This is part 2 of a two-part article about how online visual merchandising can maximise the impact of online product photography in order to replicate the customer experience that merchandising can achieve on the high street. Here we focus primarily on clothing retailers and their choice between flat product shots, mannequins and models.
Part 1 Part 2
- For clothing retailers, consistency requires a decision on whether to shoot products flat, on a mannequin or using a model. It may be acceptable to select a different treatment for a single product but consistency is clearly preferable within a range in order to create a display that is attractive and reinforce the quality of the product. The benefits are clear if you consider the opposite scenario – I have worked for a discount etailer who had to use images from several different suppliers shot in different formats with the result that the display looked haphazard and the products low quality.
- Flat product photography is the least expensive option and offers the possibility of shooting a high number of products quickly. However the customer may find it more difficult to identify with the product or understand its context and how it should be used. Importantly this style of shot may convey a functional rather than aspirational feel to the brand.
The speed of shooting does allow for the creation of interesting combinations and layouts which may be a useful editorial addition to encourage cross-selling of related products.
- Mannequins provide a step up from flat shots giving the customer a basic understanding of how the product is worn or its dimensions, such as the size of a bag and whether it should be worn over the shoulder or carried in the hand, which may otherwise be impossible to discern without studying the description.
Mannequins still lack the capacity to make the customer envision the product in their own life far less aspire to it…
- Customers identify more easily with products shown on a model as opposed to a mannequin or a flat shot. They are able to gauge features such as how a dress hangs, how an item should be worn and appreciate the dimensions of a product. Many studies have shown that the inclusion of a photograph of a human being increases interest and the response to any call to action.
The use of models translates to higher sales – a difference of up to 20% for womenswear according to Practicology, a global e-commerce consultancy; on the other hand it is flat product shots that sell better for menswear except for jeans, trousers and underwear – presumably each gender has its own areas of concern for how products will look when worn.
Against these advantages you must take into account the much higher costs of shooting on a model, namely the model fee itself, stylist, hair and make-up as well as the extra time required for photography and retouching.
If the decision to shoot on a model has been taken the next question is whether to shoot ‘identified’ – this refers to whether the model’s face is shown. It is considerably cheaper to hire a model for ‘headless’ pictures especially when combined with the savings in hair and make-up. There is of course the problem of making such images generate an aspirational feel for the brand but this is less significant if accompanied by prominent lifestyle images.
- 360-degree rotating images are not just the preserve of property websites. They provide any customer with a more complete viewing experience which increases confidence in the product and hence higher conversion rates. Golfsmith.com found that products with this feature resulted in conversion rates up to 40% higher.
- Video is an expensive option and for this reason was often previously reserved for editorial use however it is now taking centre stage in many high profiile fashion websites such as MYHABIT. The brand becomes much more aspirational and the customer is given a fuller understanding of how the product appears when worn. The results are spectacular – according to Google’s industry director for retail, Todd Pollak, 34% of clothing shoppers are likely to buy after watching an online video ad.
Online visual merchandising requires as much attention to detail and psychological understanding as merchandising on the high street. The traditional toolbox is irrelevant in an online context but the principles can be instilled into the visuals so as to optimise the customer experience on the internet.