Practical Ecommerce

Quality Images Boost Sales

Online retailers use the Internet to reach a broader audience in order to promote and sell products. However, as online technology has evolved, so have the expectations of the growing number of shoppers.

Customers now expect a quality online shopping experience. A website that is poorly conceived and poorly designed will yield poor results. Merchants who plan to attract and keep consumers must create visually inviting sites that satisfy the demands of their customer base.

Quality images matter

Product presentation is key to increasing customer loyalty and generating sales. Merchants need to understand two concepts before they post images online: Consistency and quality.

Betsy Emery, CEO of TELLUS, an award-winning web design firm, says “consistency and quality of product images directly impact conversion rate.” Consumers who browse products on websites want to see the products they’re considering for purchase represented by the highest quality image possible.

The best way to get high-quality images is to hire a professional photographer. In addition, the ideal set-up is for products to be photographed in a professional studio where proper lighting can be ensured.

It’s worth the expense to do so, because “pictures sell,” said Sheila Dahlgren, senior vice president of marketing at Scene7, provider of on-demand rich media, a tool allowing websites and ads to contain multimedia components such as audio, video or special effects. “People do not buy what they cannot see, so the higher the quality and resolution of your imagery, the better your results will be.”

To qualify as a high-resolution image, a picture must be taken with a camera that supports 15 megapixels or more. Most digital cameras used by nonprofessional photographers operate with three to seven megapixels. A camera needs a minimum of eight megapixels to produce images that will enlarge well.

“Unless your digital camera meets these requirements, you should skip the idea of using your own digital camera and take your products to the nearest studio-grade photographer,” Dahlgren said.

“In some cases, you can use product images that have been provided directly by the vendor, but make sure you hire a good web designer who can maintain the consistency of the images used throughout your website,” Emery added.

Professionally-taken images of your products will instill trust and confidence in your customers. Conversely, if the product images are difficult to see or do not show details, they will actually have a negative impact on what and how much your customers purchase.

“The importance of quality photography is twofold: Merchandising of the product and brand identity of the website,” Emery said. “Successful merchandising provides enough visual imagery to support the purchase. Brand identity plays a large role in user confidence; [customers feel] they are purchasing from a reputable and reliable source.”

Since customers cannot touch or feel the merchandise when they browse a website, the quality of the image plays an even greater role in helping consumers decide if the product is right for them.

“Customers convert at a much higher rate and buy more when the product imagery on a site is better,” said Dahlgren. “Customers are three times more likely to buy online when retailers offer rich imagery with the ability to zoom, pan, and see color options and alternative views of the merchandise, along with the products presented in context or on a model.”

If you have the means and resources to have your products photographed by a professional, or you can supply large, high quality images yourself, do so. It will certainly increase product awareness and help your customers make better purchasing decisions.

Eoin Townsend, vice president of product and marketing for RichFX, a provider of online visual merchandising solutions, said, “As with all rich media and image solutions, the quality of the initial image dictates the quality of the end product.” Users instinctively recognize value and quality in professionally-taken photos, he said, especially ones that depict luxury brands and specialty products.

“As long as the image quality is high, say 1,500 to 3,000 pixels per inch for an image scanned from film, users will be able to see the necessary details to make an informed decision on their purchases,” Townsend said.

Overcoming the touch-and-feel barrier

When customers browse in a traditional brick-and-mortar store, they tend to pick up or feel items for a closer look. Let’s say a customer is shopping for a new sofa. He/she will walk in the store and touch and sit on the sofas that look interesting. This aspect of shopping is impossible online, but there are successful retail websites that bridge the touch-and-feel barrier between consumer and website.

“Displaying fabric and color choices and a cross-section image that shows the construction of a fine sofa may provide more information than the consumer sees in a retail store,” said Emery. “The online channel provides an excellent opportunity to supplement information that may not be readily available in a store. Therefore, displaying these same views online will contribute to an optimal user experience that results in more online purchases.” A robust image presentation can also replicate the touch-and-feel experience.

“The use of rich media and online visualization is the key to creating the comfort level that users traditionally feel in a store environment,” Townsend said. “This is accomplished by giving the control back to the online users and allowing them to interact in a way that is driven by their needs and requirements. In some situations the online channel offers an even more detailed and engaging environment than what users find in stores or via catalogs,” he said.

Providers like Equilibrium, Scene7, RichFX and others offer tools to help website owners maximize the potential that good image use offers. Such products provide a way for online shoppers to visualize how their product selection will appear when they receive it.

“Instead of selecting a sofa fabric from a swatch in the store and imagining how it will look on the finished piece of furniture, online consumers can see the final product in the fabric selection of their choice, thanks to rich media software. That option isn’t available when shopping in a retail store, said Dahlgren.

Townsend agrees. “Improved customer experience through the use of rich media visuals helps merchants sell all kinds of products,” he said, noting that implementation will vary based on the products themselves. For example, a website might choose a shirt configuration for clothing, a zoom function for jewelry and 360-degree rotation for toys.

When you combine high quality, professionally-taken images of your products with software that can actively present your online consumers with the product for which they are shopping, it can significantly increase the number of visitors from “just browsing” to real purchases.

Dave Young

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Comments ( 15 )

  1. Legacy User March 14, 2007 Reply

    I'd love to see a case study showing actual tested results. I'm sure better pictures sell better, but compared to vendor photos, how much better? How do you protect your investment in quality video and photography?

