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Product Photography: How Photos Impact Your e-Commerce Conversion

Product Photography e-Commerce Conversion

Published by

June 1, 2017

I have something shocking to tell you:

The e-commerce business is just getting started.

“How could it be?”, you must be asking.

It’s no surprise e-commerce is popular: last year 79% of Americans bought something online.

Despite its popularity, e-commerce represents only 8.1% of total retail sales in North America.

That represents a tiny piece of the $5.5 trillion total retail market.

The reason why e-commerce isn’t as popular as the good ol’ offline retailing is simple.

No, it’s not pricing. It’s not a technological barrier either.

Let me show you why.

Why e-Commerce Isn’t As Large as Offline Retailing

Consumers don’t buy online as much as they do offline because they can’t see, touch, or experience the products they want to purchase.

When you want to buy a pair of sneakers, you like grabbing the shoe, touching it, inspecting it, and trying it on. In some cases, you want a sales clerk to help you. Hell, you even want people to look at you as you try different sneakers on.

This experiential limitation explains why 83% of consumers surveyed in a PricewaterhouseCoopers study said they go online to research products, but then end up buying them in-store.

One of the best ways to overcome the online purchasing challenge is by having great product photography.

Product photography matters so much that a study carried out by MDG Advertising found 67% of online shoppers rated high-quality images as being “very important” to their purchase decision over “product specific information,” “long descriptions,” and “reviews.”

The question isn’t whether photography matters or not. It’s obvious it does. The real question is, how much does a photo impacts on your customer’s behavior?

How Product Photography Influences Purchase Behavior

It’s spring, and you feel like your house would need a nice design revamp.
You look around your house, and you see your floors look old and boring. You could take the whole floor out and install a new flooring, but that would be too expensive.

“Why don’t you get a rug?”, your best friend suggests. They aren’t as expensive as getting a new flooring, and they can also hide the bad looks of your floor.

Excited with the new idea, you search on different e-commerce stores for a new rug.

Most of them look fine but aren’t appealing enough. They all have the same plain looks.

You are about to give up and drive to your closest rug store when all of a sudden you find something that catches your eye: a blue Persian rug with precious gold and red touches.

It looks slightly decadent yet elegant, exactly what you were looking for.

You look at the different dozen or so pictures shown on the product page. One shows the little-knitted twists around the different shades of blue. Another one shows the rug laying over a floor of a house similar to yours. The house looks gorgeous. You are starting to get excited.

As you look at these pictures, you feel like if the rug was speaking to you. You can imagine yourself walking around it as your house takes a new life. You see your friends complimenting you for it.

You want it in your house.

It’s not the price nor the free shipping; it’s the emotion you feel as you look at that rug that makes you want to buy it.

After some contemplation, you end up taking the plunge and you decide to buy it.

“Now I will live in the modern house I wanted all along,” you say to yourself.

Let’s stop for a second and ask, what happened there?

You see, according to a study made by BigCommerce, 78% of online shoppers want photographs to bring products to life. Shoppers want to see a product as if it was part of their lives.

That’s why you loved the rug so much. You could see yourself using it in your house.

But there’s something else that explains your purchase decision. Photography influences another important aspect of your mind which isn’t related to your wallet.

If you take another look at the little story shown before you will see I mentioned words like “feel,” “want,” and “imagine.”

That’s no coincidence. It turns out that photographs can affect the emotions of consumers. When you see a photo of a product you want to buy, you don’t process every single bit of information on which you base your purchase decision. According to the “somatic marker hypothesis” developed by Antonio Damasio, professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, emotions are a necessary ingredient to almost all decisions.

That means consumers make all kind of decisions based as much on emotional impulses as in logical facts. If a product feels right, even if the price is high, you are may end up buying it anyway.

The influence of emotions in the purchase decision not only affects products but brands. fMRI neuro-imagery has shown when consumers evaluate brands; they use emotions rather than information (which includes features and facts).

A brand is nothing more than a mental representation of a product in the consumer’s mind. If the brand representation is made up only of logical elements like their product’s attributes and features without any emotions involve, consumers won’t be influenced to prefer a brand’s products and take action.

One great way to add emotions to a brand is by using photos to narrate a story. A brand’s narrative is the story that communicates “who” is this brand, what it means to the consumer, and why the consumer should care. This can be explained with words, but as you already know, photographs speak louder than words.

