If you’ve been operating an e-commerce business for any length of time, you may think you already have all the essentials down: fast response times, a seamless payment system, search-optimized listings, etc. 

Product images may also be on that list (after all, 83% of online buyers consider images the most influential factor in their purchase decisions.) But with competition among e-commerce retailers hitting an all-time high, you might be making the mistake of thinking that just having the images is enough. 

The reality, however, is that the top e-commerce sites have evolved beyond just ticking the product image box. Instead, these retailers are increasingly realizing that to drive conversions they need to reconsider the type, improve the quality and increase the number of images that digitally represent their products. Here, I’ll outline the three product image essentials every e-commerce website needs to stay competitive. 

1: Include Five or More Photos

For all the convenience e-commerce has brought shoppers, there’s one thing it has taken away: the ability to physically examine a product. Go to any bricks-and-mortar store, and you’ll see just how important this is. People pick up products. They turn them around, peek at labels or even hold products up to squint at them.

This is impossible on an e-commerce site. Maybe that’s why nearly 70% of consumers cite a lack of product information as the reason why they’ve left a product page. They simply can’t trust that what they’re seeing is actually what they want. But you can still satisfy your customers’ desire to visually assess their purchases by providing multiple images of the same product. 

As it happens, customers are hungry for a larger number of images to help fill their “information gap.” In 2019, a survey of 1,000 U.S. online shoppers revealed that most people expect a minimum of five images per product, (up from just three images in 2018.) With 25% of retailers only offering one (one!) image per product, you can put yourself ahead by showcasing products from every conceivable angle, allowing shoppers to better mimic the natural investigation they would perform in a physical store. 

A great example of a company doing this is Patagonia. The retailer offers seven images (and a video!) of this women’s pullover: from the front, back, sides, in an active pose, and at rest. 

2: Blend Lifestyle and Traditional Product Shots

The default e-commerce product image (the product against a blank white background,) is called a “whitesweep.” These are designed to reduce “noise” as much as possible so that the shopper is able to view a clean, consistent layout that draws attention to the product. 

This is a good place to start, but to truly drive conversions, offer more information. Aim to also put your product in the context of real-world scenarios in which it would be used. Not only does this give customers a better understanding of the size, shape and look of a product by providing scale, it also communicates with your customer emotionally. 

A whitesweep photo of a backpack may show that it’s made of canvas, but a lifestyle photo will show that the backpack holds everything an outdoor-loving couple who want to sneak away from their city office jobs could need. In other words, it establishes an emotional connection with shoppers, which can drive purchases up to 1.5 times more than product information alone. 

For a great example, look no further than Tesla. The car manufacturer’s first Model X product image shows the car in the driveway of an artfully designed, futuristic home in the California hills. But right below that image is the Model X on a clean, white background that focuses all attention on the car alone.

3: Make Your Images Interactive or Configurable

There was once a time when the limits of technology meant 3-D images (think spinnable) and configurable images (think mix and match) would lead to load times so slow they’d be lethal to any business that might try them.

We’re well beyond that now. Even so, many e-commerce sites still only offer static images. This is a huge missed opportunity, especially when you consider that roughly half of all online shopping happens on mobile phones, a medium where shoppers constantly use their fingers to interact with the images in front of them. 

For mobile shoppers, that interactive experience is a powerful engagement driver. But these images improve user engagement on desktops as well, leading to as much as a 94% increase in page views.

And configurable images can do more than increase engagement: They can reduce your return rates.

E-commerce returns are an estimated $550 billion problem in the retail industry, and a huge part of that can be blamed on product images that only show one configuration of a product, instead of every possibility. 

To see what I mean, take a look at Crate and Barrel. When buying one of its couches, a shopper can choose from 12 different colors and two types of fabric. That’s a lot of options. But by providing visual representation of each of those options, Crate and Barrel is able to make sure a customer orders exactly the couch they want, instead of ticking a box on their preferences and crossing their fingers. 

Companies like Crate and Barrel that use 3-D and configurable images are able to reduce their return rates by as much as 80%.

When it Comes to Great Customer Experience, Pictures are Priceless

The e-commerce landscape is growing increasingly competitive. In 2019, worldwide e-commerce sales topped $3.5 trillion, an increase of approximately 18% from the year before. They are exploding this year because of COVID-19.

Whether you are new to the e-commerce scene or you’re an established veteran, it’s vital that you employ tactics that set you apart from the growing crowd. Perhaps no other tactic is as simple and efficient as improving your product photography to better communicate with and engage your customers.

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