Product images sell – they are, in fact, the most significant sales factor alongside price. This point is missed by so many online retailers, who make-do with a single low-resolution photo, supplied by the manufacturer or wholesaler. But if you want to convert your browsers into buyers, investing in professional photography, even videos, offers an incredible return on investment.
Invest in Original Imagery
You don’t need to hire celebrity models and well-known photographers, to get an edge over your competitors.
Universities are full of photography, fashion and art students, who would love to take your photos, perfect your lighting, airbrush your pics and model your products. They are cheap, enthusiastic, freshly educated in the latest techniques and often own professional-grade kit.
Take photos from every conceivable angle. Some buyers want to see the sole/tread of a shoe, the bottom of a plate, the inside collar of a shirt, the buttons on a gadget and the small-print on a box. If the item has multiple parts, consider taking “Flat Lay” photos, with the parts beautifully laid out.
You can even get a robot to take your product photos for you! Ecommerce and POS giant, Square, recently launched their Photo Studio where robotic cameras take the perfect product snaps. Shopify and Amazon are both rumoured to be launching product photography services as well.
360-degree rotating images can also help to bring the offline buying experience, online. Apps such as Magic360 provide your store with fully rotatable product images, but you must get the required photo angles first.
Video is becoming more widespread in Ecommerce, as internet speeds continue to improve. Clothing retailers such as ASOS set-up catwalk shows, so that customers can see models walking up and down in clothes before they buy. Outside of fashion, Home Improvement retailers have found success in filming infomercials for their products – showing people how to use them and what benefits they bring.
Even if you dropship or resell another company’s product, ordering one of each SKU to take photos and videos, can really give your website an edge.
Image & Video Hosting Services
Outside of uploading product photos to your web hosting provider, there are several specialist image hosting services. Most of these are designed to tackle the complicated task of image sizing, compressing, colouring, adjustments, cropping and editing.
Cloudinary is a popular service used by Whole Foods, Stitch Fix, Neiman Marcus and Jane.com. You can upload your raw images to them and use their tools to manipulate, enhance, resize, rotate and crop the pictures. The finished images are then compressed and optimised for fast loading times.
Kraken is a similar service, used by Hallmark, Dell and Tesla on their retail sites. Both services have plugins to work with most major Ecommerce platforms, so the choice is down to personal preference and price.
Pixelz is an image editing service specifically for Ecommerce websites. Their clients include FOSSIL, Jack & Jones, Lowe’s and Asics. The photo editing is mostly automated, but with the ability to flag-up any mistakes/issues, to have them corrected. By being ecommerce focussed, Pixelz can offer niche editing options such as Background Removal, Product Shadows and Invisible Mannequins.
If you’re simply looking for a place to store all of your images, the logical choice is Amazon S3 . S3 is what Netflix stores all of its video content on and where Airbnb stores all of its accommodation images. It is cheap, infinitely scalable and pay-as-you-go. Storing 1,000GB of images will cost you just $23/month, although bandwidth (image views) can be expensive. To reduce bandwidth costs and increase speed, you’ll want to use a “CDN” (see below).
Video Hosting is a whole different animal that requires a specialist service of its own.
The easy choice for video is YouTube , which can also drive traffic to your store from their website and apps. Brands choosing to host on YouTube include Raspberry Pi , Redsbaby and Native Union . The downside of YouTube is a lack of control and the possibility of losing visitors, who could click-out into the YouTube site or onto related videos.
One of the most exciting new video players on the market is Cloudflare Stream . Stream accepts your raw video file, encodes, compresses and serves it in a custom video player. It’s fully customisable, embeddable, cheap ($1 per 1,000 minutes viewed, $5 for 1,000 minutes stored) and there’s no leakage of traffic onto other platforms or videos. What’s more, one of the customers planning to migrate over to Steam is Raspberry Pi, a former advocate of YouTube.
Making Images Faster with a CDN
Choosing the right CDN is one of the most important technical decisions you can make, for your ecommerce store. A CDN will take copies of your website’s images, photos and digital assets, storing them on servers that are physically located closer to your customer. Even if your website is hosted in the US and all of your customers are American, the difference in page and image loading times for someone in LA vs. New York can be staggering. Akamai (a CDN) reports that every hundred milliseconds of extra loading time can cause your conversion rate to drop by 7%!
Cloudflare is a simple CDN solution, with one of the largest networks and pricing plans that start from free. As well as serving all of your images, they also protect your website from attacks and compress your data. It’s the obvious choice for most, with American Apparel, AO.com and Touch of Modern, all using them. Cloudflare requires you to use their DNS and point your domain name at them though, which may not be an option for some companies.
Fastly is another popular CDN, that can be easier to implement and use than Cloudflare. Websites using them include Nordstrom Rack, Ticketmaster, Rakuten, Boots and Wayfair. They have excellent coverage across the US and Western Europe, but may not be the best choice if your customers come from Canada, Africa, Eastern Europe, Russia or the Middle East.
The Verizon and Akamai CDNs were historically reserved for the biggest websites in the world, with six-figure minimum spends. Microsoft became an unlikely giant slayer though, reselling access to the CDNs (as well as Microsoft’s own) via their Azure cloud computing service. Azure requires a significant amount of technical knowledge to use it, but does give you access to, arguably, the only two CDNs that can match Cloudflare on size and speed.
Finally, if your digital content is already stored on Amazon S3, Amazon’s own CDN, Cloudfront , could be the best option for your ecommerce store. Cloudfront has much lower bandwidth fees, compared to loading content directly from S3, plus puts your content in over 120 locations worldwide. Ecommerce stores using Cloudfront include Instacart, Artfinder and of course, Amazon themselves. Cloudfront is a natural choice if you already use AWS (Amazon Web Services), but could be more expensive than Fastly or Cloudflare – so make sure that you calculate and compare costs.
Lastly, if you use a hosted ecommerce platform such as Shopify , you may already have a CDN built-in. Shopify serves your images via Fastly’s CDN automatically and at no additional cost. BigCommerce operates their own CDN, but from only eight locations worldwide, so you may still want to invest in a CDN to get true global performance.