    — *Dave from Wholesale Furniture Brokers*

  2. Legacy User March 14, 2007 Reply

    I too would love to see some stats and also tips on how to take better photos for the smaller shop like ours that needs lots of photos each day. Anyone have any websites to point me too about product photography?

    — *Lynda*

  3. Legacy User March 14, 2007 Reply

    Improving product images definately improved sales for us. If your products are of a small nature, investing in a digital white box is a must. It's basically a perfectly lit box, looks akin to a microwave and very easy to use. Once you've set up the white balance on your camera, you can get perfect images every time.

    — *Shane*

  4. Legacy User March 14, 2007 Reply

    15 megapixels is ridiculous unless you are creating a catalog or print material. This is still ecommerce. If it's all going online, it's all got to be down-sized anyway.

    — *Bill*

  5. Legacy User March 15, 2007 Reply

    Hi Shane,

    What brand is the box you are using? Do you know where we can buy it?



    — *Jorrit*

  6. Legacy User March 15, 2007 Reply

    I am not sure I agree with the 15 megapixel formula. Cameras that large excel in blowing up photos for posters and larger-sized photos. For the Internet, I think the quality is wasted and not really warranting the extra expense.

    — *Ken Schulte*

  7. Legacy User March 15, 2007 Reply

    You can make a light tent easy enough – here is one tutorial I found (among many):

    I would also agree that 15MP is a little overkill for most e-commerce merchants unless you are truely providing "Hi-Res" images for wholesalers to download and use for print or using some type of "Zoomify" service to allow massive zooming into product details.

    — *Eric Anderson*

  8. Legacy User March 16, 2007 Reply

    15MP seems overkill to me, particularly given pictures will be downsized — as has already been mentioned.

    Surely the money would be better spent on getting some good lighting, etc?

    — *Euan*

  9. Legacy User March 16, 2007 Reply

    To clarify, the 15 megapixel requirement mentioned in this article relates to getting HIGH resolution images. While most online stores and web applications will not require high resolution, since the output will be for 72 dpi (computer screens). This is considered extremely low resolution to photographers and graphic designers.

    Imagine that you want to put an image of your products not only on your website, but perhaps in your new 8.5" x 11" catalog, and perhaps even in a larger poster-sized promotion. If the catalog prints at 300 dpi, then the image would need to be at least 2550 pixels x 3300 pixels, or almost 8.5 MP. And that is to get a raw photograph that will be of the minimal quality, since most photos are printed at much higher than 300 dpi.

    The point being that the 15MP camera is recommended for high resolution images only, which I would recommend myself. Unless you absolutely know that you will never need print-quality images, it's better to be safe than sorry. However, if images for the web is all you need, then just about any digital camera that is at least 3-5 MP should work for you.

    — *Brian Getting*

  10. Legacy User March 15, 2007 Reply

    I found that using lighting and some Photoshop software can make the difference. Even though my ecommerce business is in the start-up phase, my eBay sales have increased due to my lighting techniques and Photoshop editing. Doesn't take rocket scientist, just some creativity. If you would like to see some of the photo shots of my products, check them out at Photos taken with a 3.2 pixel camera.

    Village Tackle

    — *Village Tackle*

  11. Legacy User March 15, 2007 Reply

    Hi Lynda, If you need quality digital images give a look. We offer volume pricing, retouching and file management. We offer digital solutions for companies coast to coast. We give our customers high res and web files, please consider us if you require something beyond the "box."

    — *Johnny*

  12. Legacy User April 26, 2007 Reply

    I've been given the idea that a thumbnail pic should be about 10k-15k and a larger image should be just above 30k ideally so you get a fast enough load time. You've also got to compromise image quality if you want a clear background. A 3MP camera really works fine for most sites, unless you're really zooming in a lot.

    — *Mike Batson*

  13. Legacy User August 21, 2007 Reply

    Samples of quality pictures ? Try It is not only good, it is almost surreal – even better than the real product. Is this the winning way to photograph your product ?

    — *Thomas*

  14. Mike Darnell September 13, 2009 Reply

    Quality photography is undoubtedly one of the most important factors in creating customer confidence for e-commerce. With all due respect to the discussion regarding file sizes, I think that far more important are the composition and visual appeal of the image.

    Good lighting.
    Good background.
    Professional modeling wherever possible.
    3 wins.

    The ideal image?
    A good looking person, identifiable with the target demographic, enjoying the product.

    As the suppliers of an automated video platform that transforms product images into videos, we’ve seen a significant difference in the performance of videos created from good quality images and those created from less impressive pictures.

    Although our case studies show video presentations help increase conversion rates by 30% at least, we’ve witnessed quality photography provide performance that exceeds reach 300% (!!!) increases.

    Check out this video produced exclusively from stills –


  15. Steven Hull September 27, 2009 Reply

    We are completely rebuilding our product database for our new sites and new pictures were at the top of the list. One of our problems has been the poor quality or complete lack of good pictures from some of our manfs. Taking and updating pictures from a studio was going to cost us about $10K. Within 4-6 months we would need to do additional pictures that run us about $3k a shoot. Upgrading to a DSLR camera with accessories ($1800), a cheap lighting set up from ebay ($100), some books and online vidoes, and yes, some learning curve, we are getting some decent results.

    With the new equipment we can add pictures as we need to several times a year. We also realized that we have all the equipment to to do our own product videos and demonstrations. We’ll see how that works.