A rose is not a rose is not a rose

Buying clothing on-line is always a challenging experience. You hope the size ordered is correct and the design you picked is what actually arrives at your door. But when it comes to colour, the process get even more difficult. Is the sweater you chose really magenta like the site proclaims, or is it the pink your monitor is showing?

E-Color Inc., a San Francisco-based digital colour management company, has a solution to help bring this uncertainty to an end.

According to Terry King, director of customer services with E-Color, the results of a study done in 1999 show the importance of customer certainty over product colour. He said that about one third, of the thousand people interviewed, abandoned transactions because of concerns over colour.

“Any time the colour is part of what is being communicated for part of the transaction that is being conducted, our technology can add value,” he explained.

“Every monitor displays colour differently, and for a merchant that is a significant issue if you are selling colour-sensitive goods,” he added. “The principal purpose of the technology is to deliver that colour consistency, (and) make the image look like the author saw it.”

The E-Color technology ships on Viewsonic monitors, Compaq personal computers and ATI video cards. A cookie is set to describe the colour distinctions of a specific monitor. A comparison is made between the Web site colours and the end user’s colours. In the middle, E-Color software analyzes the Web site image (as it was originally authored) and takes note of its International Color Consortium (ICC) profile. This profile describes exactly how the image is supposed to look, in terms of its basic colour composition. The software then retrieves the cookie that says how the end user’s monitor works and it makes adjustments by essentially counter-biasing the image. Only the images on a Web site are counter biased, which includes JPEGs and GIFs.

If a monitor is set to show too much red, for example, the E-Color software will reduce the red on the Web site image being sent to the computer, so it does not appear too saturated.

Those who do not have the software pre-installed can create a cookie by running through a few steps on an E-Color-enabled site.

“What we deliver to the viewer, under those circumstances, is a four-screen, nine-mouse-clicks colour test,” King said. “When they are done taking the test, they have described to us the characteristics of their monitor – how their monitor displays red, green and blue,” he continued.

“Either way (pre-installed or on-line calibration) that information is stored in a cookie.”

colour increasing sales

Having E-Color on your e-commerce site is all fine and dandy, but if it doesn’t lead to increased sales it is of little inherent value to anyone other than a designer.

So E-Color brought in Ottawa-based BuyStream.com to test its theory.

BuyStream’s technology allows for the close monitoring of Web traffic and the tabulation of buyer-conversion rates. Two groups of visitors to an e-commerce Web site (one the E-Color-enabled group, the other not) were compared to see the conversion rate of visitors to buyers. The results were rather dramatic, with E-Color enabled visitors buying at a rate three times higher than those not enabled.

“In this case we were actually able to track two different streams side by side and it makes a nice showcase for E-Color in that they get to demonstrate their added value,” said Darryl Somers, senior consultant at BuyStream.

Usually customers monitor the traffic on their site and then make changes, re- monitor the site and look at the differences. In this instance the only variable was whether a visitor had the E-Color cookie stored on their computer.

“When you consider that a Web site’s conversion rate is from 1.5 to three per cent, if you can get access to an additional 30 per cent of the population that is at least motivated to buy, but abandoned, you can very quickly double your conversion rates,” King said.

“What the BuyStream study has allowed us to do is actually observe behaviour, and the consumer who is E-Color-enabled and goes to the sites that we are monitoring with the BuyStream technology is between four and six times more likely to purchase on their first visit than non-E-Color-enabled visitors.”

For those who design Web sites for a living the technology is welcome.

“If it works it obviously would make a lot of difference. We spend a lot of time designing things to look a certain way and you go check them on another computer or browser and things look very different,” said Gillian Chubb, co-ordinator of the new media design program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont.

“So from a design point of view, being able to know that what you are designing…is going to pretty much look like that when it gets to their customers is a very good thing.”

“We constantly deal with how to make it as reliable as possible; it is very challenging,” she added.

The BuyStream survey was based on 22,000 non-enabled visitors and 370 enabled visitors.

E-Color (www.ecolor.com) pricing is based on the amount of traffic a site generates. The company can be reached at (415) 355-1515.