Assessing eBay's New Photo Requirements

Are the changes good, bad or ugly for sellers?

by Dennis L. Prince
- Jul 10, 2013

Whenever eBay announces changes to its seller policies, the news is about as welcome as the government unleashing a new tax. On July 1, eBay implemented its new Picture Quality Requirements, a mandate of sorts that has some merchants seeing red pixels.

How bad is this new policy, though, and is there actually a way it could work to sellers' advantages? In some cases, yes. In others, not so much. Here's a look at each of the policy elements with an assessment of whether the changes might be good, bad or ugly for sellers.

A focused view

To break this down and understand what the true implications are of the elements within the Picture Quality Requirements, here's a look at each change and what it might—or might not—mean to you and your business.

Change 1: Photos must be 500 pixels on the longest side

For the seller, larger photos can help prevent a buyer's later claims that the item received was not as pictured

For starters, this can be seen as a good policy, helping ensure the images you provide for your listings are large enough to properly represent your items.

Larger photos, while not too large, can answer many buyers' questions before they have to ask. For the seller, larger photos can help prevent a buyer's later claims that the item received was not as pictured. In years past, smaller photos were sometimes preferable, given woefully slow Internet bandwidth rates, an issue that has been practically eradicated with technology advances.

Final assessment of this policy: good.

Change 2: Borders are not allowed on photos

Although some sellers are quite creative, extra adornments often discourage buyers. With so much to choose from, online shoppers are looking for fast and unfettered information while shopping, this often gained quickly from clean and uncluttered product images.

Decorative borders and other such doo-dads can actually distract from the buying experience and could derail a buyer's purchase decision. This is a rather amusing shift from the days when sellers—and the sites that hosted them—were told to add flair and style to their listings. Well, no more.

Final assessment of this policy: good.

Change 3: Watermark restrictions

The watermark has long helped sellers protect their own work—their photos—from unauthorized repurposing by those who unashamedly right-click, copy and paste for their own profit-bearing pursuits.

Forcing size, transparency and placement restrictions seems certain to encourage dishonorable sellers to collect and repurpose images however it suits them

Watermarks have also served as a way for sellers to use their business, or product brands and logos to quickly communicate the item being offered is authentically offered from the originating seller or manufacturer. Yes, the new watermark policy allows simple text content, no more opaque than 50 percent and no larger than 5 percent of the total photo size, and that can effectively communicate ownership.

The kicker here, though, is that the watermark cannot noticeably obscure the body of the image. In many cases, an obscuring watermark (often used at less than 50 percent opacity) is what protects digital images in the online world, usually discouraging most picture thieves—except maybe a truly gifted and patient Photoshop whiz—from swiping and reusing a copyrightable image.

Forcing size, transparency and placement restrictions seems to be certain to encourage the dishonorable among us to happily collect and repurpose images however it suits them.

Final assessment of this policy: ugly.

Change 4: No added text or artwork on photos

The usefulness of this policy change is split. In one regard, it works to keep images uncluttered and that's typically good. On the other hand, it prevents sellers from placing product or business branding that, again, can help buyers know when they're viewing an authentic or otherwise authorized item.

It could have been a better policy if it was restricted to disallow irrelevant information or details of an off-site buying alternative. As it's fashioned now, it somewhat hamstrings sellers, it could lead to buyers being duped by knock-off items, and generally perpetuates image thievery.

Final assessment of this policy: a little bit good, but mostly bad.

Change 5: Every listing must have at least one photo

Using stock images for used items is a lazy method, and one that can often invite buyer disputes

It's difficult to find any fault with this policy change. Considering how easily each of us can take digital photos-even easy-yet-effective product photos-there's little to argue about here. Buyers expect to see and inspect images of what they're considering to buy, and sellers will fare better when they provide photos that help nudge the buyer into making a purchase. Enough said about this one.

Final assessment of this policy: good.

Change 6: Stock photos only allowed for brand new items

And the final item is of little consequence in that it helps protect buyers from seeing a stock image and believing the item they'll receive will match. For sellers, using stock images for used items is a lazy method, and one that can often invite buyer disputes. This policy is likely good for all involved.

Final assessment of this policy: good.

Seeing the bigger picture

The Picture Quality Requirements policy is something of a mixed bag, mostly good but with a couple of troublesome elements. If you're concerned about the watermark and forbidden text/art restrictions, develop minimum resolution images that will satisfy the mandates, yet will not compromise your control over your content.

Otherwise, put aside any urge to get riled at eBay and, instead, put your energy into building your business' results such that you can excel wherever you offer goods, at eBay or elsewhere.

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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