But as a data-driven company, we were curious: does the scientific community have any interesting insights into how to use product images to drive sales in e-commerce?
Turns out, yes it does.
In fact, there are a host of academic papers that provide answers to fundamental questions relating to product photography and its power to drive sales, including:
- Why does using more images helps increase sales? (answer: it has to do with building consumer trust)
- What aspects of product presentation increase consumer trust (and thus, sales) the most?
- What makes a customer perceive a product image as untrustworthy?
Some of the research simply affirms your intuitions. But other findings may offer new ways of looking at product photography altogether and interesting perspectives on how to maximize product photography’s potential for driving business growth.
We pulled out some of the more interesting tidbits from the research and provided some suggestions on how to turn the research into actionable steps to ensure you are getting the most out of your product photography.
More Images = Greater Consumer Trust = Greater Sales
First, there IS data supporting your likely intuition that having more product images helps increase conversion rates.
And the reason has to do with product photography’s ability to build customer trust.
eBay.com Research Labs published a paper studying the impact of product images on conversion rates, finding that:
- Product images “help increase buyer‘s attention, trust and conversion rates.”
- Listings with one image had twice the conversion rates of listings with zero images. Conversion rates doubled again for listings with two images versus only one.
- There is a clear trend that as photo count increases, the probability of making a proﬁt also increases.
- Higher-quality images were correlated with more successful sellers
In addition to the sheer quantity of images you provide, the researchers also found using larger photos that allow for buyers to more easily inspect the details of a product increases the chances that someone will purchase the product. Researchers found that listings using “super sized” pictures doubled their conversion rates and that offering multiple views using the platform’s product slideshow feature increased conversion rates by 65%.
It is always nice to see the data support what we think we know intuitively: the loss of direct contact in e-commerce between customer and product can be overcome by offering customers more opportunities to view a product and giving them the chance to see the products up close (we’ll show you how to do that effectively later in this post).
Using more product images is good, but not all images build trust equally between customer and seller.
Certain types of images and certain image characteristics build trust more than others. Understanding what characteristics of a product image builds trust with customers (and which characteristics customers perceive as untrustworthy) can go a long way in making sure you are getting the highest traffic and conversion rates from your product images as possible.
Customers Notice Best Practices
As critical as it is to know product photography best practices, it is equally important to understand what might make customers view your products or brand as untrustworthy.
In their paper Understanding Image Quality and Trust in Peer-to-Peer Marketplaces, Cornell researchers had test subjects categorize images into three categories (bad, neutral, and good) and then ran regression models to try and identify what aspects of the images contributed most significantly to how the test subjects labeled the images.
As an example, aspect ratio was one product image characteristic that the researchers found test subjects used to determine the quality of an image. The researchers write that “higher foreground to background ratio makes it less likely for an image to be labeled as high quality, suggesting that the product should be properly framed and not too zoomed-in.” They also found that “for handbags, horizontal asymmetry moderately contributes to a lower perception of quality.”
Their test subjects also identified characteristics of product images that they felt helped build their confidence. Researchers found that brightness and contrast were key factors in images being labeled “good.” The researchers write that “good quality product image’s background should have low contrast, and the foreground (the product) should have high contrast” and that brighter images were more likely to be labeled as “good.”
The smallest misalignment or missing detail can be the difference between a user clicking on a product and moving on to different listings of stores they perceive as more professional and trustworthy.
The most important takeaway here is that as potential customers are scrolling through hundreds of different products, they are picking up on small details (maybe even subconsciously) to disqualify different product listings. The smallest misalignment or missing detail can be the difference between a user clicking on a product and moving on to different listings of stores they perceive as more professional and trustworthy.
Industry leaders crossing their T and dotting their I’s when it comes to their product imagery is no surprise. What those on the very cutting edge are doing is investing in virtual interactions through augmented and virtual reality as well as 3D printing to give consumers as much interaction (and, as a result, building as much trust) with their products as possible.
The More (Virtual) Interaction Between Customer and Product The Better
In their study Effects of Visual Control and Graphical Characteristics of 3D Product Presentations on Perceived Trust in Electronic Shopping, Researchers from the Department of Marketing from the University of Jordan studied the impact that allowing consumers opportunities to virtually manipulate products online had on consumer trust.
The study focuses on two different types of product manipulation. The first is what the researchers referred to as visual control (VC): the ability to zoom, rotate, enlarge and view a product from different angles. The second is graphical characteristics (GC): colorful layouts, the ability to change a product’s color, and quality of the images used. Their goal was to try and identify the impact of each on consumer trust.
