While standard photos may be acceptable for items such as DVDs, books and CDs, which are more or less the same wherever you choose to buy them, for most other products good quality photos can make a real difference.
This is especially true for clothes and shoes, and online retailers need to work hard to overcome the web's limitations in this area when customers cannot touch and see a product close up as they would in-store.
I've been reading a post on the Future Now blog where Jeff Sexton explains how effective use of product images can answer questions and ease a customer's doubts about a product.
I've summarised some of Jeff's tips here and added some of my own...
Jeff's tips included:
Show the back of the product - this is something that retailers don't often do but can help answer shoppers' queries about a product, such as showing the type of connections and number of scart sockets on the back of a TV or DVR, or showing whether a suit jacket has vents on the back.
These features can be explained in the product description, but a picture gets these points across to customers instantly. The same principles apply to showing products from the bottom or the sides.
Schuh's product pages are a good example of this, providing eight images that let users to see trainers from all angles, including from the bottom:
Show how large a product is - showing items alongside objects of known size or on models will help customers to see how big products are. Showing them in context can also ease customers' worries about how a product will look once they receive it. The GetElastic blog has some excellent examples of showing products in context here.
Here are some other tips and examples of using product photos:
Use professional quality images - this is basic advice but absolutely essential if you want customers to get a real feel for the products. Also, poor quality, low resolution photos can make your site look less professional.
Look at Hotel Chocolat for a great example of using images, such as this high-res picture of a delicious looking Easter egg:
Let users zoom in or enlarge images
For some products, clothes and shoes particularly, you can't expect customers to make a decision to purchase based on one simple photo; they have to be able to see the detail.
So, enlarged images are essential here, as in this example from Webtogs; the enlarged version of the photo allows shoppers to get a good idea of how the jacket looks, the material etc:
Another way to do this is to provide a zoom tool, so that users can focus on whichever area of the product they want to see. In this product page from John Lewis, users can zoom into any area of the cushion:
Show products in context
Showing products in context, as well as giving users an idea of scale, can answer customers' questions about how a product works, how it will look on them etc. This is one area where video could be useful, but Firebox does a good job of showing shoppers what the 'slanket' (some kind of blanket with arms) does.
The product is shown in context on several photos, while Firebox also invites customers to upload their photos to give an even better idea of the product:
Optimise images for fast loading
One drawback of having high resolution product photos is that it can slow down page load times, so compressing images where possible is one way to reduce the file size and lose a few kilobytes from your website.
Use video where appropriate
More retailers are now using video and, with some products, video is more useful than photography as it can display a product in motion or from a variety of angles, or with sound.
I've noticed that M&S has started using video lately for some of its newer products; for items like suits it helps the user see how they look on, though videos may be better if they are embedded into product pages rather than opening up in a new window as here:
For some products only video will do. For example, with this baby 'travel system' on Mothercare, the video can show how it folds up, and the range of different seating positions it can be adjusted to, something that could not be achieved without a lot of product images. See this post for more examples of retailers using video.