When it comes to e-commerce, anything that moves the needle up is a welcome change. I spoke with leaders from successful e-commerce sites to discuss site features that increased sales.

Address Verification

A surefire way to lose a customer is to have a package delivered to the wrong address. Using an address verification software such as Addressy or SmartyStreets saves that hassle. With address verification, the customer only needs to input a partial address, and valid postal addresses will be automatically suggested, saving time and improving the user experience. Having accurate addresses also helps the online seller, as error messages can be avoided and user-inputted spelling errors are eliminated. According to Natalie Green, marketing manager at PCA Predict, “this technology is used by thousands of global retailers around the world including L’Oreal, Lands’ End and Monkey Sports. Here’s an example of it in action on Dormify’s website. As the user types, the tool autocompletes the
verified address – saving the customer from typing out the whole address.”

Addressy’s address verification at work

Payment Options

Offering flexible ways to pay can help customers convert. Bob Ellis runs Bavarian Clockworks, a site that sells authentic German cuckoo clocks. He added PayPal Credit as a flexible payment option. “This can be an especially useful feature for e-commerce sites that sell high-end, expensive products,” he says. “Rather than having to pay a large lump sum, customers have the option to pay for a product they purchased over an extended period of time.” On Bavarian Clockworks, customers who choose PayPal Credit have six months interest-free to complete their payments, making checkout easier. And because it’s all run through PayPal, the e-commerce owner doesn’t have to manage payments.

Customized Calculators

Many e-commerce sites sell highly specialized or customized products. In this case, giving customers a convenient way to calculate costs will likely lead to more sales. Ostap Bosak manages Marquis Gardens, the largest retailer of water features and pond supplies in Toronto. He said, “it is sometimes tricky to estimate how much… one needs to build, repair, or expand a pond.” Therefore, the site added a Pond Calculator. Using only the pond’s size dimensions, customers can see over 20 different parameters to get a better idea of how much the project will cost.

Similarly, Thexyz.com offers dedicated servers. According to Perry Toone, a member of Thexyz’s support team, the site was recently improved, allowing visitors “to custom build and configure every aspect of the setup process. The price of the server is adjusted in real time to give the most accurate price based on client specifications.”

Email Capture

Losing customers who abandon your site before they make a purchase? One way to get them back is to capture an email address before they leave. Bob Clary, Director of Online Engagement for Intellibright, recommends SumoMe. “It’s inexpensive but powerful, and it helps fill the top of your funnel with new leads,” he says. “It also connects with your major CRMs to let you trigger intelligent email automation programs.” And, as an added benefit, he says, it’s really easy to install.

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Peter Alessandria, photographer at GreatProductShots.com for the following guest post.

1. The camera

DON’T use your cellphone. Please. It’s not because I am a camera snob. The main problem with your cellphone camera is the lens. The wide angle can distort the view of your product. Since you spend thousands of dollars acquiring, designing, developing, prototyping and/or manufacturing your product, you want it to look its best, and the lens on the cellphone will not do it justice. It just can’t come close to the sharpness, clarity, and perspective you’d achieve with a decent camera. Plus, if you don’t have enough light, cellphone pictures look grainy.

DO get a nice camera. If you’re serious about selling and want to present your product in its best light, make the investment. You don’t need to spend more than $300-$400. Buy (or borrow) a great entry-level, interchangeable lens camera, such as a DSLR. I bought my 10-year-old niece a refurbished Canon Rebel SL-1 (including lens) from the Canon USA website for less than $300, and I could probably do 80% of my professional work with this camera if I had to. Afraid of using the wrong settings on your fancy new camera? Shoot in automatic mode, and the photos will still be stunning.

The background

DON’T choose a cluttered or distracting background. Shooting your products on your desk, kitchen counter, or in the garage won’t cut it! The product needs to stand out and look like it’s the only thing that matters. Even if I’m selling my own used stuff on Craigslist, I always shoot on an uncluttered, attractive background with proper lighting.

DO use a white background. This works in presenting your product since all the emphasis is on the product itself, without any distractions. White background shots are standard on almost every e-commerce website and product catalog out there. They convey a lot of useful information to your customers and aid in the purchasing decision. However, don’t use a bed sheet! You want a smooth, sweeping look. Instead, go to the local art store and get some white drawing or tracing paper on a roll. Put the roll high up on a shelf and let it drape down over your shooting area. Place your product on top of the paper to create a smooth, seamless background.

