Image Optimization for eCommerce Use

eCommerce is a growing but very competitive environment. Consider the statistics- there are over 24 million eCommerce websites around the world and growing. Faster mobile internet and digital money penetration, along with a growing young population, are fuelling eCommerce all over the world. This is great news if you are an online seller, right? Well maybe. Consider the success statistics- of almost 25 million registered sellers worldwide, just over a million sell more than $1000 a year. On Amazon, the world’s biggest online retailer with almost 10 million registered sellers, only around 100,000 gross $100,000 or more a year (including around 10,000 sellers who make more than $1M a year). The message is clear- eCommerce is very lucrative, but only to a select group of sellers. Even the pillars of success are well known- product research, PPC management, inventory management, order fulfillment, and listing optimization. Of the last, image optimization is a key “make or break” factor. Why? Simple- eCommerce is largely a visual medium, and most people only buy what they can see and examine as much as they want. In this article, we look at simple tips and tricks to optimize your images and make them eCommerce ready so you can take your first step towards retail internet success.

Amazon

Figure 2: Amazon is the trailblazer in online shopping and has established many of the standards now adopted or modified by other online sellers.

It is absolutely of surprise that we start with Amazon. It’s not only the world’s biggest retailer by volume; it’s also present in more countries than any other retailer. Amazon spends a lot of time figuring out the best combination of text and image display that results in the highest “buy” decisions across platforms, including mobile, tablet, and PC. Amazon has some pretty strict guidelines for product listing, as given below:

Guideline
The listing needs a “hero” or “main” image, which should be:

  1. Professional quality, with proper lighting, realistic color, and smooth edges and resolution greater than 72 PPI
  2. Of 1000 pixels or more on each side and filling 85% of the image area;
  3. In .TIFF, .JPEG, .GIF and .PNG format;
  4. In sRGB or CMYK mode;
  5. Named in line with Amazon filename requirements;
  6. Showing only the product, without props, models, and additional objects;
  7. On a background of pure white (specific RGB value);
  8. Without additional text, graphics, or inset images
  9. Non-offensive

The listing also allows up to 8 additional images, as long as they are:

  1. Relevant to the product being sold;
  2. Professionally taken with good lighting, realistic color, and smooth edges;
  3. Filling at least 85% of the image area

Additional images are also allowed to be on-model, containing props, other objects or graphics for comparison, etc. Again, no offensive material is allowed.

Image requirements vary by market. For example, just image size requirements in the top five non-US major Amazon markets- for example, British, German, and Japanese site guidelines require a pixel size of at least 1000 pixels but recommend 1600 px to activate the “Zoom” function, but the Indian and Canadian sites have no such recommendation. There are additional product categories and country-specific guidelines about objectionable material, size, permissible colors, and angles.

eBay

Figure 3: eBay is one of the most prominent online auction and marketplace companies worldwide

Like Amazon, eBay manages a very large number of sellers. However, the company has additional challenges considering its user demographic. As a peer-to-peer auction site in addition to a professional sellers’ marketplace, the site also sees a large number of specialty items, like collectibles, many of them encased in transparent plastic, Plexiglas, or glass cases with reflective covers, hand-made art, and second-hand items. It is important for eBay to allow users as much freedom as possible while still keeping the image inventory in line within manageable limits. Some eBay rules are stricter than Amazon’s, while others are laxer. Some others are unique. For instance, eBay rules:

  1. Allow files as large as 15,000 pixels, but limit overall file size to 12 MB;
  2. Allow up to 12 or 24 additional pictures, depending on category;
  3. Allow any monotone background in the White to Light Gray range;
  4. Allow multi- product images, so long as each product shows a different angle;
  5. Allow boxed products in some cases where such products are shown boxed; but
  6. Do not allow Human body parts in the image unless the product is wearable;
  7. Do not allow bordered, framed, or scaled-up images;
  8. Do not allow reflections, copyright marks, hotspots, or watermarks; and
  9. Require images to be with a neutral backdrop, solid background, and even lighting

Etsy

Figure 4: Etsy is popular among independent sellers

Etsy is a popular eCommerce marketplace in the US. In addition to toys, clothing, footwear, and electronics, it also offers Art and Décor articles like collectibles, vintage articles, jewelry, and craft supplies. Its featured product line and clientele rely on a visual representation of products quite heavily, and Etsy’s image requirements reflect that. For instance, the site recommends a per-side length of 2000 PX. The site guidelines also detail recommendations for shop icons and profile photos (500 x 500 PX), team logos (170 x 100 PX), order receipt banners (760 x 100 PX), shop banners (up to 1600 x 400 PX), Carousel banners, and collage banners.

Another Etsy-specific image handling requirement relates to image orientation. Etsy auto-orients the image using Meta-data from the uploaded file in line with its “horizontal only” orientation philosophy. It also encourages creating thumbnails and adding borders (both big no-nos on eBay)

eCommerce marketplaces manage a huge number of sellers and need a large degree of standardization to achieve their customer satisfaction goals. On the other hand, brands all over the world have their own websites and associated buying gateways for direct purchases. Yet another category of sellers is the so-called “Big Box” stores like Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, etc. This mostly traditional brick-and-mortar (Thus the “Big Box” moniker) also have their own eCommerce stores, featuring products sold under their own private labels or third-party branded goods sold by the store as a retailer.

