September 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

Picture This

Shoppers rely on pictures, but the images better enhancethe user experience

As Internet retailing continues to explode in terms of both dollars and online shoppers, online managers must devote ever greater time and attention to optimizing the user experience. Of the primary factors that combine to make up the user experience, the treatment of product images is exerting a growing influence.

In fact, the serious shopper is making use of enhanced imaging capability to help finalize the purchase decision. The risk for the Internet retailer is that shoppers will go to an alternate site if the retailer does not provide imaging that satisfies the serious shopper.

Beyond books and CDs

In the early days of the web, Internet retailing focused on books and CDs. By presenting a decent picture of a dust cover, the retailer essentially met the shopper`s need. Today we are retailing clothing, appliances, furniture, rugs, jewelry--just about everything that can be sold is being sold online.

But current Internet shoppers need more than just a picture of a dust cover to satisfy their needs before they buy. They want to see the weave of the fabric or the inner workings of the device. They want to touch and feel the product. They want to turn it around, upside down and inside out. The challenge for the Internet retailer is to make the user experience as close as possible to the in-store experience--while still delivering on the convenience and cost effectiveness of the online channel.

Much of the rise in Internet retailing has come about from the changing online demographic. Back in the CD- and book-selling days, Internet retailers sold to the hard core online geeks--shoppers with high computing skill levels and no fear of doing anything online. Today the online population consists of stay-at-home moms, senior citizens, time-constrained business people, and most of the other demographic elements of the general consumer population. These people aren`t hard core online geeks. They shop on the Internet to save time, save trips to the store and save money. But they won`t buy unless they are satisfied that the product they are considering is right for them. The way to convert them is to let them touch and feel the product online.

Demanding more

Through our WebIQ online research on a wide variety of Internet retail sites, in which we collect data on visit success and satisfaction and relate it to click-stream navigation activity, we see increasing evidence that shoppers are demanding more and better pictures. Even more important, consumers are telling us--and our e-retail clients--that effective use of pictures significantly enhances the online experience. Consider this data:

-- A home furnishings Internet retailer provides a "larger image" option for viewing its products. The site visitors that took advantage of this capability reported visit success of 60%, site satisfaction of 76%, and had a conversion rate of 9.2%. Site visitors who did not view the larger images--for whatever reason-- reported visit success of 46%, site satisfaction of 68%, and had a conversion rate of 6.1%.

-- The web site of a multi- channel department store provides both larger image and zoom functionality. 19% of site visitors utilized some or all of this image functionality. That population reported visit success of 56% and satisfaction of 78% and converted at a rate of 8.5%. The other population--the 81% that did not utilize the enhanced imaging capabilities--reported visit success of 52% and satisfaction of 74% and converted at a rate of 6.6%.

-- An apparel site gives visitors the ability to view larger images as well as flip between front and back views. Of the population that purchased on the site, 64% utilized the larger image capability and 42% viewed both front and back. 38% of the non-purchasers viewed larger images and only 15% viewed both front and back.

While this data is compelling, it does not prove that enhanced use of images drives conversion. It does prove, however, that the serious shopper is more likely to use enhanced imaging, and if the site is to capitalize on that heightened likelihood to buy, it had better have imaging functionality capable of optimizing the user experience.

Consumer expectations about what they want from site images or pictures vary based on the type of products for which they shop. The needs of an apparel shopper differ from those of an appliance shopper or a rug shopper or a furniture shopper. Here is what consumers have told us from these different types of sites:


Apparel sites: The most important thing is color. Consumers are super sensitive to making sure the site delivers an accurate representation of the color of the item. Here are some sample comments from apparel site shoppers:

-- "I`d like larger pictures of clothing when you select and click on an item and better, more accurate, true to life color."

-- "Instead of a color swatch on most things I would like to see the item in that color."

-- "When you want to see the item in another color, have the entire item picture change color instead of just a little window. That would give customers a better idea of what the item would look like."

A close second is larger pictures. We always see significant demand for bigger pictures. Here are some examples:

-- "When it says enlarge, make it big enough to see the features."

-- "I`d like to be able to see items larger than the `see it larger` option magnifies."

-- "Supersized photos would fill my screen--make them larger!"


Furniture and home furnishing sites: Bigger pictures again represent the most common complaint, but visitors also demand the ability see items at different angles and the ability to compare pieces side by side with pictures, dimensions, price, etc. Here are representative comments from shoppers on these types of sites:

-- "Have big pictures of products and show the actual color you`d like to see product in."

-- "Provide pictures that show better views of the product from more angles."

-- "More pictures of the products at different angles with better visual detail."

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