Bonus shots

DON’T miss out on the opportunity to create a video of your product in use. Video can convey lots of information in a short time. Emphasize the experience people will have when they use or purchase your product. But keep the clips short – one minute or less should do. That DSLR you purchased in my first tip can shoot video – or just use your cellphone. There, I said it.

DO consider “environmental” shots. Once you get your white background shots done, do some photos that show the product in use or being enjoyed by people. You may be able to use your own home or office or a local park as your set. Models can be friends or family – just make sure they look happy! You’re really selling an experience when you sell a product. People buy it to solve a problem or enhance their lives. Models are an effective way to convey the emotions people can expect when they buy your stuff.

Using angles

DON’T rely on one boring, static shot to sell your product. Offer different angles to give customers the big picture. Don’t always shoot from eye level. See what your competitors are doing with their photos, and emulate the best.

DO shoot multiple angles. A little trick to enhance the look of a product is what we professional product photographers call the “hero shot.” I want my clients’ products to look important; this means shooting products from a low angle. Orson Welles did it in Citizen Kane to make his characters look larger than life, and I do it for my clients. Get the camera at or below the surface you are shooting on, and angle the camera up. You can try higher angles – but not too high. Of course, don’t forget shots from the right, left, and behind, and if appropriate, close-ups of any special features. Also, consider shots of any labels or packaging that might influence your customers to buy.

Lighting

DON’T use the built-in flash. Please! Direct flash is the most unflattering light for both people and products. If it’s the only light you have at your disposal at Mom’s birthday dinner or your kid’s dance recital, so be it. But when you’re producing photos to sell your products, you need to up your game.

DO use good lighting – there’s really no way around this one. The Greek derivation of the word photography means “to paint with light.” You can have the best camera in the world, but if the lighting sucks, so will your pictures. If you don’t have enough light, digital photos can look grainy. But good lighting does more than produce smooth, sharp pictures: it makes for interesting pictures. And interesting pictures make for more sales. While I have thousands of dollars worth of lighting equipment in my studio, you don’t necessarily need all that. Start simple: get some desk lamps at IKEA or work lights at Home Depot if you don’t already have them. Then make sure the White Balance on your camera is set to Auto. The key to good lighting is to use at least two lights and place them on the left and right of your product. Never light the product straight-on. Play with different angles to see what looks most interesting, and be sure to shift the lights or your camera angle to avoid glare if your product has a shiny surface.

BONUS TIPS FOR SOCIAL MEDIA:
• Make it easy for people to share your photos on social media. Post high-resolution images on your website and social media pages. While you don’t want to slow down the load times for your website, small, hard-to-see photos won’t help you sell more product. Also, don’t disable the right-click function on your website photos. This will make it easy for people to save, copy, and paste your photos.
• Keep all your photos in one gallery where people can easily share them with friends via a link, and/or provide social media Share buttons for each of your photos.
• Post your photos often, and encourage followers to comment and share them. Always try to respond to comments – it makes them feel like you care (a simple “thank you” will usually suffice). But be careful not to always be selling on social media – you want to engage people and generate interest, rather than turn them off with a constant sales pitch.
• Encourage people who purchase your product to take their own photos of the product in use and then share those photos. You may also want to consider giving customers a centralized place to post or upload their product photos.

If you care about your product, it’s always worth it to spend a little extra time and money to take great photos of it. I can tell you after more than 15 years in the business, good photos always lead to more sales.

Peter Alessandria is a professional fine-art and commercial photographer based in the New York/New Jersey area. He has won 42 awards for his work, and his photos have been published in newspapers and magazines around the world. He has been featured on NBC-TV NY and other news and social media outlets. He shoots all kinds of products for his clients, including cosmetics, clothing, computers, household products, and jewelry. See all his product photography work on his website GreatProductshots.com.

I’ve written before about how a simple photo swap can dramatically increase sales. But how do you accomplish that gorgeous product photography? Should you hire a professional, or can you learn to do it yourself? I talked to businesses and photographers to see what tips they shared. If you think I’ve missed any, please leave your advice in the comments!

Strategy matters

First things first. Consider what your product shots should accomplish, and what tone of voice they need to create. Food photographer Sarah E. Crowder wrote, “as a photographer, it comes as no surprise that I think high-quality photography is important to your business, but it’s important to get other aspects of your venture in order before investing in photography. For example, you should establish a marketing strategy and go through some sort of branding process before hiring a professional photographer so that you can get the most out of that investment.” Plan the kinds of product photography you need as well as those nice-to-have extra shots that might be leveraged elsewhere. Understand what media channels your product photos will inhabit: e-commerce pages and social media images all the way up to larger-than-life posters or trade show displays.

product-photography

photo: Peter Alessandria / greatproductshots.com

White seamless backgrounds or lifestyle shots?

