February 16, 2011, 9:10 AM

Is it time to rethink hero shots?

Two experts question a touchstone of e-commerce site design.

Lead Photo

Sherrie Hablitzel speaking this week at IRWD 2011.

Large, rotating hero shots are standard practice on retail sites. However, it might be time to question whether those large images in the center of the home page represent the best use of prime web site real estate, Sherrie Hablitzel, senior interactive strategist at digital marketing firm UMarketing, said Tuesday at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference.

“From traditional advertising, we’re used to a big hero shot,” she said during a session in which attendees offered their own web sites for expert critiques. “It might be time to rethink how we use the space, particularly with people using smaller devices,” she said, referring to netbooks, smartphones and web-enabled game consoles.

Hablitzel said that she is conducting tests this year to see if moving more retail and product-specific messaging to the hero area will boost sales.

But before retailers abandon the glossy photos of smiling models and gleaming products, they should think carefully about what they place in the space. For instance, PetProductAdvisor.com, one of the sites examined during the session, features in place of a central image the site’s guarantee that it only sells products it has tested and on which it will offer a 90-day money-back guarantee. However, the guarantee box dominates the home page. requiring consumers to scroll down to find the site’s featured products. That can be detrimental because some consumers are not going to scroll, Hablitzel said.

Hablitzel advised retailers to eliminate the need for a site visitor to scroll to see the most important information. Commenting on LiveStrongFitness.com’s home page during the session, she pointed out that reducing the size of large home page images of treadmills, ellipticals and exercise bikes could move up other important product information and promotions. 

“These days if you can get away from making people scroll with a few tweaks, it might be worth it,” she said.

One area retailers can’t ignore is mobile, said co-presenter Matthew Ledford, president of Fast Pivot, a web design firm that focuses on the Yahoo Store platform.

“The 5-10% mobile traffic figure is real, particularly depending on geekiness of a site,” he said. “And a lot of orders are coming from iPhones. That means retailers have to adjust for Flash.”

Elements of a web site that use Flash, the Adobe Inc. technology widely to display web video and animation, won't appear to consumers accessing a web site on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, because the Apple operating system software those devices use, iOS, doesn't support Flash.

While some retailers aim to use a mobile app to account for shoppers browsing via an iPhone, that may not make sense for every merchant, he said. He suggested that retailers should focus first on building a mobile-optimized site that any web-enabled smartphone can see before building an app because retailers are already drawing organic traffic from search engines and want to be sure consumers coming through search engines see a mobile-optimized web site.

An app designed for a specific smartphone, such as the iPhone or an Android device, is fine for retailers that have the resources to develop apps. “You should look at an app as a value-add,” he said. “It’s another hook.” 

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