CGI: Why You Should Integrate It Into Your Online Retail Marketing

By eClerx Digital

By Scott Houchin - Managing Principal at eClerx Digital

If you’re a fan of super hero movies like The Avengers or Batman, then you’ve surely heard of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI for short). But while Hollywood directors from George Lucas to Steven Spielberg have been utilising this technology to delight movie going audiences for decades now, you may have not realised that some of the biggest names in retail have been turning to CGI as a holistic solution for solving some of their biggest product marketing needs.

To the uninitiated, CGI might seem intimidating, whether one assumes that it’s too complicated, too expensive, too time-consuming, or all of those. But this article will look at how and why you should use CGI in online retail.

Online retail CGI today

Just take a look at home furnishings giant IKEA, who reportedly uses computer generated imagery to fill as much as 75% of their product offering. What’s the reason behind the switch from more traditional production methods to utilising this exciting new solution? Fast Company had this to say:

“The best special effects are often the ones you never notice — which may make Ikea the most skillful special effects studio in the world. The Swedish furniture company has been aggressively ramping up its use of computer generated imagery in their catalogs. Ikea's first CG photo was a Bertil pinewood chair in 2006. By 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that 25% of their products were CG. Today, that figure has ballooned to 75%.”

As anyone who has run product marketing campaigns can attest to, the devil is in the details when it comes to creating customer engagements that net a positive effect across digital channels—and that’s where CGI has become most useful to many online retailers as the technology allows businesses to depict products and scenes in a more provocative manner than traditional photo shoots can typically accomplish.

Not only can CGI allow you to complete your product photo shoots in a shorter turnaround time, the technology allows marketers to populate their brand’s ecommerce website with images that are, more often than not, photo-realistic, and perhaps even more realistic than real-life photos.

Simply put, CGI allows retail businesses of all different stripes to increase their capacity to create 3D visualisation and product images from scratch, and place those images in realistically rendered settings. 

Companies that are already using this solution tend to find that they’re better able to evoke the desired emotional response from their online customer base, which is often a missing key-ingredient on many retail websites.

Because of all these positives Ikea isn’t alone in realising the positive effects of CGI, as the technology has proved to be a boon for many retailers within travel, fashion, home furnishings, automotive, as well as other industries.

So why should your retail brand consider ditching traditional production methods in favour of product content with computer generated imagery? We’ve listed a few reasons below.

1. Optimising for ecommerce

Converting photographs of your product imagery from PDF’s to the image collateral that lives on your ecommerce website can be more than difficult — it can be downright discouraging.

Whether you’re attempting to format the real-life packaging of a 45 pound bag of mulch so that its label can be read clearly in a thumbnail image, or you’re attempting to reformat the logo on a designer handbag so that it doesn’t become distorted during the re-sizing process, traditional post production methods have given online retail marketers headaches for quite some time now. And those headaches come in the form of blown deadlines and missed opportunities. 

With CGI, however, you’re able to create perfectly pixelated versions of all your products (no matter the industry) that can correct for illegible labeling, as well as be easily resized to fit any thumbnail experience you want to create on your ecommerce website. 

2. Not just creating an image, but evoking a feeling

CGI is more than a tool for getting your brand’s product cycle to market—it’s about introducing potential customers to the lifestyle that your business can offer them

Traditional production methods for creating the right mood around a product can be costly and take a lot of time to complete. Setting up a photo shoot alone to highlight an entire bedroom scene can cost an arm and a leg — let alone the effort it takes to make sure that you’re presenting your product offering in the best possible light.

But with CGI you can create full-tilt scenes that help highlight your product line’s best assets, while also creating the right buying atmosphere for your customers. 

3. Accelerating your time to market 

Brands across all verticals — whether that vertical be fashion, floor and lighting, travel, etc. — are often slaves to deadlines when it comes to delivering product imagery to their distribution partners in a timely manner, and often before the final products are in-hand.

But by integrating CGI into your retail-marketing workflow it’s a much simpler task to get images to your retail and distribution partners pre-product launch — which means you have greater ability to start selling your product stock before all of the pieces have been produced

4. Creating variations of the same product

It’s not just expensive and time consuming to create the appropriate scenes to help highlight your product offering—what if you need to add different variations of the same product/setting to multiple pages of your ecommerce website? In this regard the cost of traditional production methods can ramp up quite quickly.

However, when incorporating CGI into your mar-tech stack, your brand is better able to incorporate different variations—color, texture, setting, etc.—of the same product, without significantly increasing your overhead cost or time to market.

5. Capturing the future

In the same way that Hollywood isn’t going back to creating movies the old fashioned way — before CGI allowed for the production of films like Jurassic Park — companies such as Ikea, M&S, Habitat, Novellini, and even Volvo, will continue to set the tone for the world of retail.

Volvo in particular has found some extremely exciting ways of utilising CGI to increase customer engagements and build a better branded experience overall, and has been doing so for a while now. 

For instance, back in 2011, Volvo developed a product video for its Concept You car, which was introduced to audiences at the Frankfurt auto show—and the company didn’t even need to wait until the car was built to impress its target audience. As Automotive News reported on Volvo’s use of CGI:

“Instead, [Volvo] produced a movie with technology from Autodesk using a virtual car. The use of computer-generated images by the automotive sector is not new. But the technologies are becoming so sophisticated that car companies are relying more on virtual cars to substitute for physical prototypes in marketing, allowing them to cut significantly the time it takes to begin publicising a vehicle. The technologies give potential customers a chance to touch and interact virtually with numerous versions of a vehicle before it's built.”


Not every online retail business is ready, or willing, to implement a CGI solution into its marketing workflow today as adopting the technology has mostly been a trend among industry leaders within their perspective verticals.

However, as CGI evolves into an everyday tool used by top businesses, it will be important for all retail companies — from small businesses to enterprise-level organisations — to evaluate the cost-saving benefits that CGI can provide to their firms, as well as the benefits that come with CGI being able to empower company branding and customer engagement.

Whether you’re currently capable of using CGI in online retail is of course up to you own judgement, but don’t be too apprehensive. CGI can offer incredible advances in content efficiency, effective merchandising, and user experience.

Watch this video to learn more about CGI in online retail. 

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