In all likelihood, you’ll want a combination of pure product photography as well as in-use lifestyle portraits. CJ Johnson, founder of digital agency Januel+Johnson says, “because we live in an era of social media, I typically advise brands to showcase more of what their products look like in use: high-quality lifestyle images, worthy of being featured on Instagram.” In addition, he recommends ongoing studio shoots with generic product shots against simple backgrounds. “If you’re doing both strategies, then you’re getting the most of out of your photos because you can use them for digital ads, your website updates, blogs, promotions, social media, look books, catalogs, and more. If you do both strategies simultaneously then you’re really firing on all cylinders because you’re able to compare the results of doing generic product shots and lifestyle shots.”

DIY or hire?

The answer may come down to a matter of personal preference and marketing objectives. There are product photography studios online where you can ship your products and they’ll shoot and retouch the photos for you. Just a few include Pelican Commerce, Pixel Productions, and Pixc. You can also hire someone locally so that you can be present during the shoot. But even if you end up hiring someone, doing it yourself may help form a basic understanding of product photography that will help you judge the pros. Lisa Chu, owner of children’s clothing company Black N Bianco said, “I started my e-commerce business with a very tight budget and I had to do everything myself. I can say from experience once you understand the basics of photography it will a breeze to take engaging product photos for your e-commerce business.” Even lifelong photographers admit that because cameras have come such a long way, professional-level photos can be had with a minimal investment in camera and lighting. Which brings me to the next tip:

Basic equipment

Camera

Sure, you could use the iPhone in your pocket. But you probably shouldn’t. The lens on your cellphone has a wide angle which distorts the view of your product and can’t compare to a real camera lens in terms of sharpness, clarity, and perspective. Product photographer Peter Alessandria writes, “I bought my 10-year-old niece a refurbished Canon Rebel SL-1 (including lens) from the Canon USA website for less than $300 and I could probably do 80% of my professional work with this camera if I had to.”

Lighting

Crowder recommends, “If you do not have excellent natural light available to you, invest in an inexpensive light kit. I love the Lowel Ego Digital Imaging Fluorescent Light Kit and have a tutorial on how to use it here.” The lights will run you about a hundred dollars. If you want to go even simpler, Alessandria advises, “get some desk lamps at IKEA or work lights at Home Depot if you don’t already have them. Then make sure the White Balance on your camera is set to Auto. The key to good lighting is to use at least two lights and place them to the left and right of your product. Never light the product straight on. Play with different angles to see what looks most interesting. Also be sure to shift the lights or your camera angle to avoid glare if your product has a shiny surface.” He also emphasizes not using the built-in flash on your camera. “Direct flash is the most unflattering light for both people and products.”

tips-product-photography

photo: Peter Alessandria / greatproductshots.com

Background and Tripod

Chu believes that “one of the most important aspects to running an e-commerce business is having product photos that convey value and trust in your business. High-quality beautiful product photos can heavily influence your conversion rate.” In order to accomplish this, she says, “it’s best to use a tripod.” For a clean background, “you can purchase a white mat board at your local art store.”

Evolve. Test. Repeat.

Experiment with different featured shots to see if the needle moves on clicks or sales. If you don’t have the time or patience for a live A/B test on your website, use PickFu to poll audiences about what photos they find most attractive. In just a few minutes, you’ll have valuable feedback on what customers are drawn to, and how they react to your product photography.

Exactly who likes your product or design should never be a mystery to you. Knowing your audience means understanding their needs and desires, and knowing how best to address them.

On PickFu, you always know who answers your polls – each result includes a demographic breakdown of gender, age, income, ethnicity, and education level. But you can also target certain demographic groups so that only certain subsets of the population respond to your poll.

“Your audience gives you everything you need. They tell you. There is no director who can direct you like an audience.” – Fanny Brice

Mobile Device Platform

One of the most practical demographic segments PickFu offers is targeting iOS or Android users. If your app is only available on one platform, why poll those who couldn’t download it if they wanted to? This Android game wanted to see what users thought of a new mobile app icon. The poll encompassed Android users between the ages of 18 and 34:

app-icon-testing

PickFu also offers the ability to target Mobile Gamers.

