Who does not like looking at pretty pictures? Now what if I told you that those pretty pictures are responsible for convincing users to buy a product or a service many times more than lame taglines could ever hope for. Seriously, which gets you first – those gorgeous pictures of picturesque destinations or their standard cheesy marketing line about the country?
If there is any part of e-commerce that needs a shot in the arm from an aesthetic perspective it is the boring and done to death product photos. Typically these come from the manufacturers or brand owners themselves and e-commerce sites put them up with little or no changes. What results is the anti-thesis of a shopper’s dream destination.
If images hold scientifically proven sway over our minds, why not apply this logic to your own e-commerce site by turning every product image into a mini salesman for your site? This is how the best in the business do it.
1. Know your audience
Humans are very visual creatures. We process visual signals faster than sound and respond to them at a more visceral level. However, what type of visual signals gets each one of us going can vary from person to person. Before you decide on an image style for your site, understand whom you are addressing and design from there on.
Use the right image for the right audience. An image of an attractive woman may work with male as well as female audiences but in very different contexts. On the other hand, the image of a church may evoke very different responses from conservative audiences as compared to liberal ones. The bottom line? Understand your target audience – their likes and dislikes, and then proceed to pick the right imagery for your website.
2. Invest in image libraries
You must have heard it a million times before, but for good reason. Avoid stock shots that litter every other website. This is important to prevent user fatigue and instead guide the user’s eye towards new and interesting products on the basis of images alone. Spend some time over this and pick out unique imagery that complements your site and its personality.
Granted that unique images can be hard to come by and even when they are available, they are normally astronomically priced. Premium image libraries are a cost-effective compromise for unique images which do not cost an arm and a leg.
3. Photo shoots with a twist
Zulily – the billion dollar e-commerce phenomenon – shows the rest of us the way things ought to be done in the world of product photography. Zulily shoots 99% of all its product images in-house in its 35 studios that litter the entire office building. Their in-house photographers take artistic pictures for each item that goes up on the site. The site falls back on its regular employees to pose as models for their pictures. Baby models (it’s a mom and baby site after all!) are brought in by moms and dads who are aspiring actors themselves who get to build a portfolio for Junior via Zulily’s product shoots.
The result? A product catalogue that is as colorful as it is unique. Even if Zulily might sell a product that might be available on some other retailer’s site, it sure as hell will look completely different on Zulily. A smart, simple and highly effective workaround to expensive photoshoots, don’t you agree!
4. Build a story with your images
Your problem does not end with sourcing great pictures. What you do with them is more important.
Images are a great tool to build a story around your products. Use multiple images of a product to weave a use case scenario or present a solution to a problem that the user may have. Your creative presentation will show the user exactly how the item will fit into their lives. Another alternative is to showcase real users actually using the products in their everyday life settings. You could accessorize these images with quotes from these real users too. The contrast between the clinical austerity of most websites and the realism of slice of life type images will make your products stand out and help your conversions.
5. Use images to convey emotion
Just as images can convey stories and draw the user in, they can also tug at users’ heartstrings to loosen those purse strings on your site.
A tactic that is widely used by non-profits and welfare organizations, show me one such website that you can tear yourself away from without donating some cash or leaving with a guilt trip the size of Guatemala. If non-profits can use images to evoke emotions, so can you. Tap into the power of emotions with images that speak to the user. The right combination of photographer, model and setting contribute to emotional ammo over and over again.
6. Convey information with images
Emotional connections are great, but an image that tells a user exactly what she needs to know without even needing to read through the accompanying product description is what we are aiming at.
Wherever possible, use large images that offer users a high resolution and undistorted viewing experience. Never miss out on the zoom function on your product image. Users can only see images of your product and not the real deal before putting down large sums of cash on your website. It is your job to make this leap of faith that they repose in your site worthwhile by letting them get as close to the real item as possible.
Offer multiple product views with tiny product details visible clearly to make up for the lack of real touch and feel. Showcasing the product from different angles offers users a better idea of the real product. A 360 degree view option for your product image is a good idea, especially in terms of letting the users get up, close and personal with the item. Many top sites including Amazon and others have already started letting users savor each product with a 360 perspective.
A good way to convince a user about an item is by showing a picture of the item they are looking for being actually used by a model. Sell tractors? Put a model or a real farmer on a tractor and plow a field. Sunglasses is your thing? Get a few attractive models to lounge around the beach in your sunglasses and go clickety click on them.
7. Make your images fancy
Nothing kills a product image as effectively as putting a jarring background against a pleasant and soothing image.
Pick a background that goes well with the rest of your brand personality and issue orders to your designers stick to those colors and styles for the rest of the images as well. Marketplaces like Amazon that get product images from thousands of sellers listed on the site, on white backgrounds for nearly all their product shots. This not just makes life easier it also creates a clean feel look for your site – something that will go a long way in convincing the best sellers to list with you, and the most fanatical shoppers to buy from you.
Instead of offering flat two dimensional images, DueMaternity.com offered rotating images to its users. On hovering the mouse over the item image, the image would automatically rotate a complete 360 degrees, showcasing its complete potential without users having to click and open a page for the same experience in the past. The site actually saw a 27% lift in conversions since they implemented the snazzy new image format.
Use product videos wherever you showcase the item and allow users to arrive at their purchase decisions based on a more intimate view of the product than just two dimensional images. Offer at least one image for every product variant you’ll be listing online. This could be different color or a different use case or even a different size. Showcase these efficiently and there’s no reason for why anyone would fall back on boring manufacturer images ever again.
8. Virtual reality / augmented reality
If images let a user see how an item would look on someone else, virtual reality allows users to imagine how it would look on themselves.
Virtual reality devices are fast going mainstream and users can now get a VR headset for as low as $135. Virtual reality can be employed to let users model an item for themselves in the comfort of their own homes. Glasses retailer Warby Parker offers users a virtual tryout session by feeding a self-photo clicked by the user and allowing the user to experiment with different glasses that truly suit their face.
Chinese grocery and home goods retailer Yihaodian took virtual reality to the next level when they ‘built’ 100 virtual stores across the entire city in virtually no time at all. The company allowed users to scan items and add them to their virtual cart in these virtual stores. These items are then delivered to users’ doorsteps without them even having to leave their doorstep for a minute.
9. Accessorize the product
Never miss a chance to upsell or cross-sell a product with another item.
Add an interesting accessory or two to your models’ outfits does not just add drama to the images themselves, the overall look reminds users of the possibilities that lie in wait and help push the billing amount up ever so slightly.
Most apparel retail sites do a good job of using the right accessories to set off an outfit, thus tempting the user to splurge on the extras as well in the same transaction. I particularly love the way ModCloth and Net-a-Porter pull this off without it coming across as a crass attempt at upselling.
10. Allow sharing
We all know how social media is a huge contributor to site traffic both from a last touch perspective as well as higher in the lead funnel. One of the most shared elements on social media today are images, which is clear from the runaway popularity of entirely image driven social apps like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat. This popularity of images has even forced the text only Twitter to embrace images and showcase them prominently on users’ Twitter feeds.
Feed into this cultural obsession with sharing aesthetically pleasing images by offering social sharing for your product images. Putting sharing buttons alongside your product image or allowing users to create self-avatars wearing your product is a great way of driving social conversations which eventually lead to conversions.
Your product images are pages in your album not standalone works of art that all speak a different language. They need to have a consistent flow and overall ‘look’ to work with your site’s aesthetics. Invest some much deserved time into a neglected area like your product images to see the difference that they make to your site and its conversions. Let me know in the comments below how these experiments work out for you!
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