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Optimizing Your Ecommerce Site: Visual Merchandising

Unless you’re reading this from 1995, you’re probably aware that most websites have a large visual element. Amazon, Play.com, eBay, Apple Store… open any of their homepages and you’ll instantly be bombarded with tasteful product shots designed to lure you in. Clearly, photography is a big part of online product marketing – and why shouldn’t it be?

For decades, creative photography has been used to sell us everything from watches to waffle irons. So how do you make your small-business website stand out against a horde of well-funded competitors? While no-one can guarantee instant success, there are a few steps you can take to ensure you’re at least headed in the right direction. Here are 5 of them:

Quality Photos

It sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed how many websites still hawk out goods beneath photos that seem to have been copied and pasted from an old Geocities website. No matter whether you’re a small business operating out the back of your bedroom, or a high-street juggernaut eyeing up new avenues for expansion, the golden rule of product selling is to make the product look desirable. And the first part of that is to use a sharp, clear image that screams quality. That means, high-res, professional images shot by a bonafide photographer. For a good example check Apple.com, a business model founded on making products look sleek and desirable.

The Human Factor

A good rule is if you’re selling something to go on someone’s body – show it on someone’s body. Most clothing retailers wouldn’t dream of putting their products up sans model and you shouldn’t either. Seeing a gorgeous girl or handsome stud sporting your merchandise is not only far more visually arresting, it sends unconscious signals to the customer’s brain about how the product may look on them. Also, it’s practical: stores like Forever 21 include the sizes of their models along with the photo, allowing potential customers to judge how the clothes will fit them.

But it’s not just clothes and accessories that can benefit from the human factor. Check out the Amazon.co.uk Kindle front page. Of their five product photos, 3 show the Kindle interacting with someone – even if you can only see a hand. Aside from letting you judge the size and weight of the product, it gives the buyer an emotional connection. Instead of an antiseptic image, you’re giving them something to relate to that may entice them in.



What fills up the space behind your product image is perhaps the single most important aspect of the photograph. This is where you need to be certain of your business: are you minimalist, utilitarian – allowing the product to speak for itself – or are you marketing a lifestyle choice? Both have their advantages, and both require you to make a decision about your backing image; even if that decision is whether to have it plain white or light grey. The trick is to use your chosen mise en scene to enhance the product without totally obscuring it – or in the case of minimalist backgrounds, making it look boring. We recently ran an article on websites using blurred background photos, just one example of the millions of striking ways you can utilize that otherwise empty space.



Do your bank-balance a favor by getting a designer on board. A great photo should be complemented by a great layout, one that represents a harmony between product, photo and website. It’s easy to think of bad examples, so instead let’s take a look at a few that got it right. Louis Vuitton, Made, Tommy Hilfiger and Storyville all excel at getting that balance just right. Shapes, colors, and texture all flow together to create one enticing experience that leaves you wanting to browse the site forever, even if you’re already up to your ears in boat shoes and coffee grinders. Sometimes, finding that right designer can be the move that takes your business from ‘stable’ to supernova.



In our frenetic digital society, we’ve come to expect all engagement, all the time. If you stumble across a blog with no comments function or a brand without a Twitter, you’re out of there like a shot. Same with retail sites – if you can find a way to break down the barriers between your customer and their purchase, go for it. Many clothing websites now include a separate window allowing you to examine your purchase at all angles, in great detail, simply by moving the mouse across it. A more obvious approach is to add a video element. It may take time and cost money, but probably less than you think and the results can be immeasurable. Toast are one of the retailers that now offer video as standard – thanks, in large part to the 34% sales boost associated with video. Flash too has its place, just make sure it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the page, or make your website hard to navigate.


About the Author:

This guide was brought to you by Ally Biring a freelance design and tech writer with the ConranShop.co.uk.

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