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Shining up the shopping experience.

If you’re shopping online and a sweater looks too good to pass up, you might want to blame New York-based RichFX for making it so alluring. The visual merchandising firm helps online retailers to spiff up their sites, and make consumers swoon. Chief operating officer Paul Cimino talks about algorithms, product shots, and pictures of buckles.

How does the company help online retailers?

We take existing marketing assets, like catalog pages and brochures, and put them online. But it isn’t like simply having a print catalog on the Web. We enhance them so users can browse the products, really get a feel for them. We like to call ourselves a digital laundry. E-commerce companies don’t like to do the laundry, but it needs to get done, and we’re happy to do it for them.

How did RichFX get started?

The company is three years old, and it started out as a firm that built 3-D store environments for the Web, which involved a lot of math algorithms and cutting-edge design work. Then, as the market started to go south, we knew people wouldn’t be spending money on elaborate concepts, they would want to adjust to focus on using their existing media. That’s how we got to this point, where we’re able to provide an outsourcing solution for companies that’s practical.

Does this mean that those snazzy 3-D environments are a thing of the past?

Perhaps for now you could just say they’re on the back burner. Online retailers have always been market leaders in terms of visualization, so when people were spending freely, it made sense to build these 3-D stores. When the market went the other way, it didn’t make sense anymore, but there might come a time when it does again.

Why do you think there’s a need for your services?

The hardest part of building a Web site is coming up with the media and then keeping it up to date. I use the term “digital laundry” as a joke, but it’s true that this is not a sexy business. There is a pile of work to do just to keep sites current. Getting product information online isn’t glamorous, but it’s a huge source of pain for our clients, and our focus is to take that pain away.

What kinds of challenges do online retailers face when displaying products?

I think most Web sites model themselves after sites that have had early success, like But if you’re selling tactile products, soft goods, you need to think about Web sites in different ways. When you’re buying a book, you’re making a decision based on the reviews. But when you’re buying a sweater, you need to really look at the product. Standard product shots don’t really do justice to what’s being displayed.

How do you do things differently?

Our zoom technology allows merchants to pick hot spots that they want to highlight. Rather than see a bigger image, you’re drawn into the photo by something the merchant wants you to notice. Maybe it’s a buckle on a purse, or stitching on a pocket, whatever the key selling feature is. That helps a shopper focus on detail, rather than just looking at the same, flat picture. It’s really the way things should be done, and this whole area of Web visualization has a very exciting future.

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