UAE-Based Shapes Defined Is Redefining The Scope Of Visual Content For E-Commerce Businesses In The GCC
With product photography that leverage the best of contemporary photography software, and time-saving operational model, Shapes Defined is helping e-commerce businesses with their visual branding.
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"We live in a visual world. People no longer want to browse a website- they want to experience it." That is how Muna Salah, co-founder and CEO of UAE-based digital content creation studio Shapes Defined, encapsulates the need for impactful visual imagery in the e-commerce domain. "The content needs to be the utmost representation of each brand to create trust and confidence with their consumers," Salah adds. "There is a direct correlation between better images/videos and higher online sales."
Now, in a world where online businesses have increased multifold -a rise that today amounts to 9.1 million online retailers globally, according to a study by Tidio- Salah's words resonate a consumer tendency that has become more prominent in a world after the COVID-19 crisis. But Salah sensed the urgency for better digital content in the Middle East years before the pandemic induced an e-commerce boom- in 2017, to be precise. "The rise of e-commerce in the USA had not yet reached the GCC [then]," Salah recalls. "So, I started looking into the tech necessary to disrupt how the GCC was addressing content creation. It was in its infancy. We needed content, we needed it fast, and we needed it seamless, to buy into the online world. I then began detailed research and development into this, and realized the need for a fully automated studio."
Salah's foray into this space eventually led towards a collaboration with Packshot Creator- a France-based photography software firm that specializes in still life photography, multi-angle shots, 360° videos, and threedimensional (3D) animation, among others. "I then became the exclusive reseller for Packshot Creator in the GCC to get all the best-inclass machinery, equipment, and photography software to enable my learning journey; Shapes Defined was born," Salah says. "There are many market challenges when it comes to product photography, and it usually is a pain for online stores when it comes to communication, consistency, quality, prices, and speed-to-market. We set out to create a platform that removes all these headaches, and we were very pleased with the outcome."
Today, Shapes Defined operates as a software-as-aservice platform -aka the Shapes Defined Content Platform- that offers product photography for online businesses. The services are demarcated into three areas: product photography, model photography, and video and animation. Within product photography, the studio's main offering is its Packshot Product Photography, which uses the aforementioned Packshot software to get different angles of a given product, including close-ups of its packaging and labeling. Under product photography also comes Macro Product Photography, which offers sharp images of jewelry items, and Ghost Mannequin Product Photography, which makes use of models to display products in the environment they're designed to be used in. And finally, Shapes Defined's video and animation offerings include 360° animations and stop-motion videos, among others.
Source: Shapes Defined
Salah however iterates that her firm doesn't lean solely on the magic of technology to create value for its clients. "Customer satisfaction is paramount, and it lives within our ethos at the studio from the minute you are on the phone with us, till the cycle of content creation is over," Salah adds. "From picking up the items, to dedicated time at the studio, and establishing the brand look and feel, we strive to create immersive content for every client. From content delivery, file naming, editing, and quality control, it all must integrate seamlessly to give our client best-in-class content which enables them to stand out among the competition."
Salah adds that Shapes Defined also offers content writing services for the products it captures on camera. "E-commerce involves so much more than just selling products onlineit's an entire ecosystem that needs to coalesce in order to supply the products to the masses on a continuous basis," Salah emphasizes. "One thing that is necessary for growing an e-commerce business is having impeccable writing in product description pages. The combination of image and the written word is what has the power to convert web visitors into buying customers– and businesses know this!"
With an energy that is palpable even via her own written answers for this interview, Salah then goes on to explain how e-commerce content writing must not only capture a brand's personality, but also "speak" to the subtle needs of its online audience. "The luxury consumer is spoken to far differently than that of the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) consumer," she points out.
Between the power of the written word and the impact of visuals, however, it turns out that the studio's most valuable asset lies in its quick turnaround time. The Shapes Defined Content Platform enables immediate feedback on uploaded images, as well as real-time image modification by its designers. "The platform has increased productivity by 300%, cutting the cycle from 10 to 14 days (or longer), down to 48 hours, saving our clients time, and, more importantly, money," Salah says. "By the time the photographer has uploaded the pictures, editors and content writers receive a ping, and start working to meet the deadlines. This has enabled us to achieve nearly 0% error rate for product information, image names, and product/image mismatches across the workflow, from product shipments to final content delivery."
