he added, “businesses need to prepare by ensuring they have access to on-demand imagery creation that is highly detailed and customizable.”

And that’s where ThreeKit comes in.

In sum, Virtual Photographer creates high-quality computer-rendered product images that are “often sharper than photos shot by a camera,” the company claims. ThreeKit said the end-to-end process of photographing products and processing those images can cost up to $400, while Virtual Photographer’s images come out to 1 cent per photo. The tech allows for a more flexible, cost-effective approach that doesn’t require “extensive coordination,” ThreeKit added.

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Brands using Virtual Photographer also don’t need to hire creative agencies—and the hefty fees they typically charge, ThreeKit said. The time savings can be substantial, too; ThreeKit said it helped a customer create 50,000 images in just one week, versus the more typical month it would take five photographers to complete a project of this size.

That means brands can get new products exposed to online market that much more quickly, which can boost conversions and sales.

And rather than threatening their jobs, ThreeKit thinks Virtual Photographer stands to benefit in-house photographers by automating repetitive tasks, freeing them to engage in more creative pursuits, like capturing lifestyle imagery. In fact, the Virtual Photographer is simple and intuitive enough for merchandisers to use themselves, according to ThreeKit.

Among ThreeKit’s clients are Crate & Barrel as well as a custom hat company and a men’s wear firm. The apparel and footwear vertical especially appreciate the customization ThreeKit affords, such as visualizing a suit jacket with two buttons versus three, or getting a closer look at stitch quality, the startup noted.

As the lone growth market in retail overall, e-commerce is not only birthing hot direct-to-consumer brands but helping retailers of all sizes engage more directly with shoppers. More than half a trillion dollars worth of goods was sold online in the U.S. last year, according to Statista, which sees domestic e-tail growing beyond a $735-billion market by 2023. Online sales of apparel and accessories in the U.S. are expected to drive more than $138.7 billion by 2022, Statista noted.

Brands will need to find a way to image their collections and new product arrivals in keeping with customer demand.

In addition to Virtual Photographer, ThreeKit offers 3-D and augmented reality imaging options in keeping with the trend toward more interactive and highly detailed online imagine. Companies like Vertebrae and NexTech also play in a similar space, seizing on growing interest in mimicking more of the experience shoppers are accustomed to getting in physical stores.