Reading Preferences

Authors use PickFu extensively to test book titles, subtitles, cover designs, and blurbs. Knowing this, we created several categories on PickFu so that authors could better target readers. You can poll based on the type of reading (fiction or non-fiction) readers prefer, and the number of books they tend to read per month.

When writing effective book descriptions, a top tip is to use the first sentences of your blurb to hook a reader in. One author used PickFu to poll females who preferred fiction to gauge which opening sentences were more intriguing.

reader-poll

Vegetarianism

If your book is aimed at a niche market, why poll those outside that niche? One author whose cookbook included kosher vegetarian recipes polled 50 vegans and vegetarians. They overwhelmingly preferred the colorful, more poetic option over the straightforward title.

demographic-targeting-vegetarians

It would have even been possible to target only vegetarians of the Jewish faith on PickFu, though it would have taken longer to complete the poll. This author decided not to keep the focus that narrow. After all, the kosher recipes could still be enjoyed regardless of religious beliefs.

Income

When you’re launching a boutique product, it makes sense to ask opinions of those in your target market. This line of organic skincare products polled women who made over $60,000 to see which logo they preferred:

logo-poll

Age

Perhaps your product is aimed at the youth market. This upcoming line of streetwear wanted to see what males under the age of 50 thought of its logo design:

poll-young-males

These are just some of the ways the ability to laser-focus polls has helped our customers. Who is your main audience? Do they share certain traits? Are there even more segments that would be useful to you? Send your thoughts to us @PickFu!

Steve Chou runs an online store called Bumblebee Linens. As an e-commerce site owner, he knows that an appealing photo can make the difference between losing a customer and making a sale. In fact, a simple photo swap helped Steve improve sales on a listing by 209%.

In order to test photos, Steve ran split tests on his website, whereby he published a listing, waited several days, swapped out the images for new ones, waited again, and then compared the results. The problem with split testing, however, “is that it takes forever. Every test that I run usually takes at least 3 weeks or more,” he wrote in a blog post. “And I’d say that 9 times out of 10, my tests are inconclusive.”

Besides the time required, a conversion pixel or some kind of tracking mechanism was needed, adding complexity and hassle to the tests, especially when selling on sites like Amazon, eBay, or Etsy. “Not only is this a major pain in the butt if you have multiple listings,” he said, “but if you’re lazy like me, you’re never going to do it.”

So when Steve heard about PickFu, “I thought I’d give it a try just for fun.” He took a listing from his store and tested his current featured photo against a new photo.

This was the photo he was running:

test-ecommerce-photo

And this was the new photo:

test-e-commerce-photos

After surveying 50 women in the span of less than 20 minutes, the second photo beat the first by a margin of 3 to 1. The female respondents gave answers such as the following:

• It’s like a recommended serving suggestion – it just looks great and makes you picture using it
• The purple flowers against the gray backdrop and white napkins is gorgeous.
• … the flowers make it more interesting and make the napkins look a bit more fancy.

Steve admits that PickFu won’t replace traditional split tests, because split tests use your actual website customers as test subjects. Still, split tests take time to set up, and even more time to run. “Depending on your traffic levels, it can often take several months before you can get an answer,” he said. “Now it’s one thing if they always ended up providing conclusive results, but it’s rarely the case. … So from my perspective, I’m very reluctant to run a split test now unless it’s for something major. But for everything else, I’m more inclined to pay [a few] bucks and get a quick 20-minute answer from PickFu.”

After publishing his blog, one commenter wrote, “Wow, Steve, this is AWESOME! I’m definitely going to give PickFu a try. I’ve known about split testing and wanted to try it but it seemed overwhelming and technical. This, however, is right up my alley.”

Is PickFu right up your alley? Tell us about it! And keep in mind, we at PickFu practice what we preach. We tested two possible titles for this very blog post.

An attractive photo, a great layout, a memorable logo or app icon – these elements are often touted as the keys to optimization. Indeed, a well-converting site, ebook, or app will need them all. But sometimes we tend to underplay or altogether overlook the importance of copy testing – and to our peril. Whether it’s description copy of an e-commerce product, the subhead of a new book, or the elevator pitch of a growing startup, words matter.

Recently, PickFu increased the number of characters you can include in your test text block to 1,000. That’s the equivalent of roughly 200-250 words. Here are some great ways to use this feature for copy testing to improve your business: Continue reading