Even though marketing is all about promoting differences

SOMETIMES IT PAYS TO BE THE SAME

There is a company in King of Prussia responsible for a great deal of what you purchase on the Internet. Because they consistently delivered excellence, Global Sports Inc. became GSI Commerce and grew from a regional web developer in 1999 to a trusted powerhouse in the world of e-commerce solutions today.

I first heard of GSI nearly ten years ago when they were keeping some of Virtual Farm’s digital photography vendors real busy with product shots. These photographs of manufacturer’s products were used within an archive of images from which more than one online retailer could pull and display that product for sale. The price might be different but the image would always be the same.

GSI Commerce did a lot of things right to evolve into a nearly $500 million company in less than ten years but, I believe, that model of image consistency and excellence played no small part in their success.

Measure Twice, Cut Once
The importance of one, image consistency and two, true image representation on the web cannot be overstated. If you’re selling a product on the web you can increase sales and reduce returns by shooting for an excellent, consistent image.

Your products may not be color critical and your consumers may not care about the style, but consistent, representative images also go a long way toward total brand excellence in your Internet marketing mission.

Still, the majority of products sold on the Internet do have to look consistently good and they do have to represent the real world product accurately. Admittedly, some products are more critical than others. Apparel, for instance, had better appear on the web as it appears when the consumer opens the box or it is likely to come back to you.

Standardization
In the web’s olden times (1985-1995), it was much more difficult to display products consistently and accurately to all segments of the market. In one sense it was easier because digital photography was all outsourced to professionals. But vast differences in user variables including everything from connectivity speed to monitor resolutions and settings affected the final reality. Heck, in those early days a significant portion of the market was gazing at 256 colors over a 14.4 connection.

Users are much closer to standardized now with ubiquitous broadband and most surfers utilizing dependable screens with millions of colors. Other factors like ambient lighting and the size of the product’s image still effect reality but we’ve been combating those actualities in print catalog development since Sears & Roebuck stopped using line art to represent products.

Image Consistency
Deb Stevens of Downingtown’s Lacrosse International spearheads that company’s annual, new product influx. More than twelve national vendors supply Lacrosse International with the latest and greatest products, which generally include photography resources so that retailers can effectively market and sell.

A quality control specialist, Deb is very good at what she does. Invariably VFC re-shoots most products for Lacrosse International because there is such a disparity in quality and consistency from manufacturer to manufacturer. When we have all of the hard goods we can control lighting, exposure, focus and definition.


The same Keen hiking boot style and color sold by two different online retailers really looks like two different shoes. You could search for the same style with multiple other ecommerce sites and find just as many different looking images.

Image Reality
More difficult than consistency between products is accurate representation of the product to it’s real life counterpart. No matter what a product is going to look different on a screen made up of bits of light or a piece of paper covered with bits of ink than it will when you hold it in your hands.

Still, there are measures you can take to assure the closest possible representation. Chief among these pre-launch methods is rigorous testing. When you print a catalog you review random photography and layout proofs. Similarly, when you’re publishing for the web you should employ a test standard that evaluates product with different platforms, browsers and monitor color and resolution settings.

Process to Excellence
Just as with any other system in your business model, consistent, representative image presentation requires a system. Once that system is in place and all of your product is subjected to the same criteria you’ll have that challenge in your ecommerce mission solved.

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