I hope all of you and your loved ones are not too adversely affected by Covid. Over here at photobook.ai, we are all working from home at least through the end of 2021. I am thankful that our team in all 8 locations have been untouched by Covid. In fact, we have been super productive at working on over 20 white label photobook apps for customers all over the world.
As the world slowed down in the Spring of 2020, we realized that in times like these, preserving memories are even more important, and those that survive within our industry will emerge stronger and leaner. To-date, we have launched over 40 photobook printing apps for white label customers globally. In that time, we have learned a thing or three:
It’s not about the first release version.
The ability to get out there and iterate is key to success. Those amongst our customers who see their mobile strategy as a journey rather than a destination are the ones who are now seeing exponential growth in their mobile revenues. And more importantly, they are seeing new users rather than cannibalizing on their web traffic. We will talk more about this in another future post.
There is no one-size fits all approach.
Some customizations are more critical than others. There are only that many ways to edit a photobook, or rotate a photo, or pick photos from Facebook. But every customer has different pricing strategies, marketing campaigns and product bundles. We realized the biggest bang for the buck is to focus on the shopping experience.
plan 3 iterations ahead.
Research has consistently shown that the ongoing lifetime maintenance costs of consumer apps can easily add up to 5X-10X of the initial development cost. So predicting what features are coming up 3 or even 5 iterations into the future and architecting it right from the beginning is key to mitigating this burden.
So during the great Covid lock-down, we took the bold step of hitting reset, and hunkered down to refactor, redesign, and re-architect our entire mobile and AI code base. We set ourselves 3 simple objectives:
- Predictable and speedy customization of new white label apps;
- Support future innovations and AI models;
- Make daily e-commerce operations and maintenance simple and agile for our customers.
And after almost 18mths in stealth, we are very excited to announce the birth of the third generation of our AI photobook creation white-label program.
Our white-label photobook app code-base was re-jigged to be faster, more responsive, and lighter than ever. We totally re-wrote some pillars so that they are cross-platform and hence cheaper to innovate, test, release and maintain. This includes not just the sexy core AI and Computer Vision parts, but also utilitarian stuff like shopping carts, back-end rendering of PDFs, handling of layouts and bleeds across all platforms and products etc. Even how users register and login, shop, save and review projects, and pay.
All product information are moved to a new back-end we simply call the “Command Centre”. This includes the physical specs like spine widths, book size or bleed tolerances, and also marketing copy and stock images that come with any product on the app. This means you can turn on/off ANY product without having to refresh the app and you can change the description text, product shots and keep them updated. Want to feature Santa Claus for 3 weeks? Ran out of red-colored linen wraps? No problem! It’s even easier than updating a WordPress website.
This underlying infrastructure supports the creation and ordering of a myriad of “Single Photo, Single Surface” photo gifts like mugs, prints, wall-art, tote bags. You name it. Now we can launch and discontinue simple gift products without an app refresh.
Product Management System
This also means it’s easy for customers to manage their own products. You can now upload new cover themes for books, or masks for magnets or phone covers and push them to your apps easily without having to wait for us to do it for them.
Native E-Commerce Module and CRM
In V3, User Management, Shopping Cart and Payments are now native. This is has significant user experience improvements for users:
- Photos can now be uploaded reliably in the background whilst moving through check-out flow;
- Users can sign in with all the usual social auth methods (Facebook, Google, WeChat …);
- More digital-wallet support like ApplePay & GooglePay;
- Support for “click-n-collect”; something retailers require and reduces shipping costs for users.
Brand new Photo picker
Because of all these improvements, we had to re-design the UI of the app, so we took the opportunity to make it easier to customize. This allowed us to factor in the use of photos from social/cloud sources. Now users can choose a Collection (renamed “Stories”) or pick photos and entire folders from Facebook, Instagram, Google Photos and Dropbox.
Powered By AI, loved By Humans
After the book is built by AI, users can review the selection that AI made, and easily add/discard any photo to override the choices that AI has made, then rebuild the book in one click. AI will still be used to group photos to pages, and to make sure faces and core subjects (like dogs, houses, bridges) are not cropped.
This is a frequently requested feature, but we waited this long to release it as such a feature also requires a brand new photo-picking UX which has to behave slightly differently and yet be harmonized across all photo sources for books and single photo products. We are glad we took the time to craft it with love.
With V3, we also dis-intermediated the printer’s e-commerce and ERP back-end with the client app by inserting our own middleware, which radically lowers initial investments in customization costs and more importantly ongoing maintenance. More on this in a later post.
Increasing Conversions, Repeat Orders, And Growing Average Cart Value.
Layflat Books: we resisted offering layflat books for a long time as we believed a premium product like this requires some special considerations. So we wrote a new layout algorithm specifically designed for layflat books. This will be slowly introduced into V3 white labels slated for release in Q3/Q4 of this year (2021).
Downloadable Themes: now we can offer not just themed Covers which come with its set of page backgrounds and cover art, but also the ability to price each at a premium. So now the Mickey Mouse Cover theme can be an extra $10 per book. We already know releasing new covers periodically keeps customers coming back for more. This feature is more complex than it seems as we need to ensure the shopping cart + back-end renderers are all in-sync. We also had to add the ability to retire any particular cover design once the IP licensing term expires.
Multi-recipient Cart-flow: this allows users to send a photobook to themselves in London and grandma locked-down in Australia. Or personalized mugs to the entire staff in a single check-out. (useful for working from home and maintaining corporate culture)
Guest-checkout: a tiny little feature that’s sought after in some markets with users who are loath to create a new account on a new app.
Intelligent Messaging Platform: allows us to message users about new products, covers and even new Stories that we have collected for them. So now advertising and notifications are baked into the app.
V3 is here and ready to white label. Our first V3 customer went live last week in the UK with over 400 photo stores nationwide. Next up: Sweden, India, Germany, Japan and Canada.