See the following images:

Product Photography Maserati
Product Photography Maserati

Maserati doesn’t just show a photo of their cars and expects people to buy them (especially not at its price). Maserati tells a story through their photos. This story represents an ideal: luxury, comfort, and status. These photos help you see who you could become if you bought one of their cars.

Take a look at this photo:

Product Photography MADE
Product Photography MADE

MADE tells the story of a chic and comfortable life through modern furniture. Their photos don’t sell you their products per se. They don’t show the different features of their products either. Rather, they represent what people want to be.

These photos by Maserati and MADE create a need which consumers can only fulfill with a purchase.

Narratives aren’t the only element that affects a brand’s perception; a brand’s personality also matters. A study done by the University of Southern California has shown consumers perceive the same personality characteristics they find in brands as they do with their friends. That means, the personality of a brand can make people humanize it as if they were a friend or acquaintance. This, as a consequence, can make people feel as if the brand was a part of their lives, as one of their friends.

Maserati’s personality could be described as elegant, sophisticated, and well-spoken. MADE’s personality, on the other hand, could be described as hip, modern, and forward-thinking. The photographs showed above clearly show these personality traits. Only an elegant individual would buy a Maserati car. If, on the other hand, you wanted to buy an expensive but inelegant car, you would buy a gold Lamborghini (yikes!).

Product Photography Gold Lamborghini
Product Photography Gold Lamborghini

Last but not least, the most important attribute of emotions is that they help to push consumers into taking action. If you have ever been in love, you know how emotions can make you do things you wouldn’t have done otherwise. You would do anything to be with someone you like and love. If a consumer feels he loves a brand’s personality (just like you love your partner’s one), he would do anything to spend time with it, including buying their products over and over. Why do you think there is so many people tattoo Harley-Davison’s logo yet don’t own one of their bikes?

Photographs sit at the core of your brand. Photographies transmit the idea of your brand, what it represents and its personality. Photographies can make consumers feel emotions, which makes them biased into taking action.

If you can create photographies of your brand and your products that make people emotional, you will be able to grow your store more than you would have ever imagined.

If you want to know how to take these ideas into action, keep on reading.

How to Implement Product Photography in Your Own e-Commerce Store

Take Your Own Photos

If you don’t manufacture the products you sell, you are likely to get your product photos taken by the manufacturer or the wholesaler. In most cases, the pictures they give you tend to be low-quality, both in detail and imagination. They rarely represent anything, nor they stir any emotions. If this is your case, you have two options:

  1. Take your own photos
  2. Hire a photographer

The main advantage of taking your own photos is you save a lot of money. The main con is, well, your photos may end up looking good but not as aesthetically pleasing as if they were taken by a professional.

If you only want to show your products in their most basic form (e.g. a front picture and side picture), you could try the DIY way. This guide by Shopify shows you how you can set up your photography studio with little investment.
If you want to convey your brand’s personality by showing your product’s in use, you should get professional help.

Outlier, an American performance clothing brand, not only shows their products in their most standard form, but they also use very creative photos to drive their brand’s narrative and personality.

Product Photography Outlier
Product Photography Outlier

The short on the right doesn’t look that incredible. The material may be unique and good, but it’s not appealing enough. The image on the left, however, shows exactly what Outlier stands for: taking your clothes with you anywhere you want, to do everything you always dreamed of. That image shows who they are and what they stand for. That’s all I need to see to make me want to buy their shorts.

Take the Right Photos

There are countless types of photos you can take of your products. Let’s start with the most basic ones.

The most commonly used photos tend to show a product in its most basic form: in front of a white background and on different angles. That’s product photography on it’s most basic form, and it’s what most companies should do.

Ugmonk shows their clothing products in different angles with great quality. In this case, they start with an overview of its product. Then they move on to show the details of the design and the fabric. Finally, they show the product folded and wrinkled.

Product Photography Ugmonk
Product Photography Ugmonk

Most companies tend to limit their photography to these kind of shots. In many cases, however, it’s usually not enough. Remember: your product photos need to speak for your brand. A front photo of your product won’t do it.

The best way to display your brand’s personality is by showing your product being used and in a relevant context.

