Can Product Images Improve Conversion? Showing Products in Context

According to a Future Now client, images can lift conversion rates by 147% by showing products “in context.”

Yesterday we looked at examples of image zoom and alternate views, which can help customers experience the product better than one small view. A good photographer plus AJAX or Flash technology like Scene 7 or Magic Zoom can achieve this.

But online retailers can go a step further and use photos that show products in use, or “in context.”

This can reduce a shopper’s fears, uncertainties and doubts about a purchase like “how does this look on a person?” or “how large is this in real life?.” Images can also “sell” by triggering an emotion, showing the quality or versatility of an item or illustrating a products features and benefits.

Here are some effective and creative ways online retailers are showing products in context:

Show Items in Use

Delia’s shows this hoodie lying flat and on a model. Showing clothing on people gives the customer a better idea of the style of the garment. Is a hoodie fitted like yoga wear or loose like a track suit? Is it a cropped style or long? Seeing an item on a person will also resonate with a certain kind of customer (like “humanstic” shoppers). Showing the flat alternative makes it easy to show different colors without having to dress the model each time.

You could argue that model shots may be less effective than showing the garment in isolation – the model’s face, the other clothing she wears or the background might detract from the product itself. Using a white mannequin, you can show the way the item looks on while keeping the focus on the item only.

Using a plus-size mannequin is very effective for plus-size clothing, as Fashion Bug does on the right.

An interesting conversion test would be to compare white-background against outdoor images, especially for clothing and brands associated with sporty/outdoor lifestyle like Cabelas:

American Apparel uses an outdoor, lifestyle shot here. The description says the pants are great for lounging, working out and sleeping. Showing the model walking a dog and sitting by the pool in the images communicates even more uses. Plus, it’s raw and more true-to-life than a polished studio shot. The pants are being worn by “a person like me.”

This example from American Apparel connects on an emotional level while showing off the garment on kids of different ages, ethnic backgrounds and wearing different colors.

Ease Suitability Fears is a lingerie shop that developed its “Try it Under” feature in house. Customers can overlay virtual shirt styles like v-necks over top of the product image to make sure straps and things don’t show through. lets you preview your print with your paint.

You can even email the image in an e-card – great for interior decorators who need approval from clients.

Ease Sizing Fears

ArtSelect lets you eyeball how large the piece is compared to a 5’4 woman.

BabyCenter shows the relative size of a diaper bag, and throws in a very happy mommy with baby to appeal to the humanistic shopper.

Again, mannequins do the trick also:

Coach uses a bag sizer tool. Choose your height and see the bag on the shoulder and in hand.

Prevent Disappointment, Build Trust & Minimize Returns

These are some pretty radical earrings, they’re not for everyone. A simple photo of the earrings alone could be deceiving – the customer could assume they are much smaller than they really are. If you offer free return shipping, well…

Blue Nile uses a ruler:

Read more on how to reduce size and color fears.

Illustrate Benefits

Spanx uses before and after shots to prove its product is indispensable.

Apple shows its laptop case with laptop inside – plus all the other stuff you can cram in there.

BabyCenter brags how versatile its stool is – both mommy and little one can make good use of it.

Product information is also “in-context.” 40 GB and 80 GB means nothing to me, but I can understand the difference between 20,000 and 40,000 songs.

PS: Notice the call to action buttons match the available colors? This is also a nice example of side-by-side upselling – it’s clear for only $100 more you get double the storage.

Going the Extra Mile

Video “product tours” can be great for some items. lets you watch a video of its dancing mascots and sample its music.

Other products lend themselves to try-before-you-buy, such as free carpet, blind and cloth samples so the customer can see the exact color and texture.

You can make your product images sell for you by thinking through the best ways to show how your products are incredible or solve a customer’s problems. It’s not just your product description’s job! Maximize both product descriptions and images and you’ll up the persuasion factor and conversion rates too.

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36 Responses to “Can Product Images Improve Conversion? Showing Products in Context”

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

    I am in desperate need of an upgrade on our images and this article is exactly what I needed. We get good traffic to our glass jewelry site but the conversion rate is terrible. Why? Because our images do not provide context and many of them need better resolution. I personally feel like showing jewelry or clothing on a mannequin is not as compelling as showing real models or better yet, photogenic real people.

  2. My issue is I sell Audio Bibles, what do I do, show people listening to a CD player with head phones on? That is all I can think of doing.

    Any better ideas? I am all eyes…….

