We all know that wherever we shop, shopping has to be an experience – whether it’s a boutique store or the supermarket around the corner, a great little bookshop or a website online. If something does go wrong, we angrily swear to ourselves that we’ll never buy anything there again. The standards for online shopping have undoubtedly been set by Amazon. Regardless of whether you love or hate the online retail giant, anyone who’s made a purchase from Amazon knows that the whole transaction goes smoothly. Starting with their intuitive user guidance and finishing up with their customer-friendly exchange options – they do it all with flying colors, so it’s no surprise that almost all online shops are eager to follow their example.

Ok, what does this have to do with Westend61? Well, a lot. It was truly frustrating to hear from our customers that ‘for some reason’ their purchase couldn’t be successfully completed. The ‘reason’ was always of a technical nature, and it was time for something to be done.

Status Quo: Great Images, Faulty Shop

We’re a small business whose 25 employees and freelance collaborators are spread throughout Germany. Although as head of the company I’m not directly involved in sales, it can happen that late on a Friday afternoon, while I’m in my Munich office, the telephone rings and there’s a customer on the line. So I handle the call, consulting with the customer or helping them purchase the image they want. After 14 years in the business, this goes pretty well without even having formal training in sales. After their needs have been taken care of, I always like to ask the customers how they found out about us. Often it’s Google, sometimes it’s one of our several sales partners, and once in a while the customer can’t exactly recall anymore. Yet one way or another, almost everyone slips in a mention about how great the images are, saying that what we have on offer is really outstanding.

I’m always flattered to hear that, but in reality it is simply the result of hard work. We’re a team of enthusiastic people working everyday on maintaining an exceptional image portfolio. I’m not writing that here because my head of marketing said so, but because that’s the way it is – plain and simple. Owning an agency means you have a lot of things to get done, including tedious administrative tasks here and there. Regardless of the task, the greatest privilege for me is being able to carry out my work in an extraordinary environment. I share my office with our Creative Director and two art directors, so everyday I’m surrounded by discussions about photographs; I listen in on their phone calls with photographers and see how much passion they invest in the images. Two or three times a month we hold video conferences. These are creative meetings that our art directors from Cologne, Berlin and Verona and members of our Creative Research team located near Cologne take place in. My office is really more like a ventricle inside Westend61’s heart, pulsing with the lifeblood of our agency.

Yet all that glitters isn’t gold. Because we had always been so busy concentrating on our content, the technical aspect of things fell by the wayside. That led to the customer’s experience not being an ideal one. There weren’t enough search filters, the lightboxes weren’t easy to manage, the purchasing process was somewhat cumbersome and some parts of the site were not optically up to snuff. You may ask why that was so. Quite simply: the lion’s share of our revenues come via our sales and distribution partners, up until now the purchases from direct clients had only played a small role, so the shop ended up just kind of tagging along. Yes, that’s where we were with our shop, but more exciting is to consider where we’re now heading: towards a new future that will begin in just a few weeks.

Deluxe Online Shopping & Exclusive Productions Are On The Way!

Starting about a year and a half ago, more and more customers began purchasing directly from us. This increase turned our attention to our website and we began planning significant improvements to offer our customers a better experience. As I mentioned earlier, they like our small, carefully selected collection, since they can quickly locate what they’re looking for without digging through 100+ million images. Our well-defined image supply featuring a visual language that’s European and contemporary suits them really well. Now we’re wrapping up months of programming work on our new shop, which will offer our customers what they’ve been missing: lots of new search filters, extremely easy lightbox management, a streamlined purchasing process and straightforward, simple licensing plans. What you still won’t find by us, however, are giveaway prices, because we cannot and will not sell elaborately produced images for rock bottom rates. We offer high-quality items, produced by skilled creative teams along with top photographers. High-quality images have their price, just as high-quality products in any other market segment do.

But let’s come back to our shop. We’re in the final phase of programming, where it’s time for the finishing touches, and many of our colleagues, photographers and customers are taking part in testing. We’re hoping to have the new shop go live mid to late October. We’ll not only be rolling out a new shop – there’s also an entirely new design. While our current design is by no means hard on the eyes, the new one is even more attractive and especially geared towards whetting your appetite for the perfect image.

Admittedly, the last few months sometimes proved to be a painful process. There were even days where I wondered why we were doing this to ourselves. Yet now when I see what we’ve accomplished, I know it’s been worthwhile and I’m confident that Westend61’s online presence will provide an excellent and enjoyable experience for all who come to visit.

If you’ve read up until this point and are an image buyer, I’d appreciate it if you would take some time to explore our images and support our photographers. We provide them with fair conditions for their excellent work, so in the end everyone benefits – the customer, the photographer and the agency. Photographers can only continue supplying us with the excellent material that Westend61 is known for if they are able to make a living from their work. This is not possible with cheap prices or commissions of 10% or 20%. Our photographers receive commissions of up to 60%, which is only fair and is also why we’d like to say: think global, buy local!