Let’s see some examples:

Product Photography SuitSupply
Product Photography SuitSupply

SuitSupply first show their suits used by a model who represents the ideal customer, an elegant, young and modern businessman. They focus on the fabric (an important element of any high-quality suit) and the suit details later, once the image of who they represent has been established.

Product Photography Zara
Product Photography Zara

Look how Zara focuses more on the models than on the product itself. This is no coincidence. The product sold is just a simple women’s t-shirt. Take a look on how defiantly the model looks at the camera. The model shows a strong and independent attitude. If Zara is trying to portrait that kind of personality for their brand and products, they are doing it right.

Product Photography Bang & Olufsen
Product Photography Bang & Olufsen

Bang & Olufsen sells speakers that can be taken anywhere. Instead of just focusing on the product on a white background and trying to explain where it can be used, the photo shows the versatility of the product and how easy it can be used outdoors. That’s what the product is about: taking your speakers for a ride. The photography communicates this value in a smart way.

What Dimensions to Use

One final aspect to discuss is the dimension of your photos. It’s obvious the larger the image, the better the quality, and therefore, the more a visitor can see and feel a product.

There are three main dimensions you can use:

  • Thumbnail (100 x 100 or 200 x 200): These are the pictures that show up on your category pages. Despite the size, this image is important as it’s what causes people to click on it and see the product pages.
  • Product pages (usually 640 x 640 or 800 x 800): These are the regular-size images that show all the different angles of the product.
  • Zoom (over 800 x 800): These are the photos that show your products in detail.

Despite the clear benefits of larger images, it’s not necessary that all your product photos have this dimension. You’d want to add at least one photo with a large dimension so your visitors can closely look at your products, but the rest can be normal if you don’t have access to larger images.

As always, you should test what works best. If you want to know how to do this, keep reading.

Test Your Product Photography

You previously saw some examples of how companies showcase their products through their photography. Some show their products with a white background while others show their products used by a model or even outdoors. Those companies know what photography work best because they have tested rigorously which kind of photo works best. You should do the same.

Testing product photography works just like you test any other part of your store. The first thing you would need to do is develop a hypothesis. For example, let’s say you want to increase your conversion rate, and you think adding a model using one of your products in a studio content could help. A good hypothesis could look like this:

The conversion rate on the product pages is low. By adding a photo with a model, we will persuade more people to buy, therefore increasing the conversion rate.

Then, you would need to take the photo, add it to your store, and implement the change on your A/B testing tool. Once you finish with the test design, you would launch the test and wait until you hit significant results.

As expected, if the results help you increase your conversion rate as hypothesized, then you can implement the changes into your store.

One company that mastered the art of product photography testing is Adore Me.

According to an interview done by FastCompany, Adore Me shoots multiple versions of their products’ images to run on its website. They test different models wearing the same set in the exact same position, or the same model in the same set in a different position, for example. Then, they test the options to find out which one sells better.

“Picture has a huge impact on sale when it comes to fashion. You buy the product not only for what it looks like, but for the emotions that the product conveys to you and that you want to convey through the product”, said Morgan Hermand-Waiche, CEO of Adore Me.

If you use sliders on your store, you could test taking them out. The reason behind this is due to the fact sliders confuse people, which explains why only 1% of the people actually click on one. This results in people ignoring your slider. Finally, they slow down your site and they don’t always work well on mobile devices.

You could also test adding a hero image, or in the case you already have one, taking it out. This article by ConversionXL explains the benefits of hero images and why they work in detail.

Finally, you could test for size, especially on your home and category pages. For example, MALL.CZ, Czech Republic’s second-largest e-commerce retailer, tested adding larger product photos sizes on their category pages and got a 9.46% increase in sales (96% chance to beat original).

Product Photography MALL.CZ Hypothesis
Product Photography MALL.CZ Hypothesis

Conclusion

Throughout this article, you have learned the true power photographies have on the consumer’s mind.

You also learned what different kind of photographies you can try on your store and how to get started with little investment (if you are under budget constraints).

Finally, you learned how to test different product photos to improve your conversion rate and other important KPIs.

Now it’s your turn:

How do you use photographies on your e-commerce store? Please share your experiences with us on Twitter.

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Ivan Kreimer is a freelance content marketer on a crusade to end bad marketing advice. He also helps SaaS business increase their traffic and leads with content. Follow him on Twitter.