THE BLOG
11/06/2012 03:13 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2013

High Quality Content On-Demand: E-Commerce Needs Rise, Design Workforce Adapts

E-Commerce and the Dawn of Retail Innovation

Succeeding in business is just as much about what you know as it is about defining and planning around what you don't. Plato said it best when he declared, "I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing." As e-commerce begins to represent increasingly larger portions of retailers total sales, retailers are frequently outsourcing all non-core competencies in order to capitalize on new opportunities and markets afforded by the internet.

Photo Retouching, Enhancement and Editing

Creative work has followed other daily business operations and is now frequently "shipped" to foreign destinations where highly skilled designers produce beautiful work for a fraction of prices paid to fancy design houses found around town. The shift towards outsourcing and offshoring creative work was inevitable as the need for relevant content and media has skyrocketed at the exact same time that creative budgets at many companies are shrinking. Devoid of the face-to- face sales and customer service experience provided in-store, e-commerce companies must integrate powerful content streams into their business models. Daily deal and flash sales websites provide thousands of high resolution images and videos that showcase new products on a daily basis.

The high resolution photo needs for recently acquired flash sale site JackThreads, a relatively small player in the space, are staggering. To keep things simple, let's examine their email efforts only. The company sends one email to members everyday, 26 photos are displayed in each email, 365 emails sent in a year totals a minimum of 9,490 photos that need to be retouched and cropped, just to power their email campaigns (I know because I am a subscriber). There are several ways JackThreads can accomplish this, and these options illustrate the modern design workforce.

In-Office Worker

Salary: $42,000 (National Average provided by Glassdoor.com)
Hourly Rate: $21.00 (based on a 40 hour work week, 2 weeks of vacation a year)
Additional Employer Expenses: $49,875 (based on mgmt, technology, office space cost here)
Effective Hourly Rate: $24.94 (based on 40 hour work week, 2 weeks of vacation a year)
Cost Per Image: $2.49
Total Image Editing Costs: $23,668.06 (based on production rate of 10 images per hour)

U.S. Based Freelancer

Hourly Rate: $70 (according to How Magazine)
Cost Per Image: $7.00 (based on production rate of 10 images per hour)
Total Image Editing Costs: $66,430.00 (based on production rate of 10 images per hour)

Crowdsourced Online Freelancer w/ Required Skills

Hourly Rate: $16.11 + (depending on project complexity and according to oDesk)
Cost Per Image: $1.61 (based on production rate of 10 images per hour)
Total Image Editing Costs: $15,278.90 (based on production rate of 10 images per hour)

Offshore Firm

Hourly Rate: $10.00 + (depending on project complexity)
Cost Per Image: $1.00
Total Image Editing Costs: $9,490 (based on production rate of 10 images per hour)

A company's choice in creative workforce solutions can dramatically impact their overall labor costs. An offshore firm can save a company 60 percent versus the cost of hiring an in house employee and a whopping 85 percent versus the cost of a boutique design house or local freelancer. As technology advances and high speed Internet becomes more readily available in growing economies, a vast array of service providers have emerged. It's no longer imperative to hire the "recent art school grad" with face piercings and a growing collection of indie band t-shirts. Whether you decide to go with a traditional in-office hire, freelancer, online freelancer or outsourced employee, it's important to make your decision based on your specific needs. Determining the best choice in creative workforces depends on three factors:

Complexity

Remember, creative workers are never "one-size-fits-all." Technical proficiency and creative ability are not synonymous. Consider the actual steps that are required for your project. Are they repetitious by nature? How much direction is required? Can you guide your workers to act on their own creative instincts? Processes like turning a logo into a vector file are incredibly simple and require little to no creative input. On the contrary, designing and branding a company's website from scratch is a far more complex project that requires a ton of creative instinct and cultural understanding that is likely better served by a local option.

Communication

Have you ever tried describing something visually? It's difficult. Keep this in mind as you make your choice in creative workforce. Do they speak English natively? Do they understand modern branding styles? Will they be responsive? Do they prefer to communicate electronically? Remember, your time is valuable. Communicating instructions several times over, in different variations and through several different mediums ultimately adds up.

Timing

Which do you need: A multi-dimensional design all star or a virtual army of creative muscle? There is a place for both solutions. At times, the project complexity and creative needs require a tremendously talented individual or group of individuals that typically command a higher hourly rate, but the return on investment is worthwhile as they create beautifully branded materials. Recent demands for "mega-media," thousands of images and videos daily, have shifted the model towards hammering out more content in shorter timeframes. Consumers are increasingly less focused and quantity of imagery is quickly becoming more important than originality. Thus, having a creative workforce of several employees for the price of one highly skilled freelancer has become a very attractive option.

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