Post image for Product image best practices, part 3

Product image best practices, part 3

by Mike B. Fisher on April 22, 2009

Quick summary: There are some good “rules of thumb” for presenting product images, but there are also some notable exceptions. Applying the right rules and approach can improve overall ease of use and conversion rates.

In part 1 of Product image best practices we looked at ways to ensure good product image quality. In part 2 of Product image best practices we looked at advantages and disadvantages to presenting images in various ways. Here in part 3 we’ll examine exceptions to the rules. We’ll also touch upon the reasons product images can have such a big impact on conversion.

Product image rules… and exceptions

In the first two parts of this article we looked at different ways to present images, and covered common-sense rules you can apply to determine which approach is best for you. The approaches I outlined probably apply to the vast majority of e-commerce websites but there are some notable exceptions.

Remember that one of the goals in presenting product images is to give users a sense that’s similar to seeing and/or touching an actual product. There are a few situations where this approach simply doesn’t make sense, or needs to be modified.

  • For exceptionally large items, offer many views. Very large items like houses and cars pose a unique problem. They’re large enough that there are many views and angles that may be of interest to users. But there’s no way to know which views are most important to each individual user. So for large items usually the best approach is to err on the side of showing many different views as well as overview images that depict most or all of the object. For example online real estate listings often show multiple exterior and interior images of a property for sale, and in some cases they also show a view from the street and/or nearby landmarks. Showing many views enables prospective buyers to see not only the product (the house/property) but also its context (the neighborhood/area). Similarly, car companies have taken to offering multiple sets of photos to show off their cars – interior and exterior – and sometimes also 360-degree “virtual reality” views that enable users to spin a virtual car around and see it from almost any angle.

  • For electronic goods, show realistic simulated images. Some items like software and e-books may not exist in the physical world at all. Two common examples are software that’s download-only and e-books books that aren’t published in a physical format. In order to present an “image” of such an item it becomes necessary to make one up. This example is an e-book product image (amusingly, an e-book about writing e-books):


A note of caution: One problem with creating simulated e-book product images is that they can make relatively short books appear to be quite lengthy. Customers who buy what looks like a book that’s many hundreds of pages in length and find that it’s much shorter might feel mislead by such images. Consider this example, (I’ve intentionally blurred the cover art):


At first glance I’d say this e-book looks like it ought to be least 150-200 pages. In fact its length is around 30 pages. To be fair this particular e-book is given away for free, but I’ve also seen similar product images for e-books that weren’t free and for which there was a similar discrepancy between how the product image looked and what was actually being sold.

There’s some gray area here but I’d argue that the practice of depicting an electronic product in a way that makes it appear more (or bigger) than it will probably be seen by some users as false advertising. Instead, I suggest either showing the cover art only, or depicting the book an a form that’s roughly representative of what it would look like if it were available in a printed format.

You’ll notice that most leading e-book sellers like Amazon and show only the flat cover art for their e-book product images. They don’t show a “simulated book” view like the examples above. This avoids the whole problem of misrepresenting a book’s length.

Now let’s look at a more positive example. A good example of “what you see is what you get” can be seen on the product pages of music production software company Audio Damage. Most of the product images on the Audio Damage website are screen shots of the actual software interface. So even though they’re selling a downloaded product there’s still a direct correlation between what users see on the website and what they’re purchasing. No unpleasant surprises here.

How product images affect conversion

Finally let’s take a few moments to review the importance of product images in the overall conversion process.

Good product images are important to e-commerce and conversion because they:

  • Bridge the gap between the physical world and online world, giving users a greater sense of connection to the products they’re evaluating.
  • Help establish credibility. Of course there are many other aspects to credibility, and I’ll cover those in a separate article. But clear and easily accessible product images are important to giving users a sense that they’re dealing with a legitimate and trustworthy e-commerce business.
  • Address fundamental customer questions and concerns, like “Is this the right one?”, “Does this come in the color I want?”, “What would this look like up close?” and so on.
  • Provide a competitive advantage. In a crowded e-commerce landscape offering high quality images (and plenty of them) helps users evaluate products and decide to buy.

I hope you’ve found this article to be helpful and informative, and I encourage you to apply these ideas to your own website and make your product images as vivid, helpful and informative as they can be.

Photo credit: Shermeee. Creative Commons licensed.

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Related posts:

  1. Product image best practices, part 1
  2. Product image best practices, part 2
  3. Why require registration? Part 3

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

dee December 12, 2011 at 4:57 am

Very good series of articles. I’m currently doing a project covering the most important features of an e-commerce site so this has been great thanks!

Fifi Belle May 2, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Thanks for the advice. I’m currently considering whether to photograph clothing designs with mannequins. Many online apparel companies are going toward the “ghost mannequin” effect, using multiple layers in Photoshop to create an effect of a floating garment. However, that can be a very time-consuming process. Then with the other option, if using mannequins, there is the question of whether to use abstract or realistic mannequins. If using realistic mannequins, then you may risk alienating part of your demographic if the mannequins are not of mixed races. I appreciate your comment that items against a blank background allow consumers to focus more on the products, although in some instances, seeing the product in context can increase conversion. It is a delicate balance to decide whether to put clothing in its context as worn on a person or to show it alone.

Mike B Fisher May 2, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Fifi, you make a good point about context. It may be that the ideal scenario is to present the item both in and out of context (in this case, both on a mannequin and off – for example on a rack). When it comes to showing different views of a product, it’s probably better to err on the side of “more than needed” than “not quite enough”.

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