  3. @ Trezora – yesterday Justin Palmer shared this link: It’s a free tool for image enlargement, which you can combine with shots of real people for the one-two punch.

    Just a side question – do you sell on Etsy?

    @ Audio Bible – yeah, that’s a bit more difficult, but you do show your product in context by offering audio clip samples. It demonstrates the product in use.

  4. Hi Linda,

    I’m really enjoying your product image posts. Like you I would love to see a conversion test comparing white-background against outdoor images.

    We specialize in product photography for apparel and accessories. 99% of our clients choose mannequin shots against a white background rather than lifestyle shots.

    It all comes down to budget…its a lot cheaper to shoot in a studio with no models or make up artists ect.

    I have played around with shooting clothing flat (no mannequin). The website net-a-porter always does such a good job of this. The results vary greatly depending on fabric. You just don’t get a feel for how it looks on the body though.

    I agree that showing the scale of an item of jewelry is crucial. I don’t think the ruler works well enough. You can try using a picture of a women (photo or illustration) and Photoshop the jewelry on top, like Coach do with their bags above.

    One thing that is often overlooked is image editing. It makes a huge difference to how the photo looks, yet many small companies don’t budget for it.

    Also product photography in email newsletters, a lot of people end up with a hodgepodge of images rather than shoot something specific. (again it’s all about budget)

  5. @audiobible

    Doing some high quality lifestyle shots will do the trick. WHERE do people use the product… in car commuting, morning dog walk, sitting on the vacation home balcony, doing housework… appeal to all sorts of situations with which someone could identify.

    My yardstick is often (laugh at this if you want)… how would they sell this on a late night infomercial? Seriously.

  6. Hi, I’m enjoying the articles on product images for the Web as I am co-teaching a course on that very topic at Photo Styling Workshops. I adress the product styling aspect and he teaches the photography. It’s called Style It & Shoot It (hope you don’t mind the plug) and it’s designed for online marketers like your readers. Would love to get feedback on what people need to know.

  7. [...] An image of a software CD or box is next to useless, in conveying benefits of that software. But an image of the interface suggesting some great functionality… offers all sorts of examples of good product images. [...]

  8. @ Anna + Susan,

    Wardrobe styling is a topic Jason and I have talked about covering on the blog. One question we came up with was how do you shoot photos with “ghost” mannequins like this:

    Where you see through to the back label of the garment – through research we learned of wireframe mannequins, plastic mannequins + photoshop or painting mannequin green and green-screening, or taking a mannequin and chopping off the body parts that stick out of the garment. Any ideas of the best way to do this effectively? We’ll quote you in the blog post on it, I promise :)

  9. Thanks again for a great article Linda – we run into many merchants that just don’t understand how valuable the product photography really can be and how influential it is in the decision making process of consumers. This two part series does a great job explaining just that.

  10. DJ Waldow says:

    Linda -

    Holy Moly. Very comprehensive – as usual. As an Email Marketing Account Manager, I can’t help but ask the questions:

    How do these companies use email marketing to drive traffic to their brilliantly designed landing pages? Are they considering email design, clear calls-to-action, above-the-fold content, preheaders, images on/off, etc to leverage the awesome power of email marketing?

    dj at bronto

  11. Morning Linda,

    Two years ago I tried plastic and wireframe mannequins to achieve the “ghost” effect but I was not happy with the results. Also this limits the types of mannequin you can use.

    I sometimes combine two images in Photoshop if its just a small part of the label I’m after.

    I never found a simple way to do this in-camera, I decided that there must be custom made mannequins out there but could never find them. I considered taking a saw to one of my own and cutting out the chest area!

    I’m going to renew my efforts and contact some websites using this effect. I will let you know how it goes. Most of my clients are after the look and don’t mind the mannequin.

    One thing I do a lot is take a photo on a mannequin, in Photoshop I edit out parts of the mannequin that are showing (around the hem, arms ect). You end up with an item with shape and form without a mannequin showing, but you cannot see through to the back…We take multiple angle shots and close ups of every item instead.

    I have a hook that I hang bags off, then I edit it out later in Photoshop. For earrings I use clear fishing wire (craft shop), the earrings hang perfectly and the wire is invisible. I also use a clear plastic board for studs (I drilled a small hole) and clip ons (clip onto the bottom).

    Hi DJ, love the Bronto Fire videos…we do email marketing at Style Campaign also…50% of the photos in our email gallery were taken by us.

