Do Customer Submitted Photos Add Value?

Earlier this week we discussed why enlarged images, alternate product views and showing products in context can help conversion.

But what about “user generated images” (or the friendlier term “customer submitted photos”)? Are they just social media / Web 2.0 hype or do they really improve customer experience?

Customer images may be used to help sell product (like customer reviews complement product descriptions) or just build community (if the retailer has a community section). Either way, customer submitted photos have their challenges:

  • Image quality can vary from submission to submission. Dark or fuzzy images really don’t add value and can hurt the consistency and professionalism of your site.

  • Attracting images can be a challenge – only a small percentage of customers will take the time to create a picture and send it to you.
  • Moderating images for appropriateness and relevance takes extra time.

Let’s look at some examples of how online retailers are using customer submitted photos:

Product Pages

You may have noticed that Amazon shows customer images along with its own product images:

You can roll over the thumbnails to view larger versions and even read notes that users have left on them:

This is helpful as a customer review – the color on the web is not the color in the box.

Customer Reviews

Power Reviews allows photo attachments to reviews, as spotted on Uncommon Goods:

(Sometimes customers pick useless tags…)

What I like about this approach is it’s seamless. Good review content is not separated into text vs. image reviews. On Amazon, a very helpful tip like the color is actually more mint than neon green could be missed unless you read reviews AND view pictures. Plus, it’s less programming work when your reviews product has image upload already available.

Customer Testimonials

Modern Line Furniture has a testimonials page with customer images linked to from the home page (though the call-to-action gets a bit lost in the home page clutter).

The testimonials page links through to the product pages for items featured in the room. Yay! There’s hope for a transaction!

Community / Resource Section

Some retailers actually have a community component to their e-stores, like David’s Bridal. Customers can upload pictures from their weddings, and brides-to-be can surf them to get inspiration for dress styles and color schemes.

While this is a good idea, the community section is kind of a dead end — there is no link back to products or tools that facilitate a purchase decision like shop-by-color.

Alternative Energy Store has a similar community gallery, but without links to products or buying guides, it’s not very helpful.

With links to products, the gallery could be a social tool for product discovery. I just haven’t come across a retailer who’s doing that well (community gallery that aids shopping). Have you? Please share your find in the comments.

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15 Responses to “Do Customer Submitted Photos Add Value?”

  1. Melissa says:

    You know, I think an underused element of social product recommendations is the forum model. By bringing customers into a forum-based community, allowing them to ask questions, post pictures, search past posts, etc, you allow them to create a library of information and get each other excited about new products. Bringing specialized manufacturers and shop managers into the picture not as retailers but as friends, as the site I’m thinking of does, really makes for a rich community. While I’ve only seen a thriving forum community on a specialized, niche site, isn’t that what the long tail is all about? I’m curious if you’ve seen an exciting forum community as well, or if this is an anomaly.

  2. Hi Melissa,

    I agree that forums can build a sense of community and some do it very well, like BodyBuilding.com for example.

    http://www.getelastic.com/bodyspace-social-networking/

    The challenge with building community is hitting that critical mass of users. Nothing worse than a dead forum where most categories are 3-4 months since the last post.

    There is also the flip-side, effective moderation for large communities can be a large time commitment.

    I’m not against retailers scoping out a popular forum and either sponsoring it or purchasing it and branding it as their own. It does carry risks that the community will not like being absorbed by a retailer, but as long as it’s not over-self-promotional it could work.

    A couple other examples of home-grown communities that come to mind are Ebay’s Hub
    http://hub.ebay.com/community
    and Circuit City’s CityCenter http://www.circuitcity.com/ccd/genericContent.do

    CC doesn’t seem to link to the CityCenter from the home page, I couldn’t find it through the site, I had to go to the search engine to find “Circuit City Forum” – wonder why that is.

  3. I really like threadless.com’s use of user-submitted photos.

    http://www.threadless.com is an online t-shirt site that does a pretty great job at creating a community feeling. Customers submit photos of themselves wearing their t-shirts, often in funny poses mirroring the graphic on the t-shirt itself.

    Really adds to the experience.

  4. We’ve added a planner and gallery section to our hen night (bachelorette party) store. It’s proving very popular with customers (of ours and of other sites!) – next step is to make the connection between the gallery photos and the product pages of the store.

    http://www.hennighthq.co.uk/yourhennight/browse/

    It’s not quite the same as Amazon’s approach – customers upload pictures of themeselves to make their own gallery, rather than to add to a product page.

  5. @ Richard,

    You’ll probably have more success with social media for HenNightHQ since the products are for social events. It’s a bit tougher when you’re selling printer supplies :)

  6. We’ve tried asking for customers to send in pictures of them wearing our jewelry with no success. I would still like to pursue this approach though and was going to add the images directly to the product pages. This way will create a strong tie in to the product itself and hopefully inspire others to buy.

  7. 2-3 weeks after purchase send an email or call. The offer being a monthly contest. Send in your photos wearing your new jewelery and have a chance to win a “$100 Trezora gift certificate” or “ANY piece of jewelery up to $100″ etc. Should help boost responses.

  8. Kathy Milette says:

    What a great post, and so relevant to a challenge I’m having. One of my company’s brands would love to develop a community component, where users and evangelists submit photos and stories to be posted. Unfortunately, our budget is virtually nil. I’m considering creating and linking to a Flickr page. Pros: cheap, easy. Con: does this conflict with brand image and sophistication? Any thoughts?

  9. Flickr is a great option (low cost, access to a larger community than just your customers)

    Some examples of retailers using Flickr:
    http://www.getelastic.com/social-media-examples/

    However, a lot of them let their groups “die” – didn’t keep the momentum.

    Here’s a fantastic article by Julie Gallaher on marketing through Flickr groups that may help you broaden your reach with your customer evengelists’ submissions.

  10. Kathy Milette says:

    Thanks so much Linda. I’ll check these out.

  11. [...] for video reviews and customer photos (to show the product in [...]

  12. [...] reviews can include user generated photo, video, can be posted on blogs, and even condensed into short summaries for the [...]

  13. I’d tend to agree that they do add value. We’re currently trying to encourage photo submission on our site!

  14. Totally agree customer submitted photos work best. We sell experiences and we try to steer away from stock photos, people want to see the real people having a great time on their event!

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