Source: Shapes Defined
Such a detail-oriented approach has certainly reaped benefits for Shapes Defined. "Within the past years, we have delivered over a million digital assets between photos, 360° videos, and social media content," Salah adds. "We managed to scale overall to 600+ clients regionally with over 80% retention on repeat business, and over 6,000 stock keeping units monthly with over 18,000 digital assets delivered. With Amazon for example, we delivered 26,000 images in the span of 70 days from within our studio as well as onsite at merchant locations."
But in arriving at a spot where such numbers could be achieved, there were detours aplenty, admits Salah. "An early lesson learnt was that the machines/photography software were not the only 'secret sauce,'" she says. "The workflow process is daunting, and managing the bureaucracy-maze of content writing, asset delivery, and never-ending excel files for inbound and outbound products takes far more than the right tools and the right craftsmanship. It took the team at Shapes Defined, led by my co-founder Amine Zaanouni and I, years of trial and error to eventually devise the optimum workflow of best-practices for each product category to eventually become the market leader in e-commerce content creation in the region."
As an endeavor that was kickstarted in 2017 using Salah's personal savings, Shapes Defined received its first external investment in 2022- a seed funding round led by Dubai-based early-stage venture capital fund Access Bridge Ventures (ABV). "I believe ABV's experienced team is the perfect fit for Shapes Defined and I see a bright future ahead as we look to expand in the Middle East and beyond into other global markets," Salah says. "They completely understand the opportunity at hand and have been instrumental at helping us scale at speed. ABV's mission is 'identifying talented people with passion is at the core of what we do,' and we are honored to fit within that."
At the same time, much of Shapes Defined's journey as an entity so far can thus be seen as a direct reflection of Salah's innate entrepreneurial traits. "I've always found myself looking for a higher purpose, a bit bigger than my shoes could ever fill, and always said to myself, 'What is the worst that could happen?'" she says. "Whatever venture I've undertaken, it was always about doing it better, bringing it to the table with a twist, and genuinely making a difference." But despite her propensity to chase the slightly impossible, Salah has a refreshingly straightforward answer to why Shapes Defined has done well so far. "Simple things done on point are hard to come by," she says. "If you are selling any tangible product online, Shapes Defined is your second home!"
Source: Shapes Defined
As we move into 2023, Salah remains aware that operating in an ever-changing industry requires staying atop, and sometimes ahead of, digital trends. "Our office/studio/content factory doubles as a laboratory, and we are continuously looking into innovative technology to remain on top of our game," she says. "We are actively looking into the metaverse, non-fungible tokens, wearable tech, and constantly pushing into the world of 3D content creation. Lastly, artificial intelligence is, and continues to be, a big component of our platform allowing us to give many variations of content from a single image. I can't tell you all of our secrets- but we are always pushing the envelope in our pursuit to be world class enablers!"
'Trep Talk: Tips for entrepreneurs from Muna Salah, co-founder and CEO of Shapes Defined
Find your (tech) tribe "Surround yourself with likeminded people who experience trials, tribulations, varied processes, and learn. Never stop learning and asking questions. Tech changes daily, and if your product is not perfect and needs to move fast, move with it. Don't be afraid of it. Move with it!"
Your grit is your best friend "This applies to all of us. Courage, strength of character when all else fails, keep going. And it's not to say don't call it quits when you feel it's a dead end; it's to say that you need to know the road is long, and it's a joy ride, with a hell of a lot of grit."
Gender has nothing to do with it "Avoid limiting beliefs that suggest what you can or can't do. I'm not preaching utopia; I'm merely suggesting your gender has absolutely nothing to do with how much you can achieve in any industry. It really does fascinate me how men and women pigeonhole people into certain categories. I'm a tech entrepreneur. She/he/they is a tech entrepreneur."