  12. I contacted a bunch of product photographers to find out how they achieved the “ghost” effect.

    John Gibbens of, G2 Catalog Design sent me this reply,

    “We either shoot two images and piece together or we use an inexpensive plastic mannequin supported from below (for shirt/jacket images) whose neck is cut down below the open neckline. We then keep a couple different lengths of removable arms to fill sleeves – long arms with hands cut off for long-sleeve items and shorter arms for short sleeve garments.”

  13. Anna, thank you for your replies. I’ll post these in an official Get Elastic post for next week. I checked out your blog and website, very nice. You’ll be getting some linky-love from us too :D

    DJ – let’s subscribe to all these retailers’ email campaigns and find out…

  14. [...] one, not two, but three separate articles this past week about images and conversion, starting with “Can Product Images Improve Conversion?. Part 2 asks “Do Customer Submitted Photos Add Value?”, while part 3 finishes up with [...]

  15. [...] conversation emerged out of the comments on last week’s post Can Product Images Improve Conversion? Showing Products in Context about how to achieve a “ghost” mannequin effect like these examples, where the body is [...]

  16. Great post. We really believe high quality, multi-angle images sell the products really well. From day one, we actually bought our own mannequin and set it up on the corner of the office to snap products as they came in. As you can imagine though, after two months we were spending all our time doing this and not on actually selling anything!

    Right now, we’ve outsource this to an external company who we send products to for photography and often do the product from different angles and in context by showing things like a bag full of products:

    Now one thing we don’t do is show outdoor action shots on real people which I think is a great idea, and also don’t have your video’s live yet (we’re working on it).

    I’d actually be interested to see if anyone has stats on how well plain white background products compare with in-action / real person shots – any ideas?

  17. [...] are text scanners, so bullets would be better here, too. They like to see products in action, a link to a demo video would be great. Or an enlarged [...]

  18. This is really useful to a lot of our sites. I wonder how many retailers take their own photos, though. Most of our customers don’t; they use the ones provided by retailers. That is especially true of retailers that sell low volumes on a high number of skus. A tutorial on adding “context clues” to stock photography provided by vendors might be good.

  19. Gidseo says:

    Bookmarked – best article I’ve found covering images in ecommerce websites – thank you.

  20. [...] Show products in context, it can raise conversions, even by 147%! [...]

  21. Thanks Linda and Jason for the advice.

    I just recently put the audio samples in a flash player (which loads a lot faster), and i keep them on the same page now instead of letting the persons computer decide how to play the MP3 file, audio sample I had there before.

    I am working on small changes here and there so over all the site will improve.

    I am planning on testing with webpage optimizer soon.

    First area I plan to test is the checkout process. If i can improve in this area, it will effects everything else I do.

  22. us says:

    That is especially true of retailers that sell low volumes on a high number of skus.

  23. Nick says:

    Great post
    Good idea for create landing page

  24. gen says:

    Hi, i checked out your blog and website, very nice.

  25. @AudioBible ~ Checked out the site – it looks good.
    Still though, if you wanted to include a visual…you could show someone wearing headphones – maybe traveling by train or plane? It would show a real-world application of your product, something in marketing called modeling. Maybe include a tag like, “great for travelers”. Missions trips!


    (Nice work Linda!)

  26. [...] this week we discussed why enlarged images, alternate product views and showing products in context can help [...]

  27. [...] Can Product Images Improve Conversion? Showing Products in Context Stop Google Analytics From Stealing Your Valuable AdWords Keyword Data Should You Remove Keywords With Low Click Through Rates? [...]

  28. [...] written before how showing products in context with product images can help increase conversion. Showing a product in use, on a model or its [...]

  29. Great post and definitely a lot of truth in it, we now use shots of outdoor clothing with multi angle images and pictures of people wearing the clothing where possible. This definitely improves consumer confidence in the products.

  30. [...] Vis store og fine produktbilder (les mer om actionbilder) [...]

  31. dekomilch says:

    bought a week ago some cheap photo studio stuff/mannequin on ebay. have much to learn in shortest time, but i´m shure sooner or later it pays off. thanks for the great post

  32. Ashley says:

    hello i was interested in the black and white diaper bag that i am seeing on this site and i was wondering how and where i go about buy? and also how much the bag is? thank you

  33. I’ve been preaching “context of use” forever, but this is the best set of examples I’ve seen to back up the argument. *clapping*

    Nicely done. Very, very nice.

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