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Guest comment: It may not be everything, but image counts for a lot

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by Rob Tarrant

We all know that consumers demand an online shopping experience akin to that of the high street, but I am continually surprised at how many suppliers think they can get away without quality imagery or up-to-date product data.

Images and a thousand words – what are they really worth?

We know that online shoppers don’t buy products without an image attached but having a poor-quality or out-of-date image can be just as hazardous. Poor quality data or images give an impression of unprofessionalism and connote a ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude to your customers. An image is the best way of sending out a positive brand message – yet a poor quality one can say much more about you than you may realise.

From our experience, products can suffer a drop in sales from anything from 40 to 200 per cent for having out-of-date or poor quality images. The same applies to missing or incomplete product information. Suppliers with fast-moving product turnover face a difficult challenge in updating live product information across all retailers’ websites that feature their product, but, as mundane as it may sound, this process cannot be half-hearted.

Incorrect, inconsistent or non-existent product information has a huge impact on sales. It stands to reason that if your product description is spelt wrongly, for example, it won’t come up when customers search for it. This is detrimental both to the supplier, as consumers will opt for an alternative product, and to the retailer as consumers will divert to a different online shop which stocks what they are looking for.

Bar lower conversion rates for products with incomplete information, there are also legal implications to consider. One obvious example might be if a product moves production lines and now contains traces of nuts – this naturally needs to be updated when individuals are purchasing the product online. Secondly, if data is incomplete, this gives customers a legitimate reason to return their products or to bombard a retailer’s call centre with queries, questions or complaints. One problem on the website has knock-on effects right across the e-commerce cycle.

How hard can getting an image be? Quite hard actually…

Taking an image and supplying data on your product may not seem complicated, but consider the scale of the problem. For the retailer the challenge is to maintain up-to-date imagery and data for thousands of products by contacting thousands of individual suppliers – Tesco, for example, stocks around 30,000 products from around 3,000 suppliers.

You can imagine the logistical issues and man-hours required to contact every single supplier about each product, trying to get through to the right person to ensure that updates take place (in one, now infamous, case it took 17 phone calls to contact a supplier we were working with). We haven’t even touched on the complexities and cost of a CRM system that can cope with this scale and frequency of data.

For the supplier, the challenge is similarly complex. A big supplier like Unilever, for example, has thousands of different products stocked in all of the big retailer stores. Sending updated images and data every time a product changes can not only be complicated but also expensive – each individual retailer may charge an average of £250 to update a single image. Again, it’s also extremely time-consuming to contact each retailer and ensure that all updates are made quickly and correctly. Each different retailer will need different specifications and different formatting of images and data, which will all need to be gathered individually.

This may sound like a logistical nightmare, but the good news is that it is one that can be tackled by putting in place various workflows and efficiency processes. To ensure that product imaging and data is managed effectively and efficiently, retailers and suppliers need to consider the following:

* Multiple images and specifications are required for each product

* An efficient workflow process should be implemented to update existing product images and data

* A significant amount of man-hours must be invested to contact all of the relevant suppliers or retailers and to determine the correct person to speak with.

* A monitoring system will need to be in place to ensure consistent images and data across online platforms.

* A CRM system will be needed to handle updates of this nature and frequency – a spreadsheet won’t be able to do the job.

It strikes me that too often basic, traditional offline marketing principles are being overlooked when it comes to e-commerce. Yes, retail works slightly differently online, but ultimately when a consumer is browsing the shop shelves – offline or online – the rules of product positioning, packaging and price still apply. The bottom line is, images may be worth a thousand words, but quality images and data are worth thousands of sales.

Rob Tarrant is managing director of BrandBank.

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