User reviews are crucial to users’ ability to make a purchase decision about a particular product.
During Baymard’s large-scale usability testing, users almost universally sought user reviews when considering a product — up to 95% of users across desktop and mobile tests.
Yet just having reviews isn’t enough. Users during testing benefited most when reviews had rich content that offered specific insights into the product — and reviews with user-uploaded images were especially well received.
However, despite the importance of user-generated images in reviews, our e-commerce UX benchmark reveals that 34% of e-commerce sites don’t allow users to upload an image along with their review — leading to less-interesting and less-engaging reviews overall.
In this article we’ll discuss the test findings from our large-scale UX research related to user-generated images in reviews. In particular, we’ll discuss:
While site-provided product images provide critical product information, without which the majority of users will not feel comfortable purchasing, there can remain an element of distrust toward them.
Users are naturally aware that sites seek to present products in the best possible light, making them look as attractive and enticing as possible. However, many are likewise aware that this “enhancement” can sometimes be misleading, making the products appear better or different than they are in reality.
Users during testing were sometimes skeptical of site-provided images reflecting the “real” product, wanting to see products “in real life” to verify qualities surfaced by the site-provided images. Without a way to see more “trustworthy”, unfiltered images, some users’ skepticism may overwhelm their curiosity about the product and sway them from pursuing it further.
As with user reviews, users often look to user-submitted photos to provide the “dirt” on a product, giving a more realistic depiction of products than may be available through the site-provided images.
Rather than the site’s typical studio-shot images, user-submitted images depict the product in real-world context and can provide unique insight into the product’s attributes, quality, and longevity. Allowing product images from reviewers gives many users a sense that they are getting more objective, reliable, and trustworthy images of products than those provided by the site, which may be perceived as too “perfect” or overly enhanced.
While user-generated product images can often seem less attractive from a strictly aesthetic standpoint, they can be more valuable to users because they show products in real use conditions that may be perceived as more realistic to the user’s own life.
Thus, user-generated product images can enrich and complement existing images by making products — and the sites that sell them — seem more trustworthy.
Additionally, images are helpful even with negative reviews, as a user who decides the product isn’t a good match for them, based on the content of a negative review, can move on to a more suitable product on the site. Or, alternatively, a user might decide that what they see in the user-uploaded photo doesn’t match what they read in the review, and thus discount the review. In either case, a photo included along with the negative review provides a more comprehensive insight into what went wrong for the reviewer (as opposed to, say, a text-only review that simply read “this product sucks”).
User-generated product images can also support site-provided product images by offering further examples of product features.
Even if images that highlight product features are provided by the site, including user-generated product images will allow those users who are looking for more visual information to see products being used by their owners, and user-generated images can provide additional “verification” of product features or details highlighted by these site-provided images.
Moreover, user-generated product images can help fill gaps where the site-provided product images are missing helpful information or context on a product.
This can be especially true for expensive items, where users will want to get as much information about the product as they can before deciding whether or not to purchase it. As one user during testing said, frustrated by the lack of user-generated product images in the reviews section of a fridge, “It’s a $1,300 purchase, if I haven’t touched and felt it in real life, I don’t know what other information is more important,” implying that, without being able to actually see the product in a physical store she would at least like more photos showing the fridge in use.
User-generated product images can also offer additional information on a product’s scale by showing the product next to other items (provided by users) of a known approximate size. The user-provided items may be more useful than the site-provided items intended to illustrate scale — for example, including a tube of hand cream next to other beauty products (e.g., makeup, soap, etc.).
Likewise, user-generated images can serve as “Lifestyle” images, showcasing how a product could fit within a user’s life, and helping inspire users by showing them in real-life context.
As these images can be among the most resource intensive to shoot, crowdsourcing user-generated images can help defray the overall expense of providing a variety of product images.
When displaying user-submitted images, the most logical location is typically alongside their accompanying review. For additional convenience, consider providing the ability to filter reviews based on photo availability so users can specifically target reviews with included images.
In addition to, or as an alternative to, this filter, displaying all user-generated images in their own gallery at the top of the reviews section also provides a convenient way to review these images; as one user from mobile testing noted, “On Amazon, what I like is if there is a picture…it shows up right at the beginning”.
Finally, when soliciting images alongside user reviews, users must be actively encouraged to provide product images in order to be sure that some users will submit them. This may even include incentivizing users to provide photos (or videos as well).
Despite the power of user-generated product images in the reviews section, 34% of sites don’t allow their users to submit their own product images along with their review.
While some sites likely fear misuse of a feature for user-uploaded product images, both automated and manual photo verification mechanisms can help prevent misconduct or misuse.
Even when costs for such systems are factored in, user-generated images still represent the cheapest source for original site-specific product photography, and thus users should be not just allowed, but even encouraged, to upload images with their review.
This article presents the research findings from just 1 of the 600+ UX guidelines in Baymard Premium – get full access to learn how to create a “State of the Art” e-commerce user experience.
Authored by Edward Scott on August 4, 2020
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