Here’s a quick breakdown of their findings:
- Consumer trust was higher on product presentations with high visual control (ability to zoom, rotate, etc)
- Test subjects were more trusting of product presentations that offered high graphical characteristics
- Between visual control and graphical characteristics, visual control was a more important determinant of consumer trust. The researchers found “the magnitude effect of VC is three times larger than GC.”
The researchers end their findings by suggesting:
“...website designers focus on the interaction level between high visual control, in which users can manipulate the images (zoom in and out, rotate), and high graphical characteristics, moving colours of the presented products...because of its importance in building a particular type of trust.”
And here in 2019, five years after the publication of the study, that is exactly what industry leaders are doing.
Product manipulation and visual control are where we see companies making large investments in technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality, and 3D printing. AR technology like the YouCam makeup app uses front-facing camera filters to allow users to try on different products and styles before buying. San Francisco based Fyusion just raised $3 million USD to help bring “360-degree interactive viewing capability to any device” through the use of augmented and virtual reality.
These are exciting, cutting-edge technologies that align perfectly with the researchers’ findings. Retailers are creating unique ways for customers to interact virtually with their products.
Of course, not every online retailer has access to or the resources for developing these cutting-edge technologies, but there are ways that any e-commerce retailer can offer more visual control to their customers immediately.
Putting the Research Into Practice
All of that research is well and good, but how do you actually take all of this research and put it into practice to drive more sales?
As a company that works with many of the largest brands on the cutting-edge of e-commerce, we suggest a few attainable strategies for offering customers more visual control and graphical characteristics that align perfectly with the research findings.
More Product Views
Like we said, the more professional product photography, the better. Below is a great example of providing your shoppers a ton of different views of your product in interesting ways by the folks over at bestmadeco.com:
Each shot is both beautiful in its own right and builds on preceding shots. The customer has a clear view of the product and all relevant details, like the texture and thickness of the blade. The addition of packaging shots brands the product while also creating the feeling of unwrapping a new purchase.
Do you have any doubt about the quality or purpose of the knife after reviewing these product images? Any unanswered questions?
More detailed shots of your product reduces return rates.
That’s the power of including so many product images. It’s the closest a customer can get to actually having the product physically in front of them, so it’s your opportunity to proactively answer questions and showcase your product.
Here’s another example from Nike.com demonstrating using different angles for footwear.
Just as the researchers suggest, Nike also provides zoom functionality and a color swatch tool that allows you to view these exact same shots in each available color. If I purchase these shoes, there won’t be any surprising details because I’ve seen everything. That gives my customers more confidence in the product, increases their likelihood of buying, and reduces my return rates.
For accessories, our guide to accessories product listings recommends you take the following shots: front and back, 45-degree angles, left and right sides, and any details. When we say “details,” we don’t just mean embroidery, buckles, rivets, or other add-ons. A detail can be anything interesting, like alternate strap arrangements or inserts. Below are a few examples of what that can look like.
Take more shots from more angles and you’ll see more conversions.
3D Mannequin Effect
To improve your graphical characteristics for your apparel products, we recommend a 3D ghost mannequin effect. The effect makes it a bit easier for shoppers to see what the product will look like when worn than it might be if the product were shown simply hanging on a hanger. Pixelz can do this easily for you through our Ghost Mannequin add-on. You just send us the separate shots of the product and we can create the effect for you.
Colorways is another example of visual control that the researchers from the University of Jordan found to be so powerful. Colorways allows you to show one product in a range of colors, allowing customers to see exactly how the product is going to look in the color they select. Pixelz software even allows you to automate Colorways by setting up triggers based on file names or meta-data so you don’t have to set up Colorways manually for every order.
If you want to see how Colorways works in practice, you can check out our case study with Vila Clothes to see how they are using colorways to offer their buyers more visual control over their products.
Even if you don’t have access to all the virtual reality technology that is on the cutting-edge of the industry, you can ask the same questions of yourself that industry leaders are: how can you virtually build trust with our customers in an e-commerce environment? The academic literature makes it clear:
- Provide customers with high-quality images of your product from every angle
- Follow product best practices down to the smallest detail to make sure customers are not perceiving your images as untrustworthy
- Utilize the technology that you DO have access to (3D ghost mannequins and Colorways) to provide customers with as many ways of virtually interacting with your products as possible
If you are interested in trying out some Pixelz tools that can give your customers a better sense of visual control like the researchers described in the papers above, sign up and make sure you try these 10 things during your free trial.