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GUEST COMMENT Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

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Judging by the current explosive growth of images on the internet, a picture may be worth much more than a thousand words. Consider Facebook, the social media giant, which stores more than 250 billion user-generated photos; and the fact that an average web page now contains 60 images. One of the reasons for the growth in images on the web is that users love images; for example, look at the growth of Instagram, it has over 40 billion images shared.

For retailers, images are the first thing that grabs a shopper’s attention, driving that first impression of the brand and the products. Being able to provide consumers with high-quality and engaging product images – with multiple and alternate views and zooms – is one of the key ways to increase conversions. This value is outlined in many different tests such as this VWO A/B test, showing larger images increased conversion by 9 percent, while decreasing returns by accurately reflecting colors and fit.

These are all contributing factors to the increase in the proliferation and size of images, which has grown dramatically from .47 MB in 2011 to 1.53 MB in 2016 (measuring the average bytes per page by content type as shown in the graph below), an increase in size by 3.25 times. These have also caused many different headaches for retailers and strained their digital asset management solutions. And, we haven’t even mentioned mobile or responsive web design yet.

Mobile traffic now accounts for over 38 percent of traffic on the Akamai platform, and according to Google research, the mobile device is the preferred consumer device to research products and services. Responsive web design is a key building block to providing a more seamless experience for users across an array of devices. However, basic responsive design is subject to over downloading on mobile devices especially when it comes to images, which increases page load times and leads to dissatisfied customers.

Let’s examine how this can complicate image management compared to what many retailers have done in the past with a desktop only implementation. For instance, a retailer may need to resize a single product image into a product view, and a thumbnail image may leave you with three different variants. To properly optimize for mobile and tablet, it is necessary for retailers to create the correct image sizes for various devices so that a mobile user is not forced to download a full-size image only to have it displayed on the device at postage stamp sized. Newer browsers also enable more efficient image formats such as WebP for Chrome and JPEG 2000 for the Safari browser. Creating and storing all the proper sizes and variants can put a strain on resources for both storage and maintenance as the number of images created for a single product easily jumps to 108 or more.

There is relief in sight via cloud-based image management solutions that are assisting retailers in improving the customer experience with faster downloads while alleviating storage issues. A cloud-based solution can also optimize the human element in the creation and management of images. In a traditional workflow, images are uploaded to an FTP site, creative applies art / watermarks and uploads them to a CMS where another team creates the types of images, and most likely another team works on the images before storing each image into the CMS.

With a cloud-based solution, a full suite of image management functionalities can be integrated directly into your digital asset management workflow. Through configuration policies, you can upload a single pristine image to cloud storage and automatically create all the size and quality image variants that you need. This allows you to address all the variables you need to serve desktop and different mobile device families. For instance, you may create the same dimension image for a Retina device but at a higher quality than for an older Android device. This also gives you the ability to take advantage of newer, high-performance image formats without having to create and store all the various combinations and automatically serve WebP images to someone on a Chrome browser or JPEG 2000 images to someone on the Safari browser, without any server-side changes. Your website simply calls for a single image URL and it will deliver the best image, automatically tuned to the right human-perceptible image quality and adjusted to device size.

In conclusion, here are some tips and features that retailers should be looking for when researching for an image management solution:

• It should be a cloud-based solution as it reduces the infrastructure necessary to store all the image variants, reduces operational overhead and improves backup and recovery time.

• Performance is a key ingredient so make sure your solution can get images distributed as close to your consumers as possible while reducing the download time and network latency.

• An automated solution that can adjust perceptible image quality and optimise image size by compressing images in a way that is imperceptible to the human eye yet saves considerable image bytes.

• Look to the future as new devices and image formats will be released, it’s imperative that an image solution is able to easily add new image sizes or formats by simply updating a policy.

From the perspective of retailers, images are vital to compete with not only other online retailers, but also to overcome the disadvantage that consumers can’t physically touch and feel products like they could in-store. In order to address this shortcoming, retailers need to provide consumers with rich and engaging imagery with the help of an effective cloud-based image management solution.

Jason Miller is chief strategist of commerce, Akamai

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