What Do Your Photos Say About You?

Listen up: Your listing images speak volumes about the kind of seller you are.

by Dennis L. Prince
- Mar 31, 2011

Photos, photos, photos—they're the perpetual topic of discussion when it comes to online merchandising. A description is always good, but a photo always makes it better. Or does it?

A picture can be a deal maker or a deal breaker. Often, it all depends upon how well the picture represents the item being offered—which, ultimately, speaks volumes about the seller (or business) that offers it.

Some sellers pride themselves on their astute imagery, while others lament their amateurish photography. Even so, a great photo does not assure a big sale anymore than a less-than-stellar snapshot necessarily incurs failure. At the bottom of the whole matter is the content of the photo, the manner in which it's presented and the subtle details each image reveals about the seller behind it.

Even if you think you've heard everything about what makes photos good or bad, have you heard what your photos are telling others about you? Better listen—there might be some sage advice for you if you'll just tilt an ear to your pixelated partners in commerce.

Every picture tells a story (doesn't it?)

As trite as it might be, the saying that "a picture's worth a thousand words" still has its merit. Whether you're skilled or challenged when it comes to writing item descriptions, the fact is that the picture will tell the ultimate tale. Beyond the images of the item you're offering are the tell-tale details that reveal more about it, and about you.

That said, be sure you understand your item well enough to picture it properly. Show it in good light with clear detail and accurate color representation. If your images look dark, distorted or otherwise hurried in their execution, buyers will wonder if you're likewise lax in your manner of conducting business. As a rule of thumb, consider what sorts of images make you more prone to purchase and apply those same considerations in the photographs that you'll provide.

Regarding that old mattress seen in the background—is that where you slept last night?

Next, consider where you stage your photographs. Even if you don't have a perfectly appointed photo studio, you needn't reveal a low-budget setting, either. Use tables with clean fabric coverings and avoid including any view of where the photo was shot. If there are indications of a garage floor, a kitchen table or a backyard swing set, you'll flag buyers that the item for sale might have been wrested from such an unprotected environment. Oh, and regarding that old mattress seen in the background—is that where you slept last night? You get the idea: Pictures can send buyers' imagination running wild, and possibly running away from your listings.

Granted, some items are best presented in a proper setting, such as a vintage lamp on a table. That's good, but is that a used ashtray in sight? If so, that could be trouble (with apologies to our smoking friends but "smoke free" is a preferred provenance). Is the lamp table dusty or dirty? If so, what might the buyer expect from the lamp itself? And are those the kids, or several cats running around in the background? Cute, but is it possible that the item up for sale has been knocked over and nicked up at some point? While it's perfectly understandable that some items will show wear and "patina," keep the photographic setting as serene and reassuring as possible.

Clutter or creative cross-selling?

The long-standing advice to online sellers has been to keep all non-relevant items out of sight when photographing goods for sale. That's good advice and yet, in seeming contradiction, some sellers have found that including other items just in view can help to generate additional sales.

It's a fine line to draw between showing junk and showing genius. Some sellers create photographic settings that include a nicely presented table or shelf of additional compelling items, softly out of focus yet still discernible. The featured item is always in the foreground with sharp detail yet there are those additional items that compel buyers to ask, "Are those for sale, too?"

Oftentimes, sellers will quickly arrange a multi-item sale, initiate an additional-item sale, or even redirect a buyer to another item to transact a more profitable up-sell. This is a nuanced method that relies on your creative eye to not overdo or otherwise mishandle the cross-sell/up-sell potential. If, however, you can present additional items in an image in an inviting way, then your photos will communicate that you're a creative and professional seller.

Full disclosure gains fullest potential

Finally, you'll discover that when you provide detailed photos that reveal all pertinent aspects of an item for sale, you'll communicate that you're a real pro in your online merchandising. Provide enough photos to give the buyer the sense that they've been able to virtually turn the item over in their hands. Show them details about an item so they won't be left guessing, nor will they have any questions (because many buyers will elect to skip a purchase rather than go through the trouble of asking a question). And be sure that your descriptive text works seamlessly with your images. Both elements work together to reinforce the details, claims and statements you're making about the item. If ever your words and pictures seem to contradict each other, you'll risk revealing yourself as a careless or dishonest seller.

Take the time to consider how you'll photograph and present your items for sale. Remember that, since you lack the ability to actually engage a potential buyer in a discussion about an item, you'll have to engage them with reassuring images and a thoughtful and professional presentation that eases any concerns. In the end, the effort you spend up front in presenting your photos will pay back handsomely in the way that those photos tell the story of you!

About the Author

Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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