Home Depot

Figure 5: homedepot.com

Home Depot is America’s largest building and home improvement supplies store, with 2000+ big box stores in the US, Canada, and Mexico. While it’s not a pure eCommerce retailer like Amazon, Home Depot’s business model also includes vendor-sourced branded and unbranded products, from decorative lighting to plain two by 4s that are listed on its online store homedepot.com. It, therefore, issues category-specific image regulation guidelines to its vendors. For example, products in the “Windows” category (i.e., window frames, blinds, curtains, etc.) are advised:

  1. Professional photo with specific RGB background values, color corrected, without shadow, in square or rectangular frames with white borders;
  2. Minimum image size of 1000 x 1000 PX and swatch image size of 400 x 400 PX
  3. Product-only images on white background, without props, but “logical” accessories are allowed (e.g., curtains shown on curtain rails which are not part of the sale)
  4. Front-facing, full-on views for main photos;
  5. Mandatory alternate, lifestyle photos, but without people and pets

Walmart

Figure 6: Walmart Marketplace

Walmart is a retail powerhouse. It not only pioneered the country-wide, big-box store format in America, but it has a robust and highly sophisticated approach to eCommerce. The Walmart Marketplace allows third-party sellers to sell via the website to Walmart’s 110 million customers, who can choose to get home delivery or pick up their orders from the nearest Walmart store. The retailer has also tied up with another eCommerce giant, shopify.com, to allow sellers with Shopify accounts to sell via Walmart. Finally, Walmart’s inorganic acquisitions of significant foreign eCommerce companies like Flipkart in India have also given it a possible new channel. In general, Walmart’s image requirements are similar to Amazon’s, such as minimum dimensions of 500 x 500 PX, but its minimum zoom-capable image size requirement is 2000 x 2000 PX. The maximum allowable file size is just 2 MB, a far cry from eBay. Nevertheless, the site experience, image uploading/downloading, framing and orientation abilities, etc., are all available.

Easy Reference:

Standard Amazon eBay Etsy Home Depot Walmart
Recommended Size for zoom capability (px) 1000 x 1000 1000 x 1000 2000 x 2000 1000 x 1000 2000 x 2000
Max Size (px or MB) 10000 15000 px, 12 MB 2 MB
Background White White/Gray White White White
Shadows Allowed No Yes Yes No No
Reflections No No No No No
Additional Images allowed Yes (Up to 8) Yes (Up to 12 or 24 depending on category) Yes Mandatory Yes
Models/Body parts Not allowed for main image Allowed if product is wearable Yes No No
Boxing No Yes, if boxing is required to show features No No No

Conclusion
We could go on and on. There are almost as many brand-specific requirements as brands themselves, each creating image requirements that are best suited to the brands’ positioning and requirements, as well as to operational efficiency. While this isn’t a problem for brands who create and post pictures on their own private websites, the plethora of image requirements can be an issue for third-party sellers, some of whom may just be getting started in selling on online marketplaces. The last thing a brand should be doing is spending time on tweaking the same images- or worse, re-shooting the same products to satisfy different marketplaces’ requirements, when they should be focused on running and growing their businesses.

Sellers can certainly go the DIY route and edit/post their images for their products on two or three different marketplaces, but the cost and image management complexity can quickly escalate if there are more than a hundred or so images to edit and post frequently. That’s when it makes sense to seek out an experienced image editing service like Manipal Digital Systems. So how do you choose between image editing services? Here are a few tips:

  1. Make sure the vendor has a strong image portfolio and history of doing work similar to yours recently. Technology and eCommerce company standards change very fast, so it’ll do you no good to stick with a company that’s fallen behind.
  2. Make sure the vendor has licensed software, trained staff, and sufficient strength to manage surges. A conference call with the vendor, where you can ask specific questions about their numbers of shifts, no. of trained staff, and their capacity, can be useful checks.
  3. Ask about the different business models available. Large, well-run Imaging companies usually offer pay-as-you-go as well as retainer models, depending on the volume. You can negotiate for a better rate with bulk, predictable orders.
  4. Check the communication skills of the vendor’s customer interaction managers. Preferably, have them included in the conference calls. It can be frustrating if the only person you can speak with isn’t the person who has actually done the work!
  5. Ask about the vendor’s data backup and redundancy plan. Disasters happen, and they’re nobody’s fault, but good image editing vendors invest in state-of-the-art backup systems in remote locations so their clients’ data stays safe, and the work can continue uninterrupted.

Manipal Digital Systems works with major retailers, brands, and publishers from around the world and has processed more than fifteen million images in every category. Perhaps more importantly for sellers, Manipal Digital Systems has well-trained staff who are familiar with the latest image standards for every major online marketplace for turnkey work.

Reference

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