But what about "user generated images" (or the friendlier term "customer submitted photos")? Are they just social media / Web 2.0 hype or do they really improve customer experience?
Customer images may be used to help sell product (like customer reviews complement product descriptions) or just build community (if the retailer has a community section). Either way, customer submitted photos have their challenges:
- Image quality can vary from submission to submission. Dark or fuzzy images really don't add value and can hurt the consistency and professionalism of your site.
- Attracting images can be a challenge - only a small percentage of customers will take the time to create a picture and send it to you.
- Moderating images for appropriateness and relevance takes extra time.
Let's look at some examples of how online retailers are using customer submitted photos:
You may have noticed that Amazon shows customer images along with its own product images:
You can roll over the thumbnails to view larger versions and even read notes that users have left on them:
This is helpful as a customer review - the color on the web is not the color in the box.
Power Reviews allows photo attachments to reviews, as spotted on Uncommon Goods:
(Sometimes customers pick useless tags...)
What I like about this approach is it's seamless. Good review content is not separated into text vs. image reviews. On Amazon, a very helpful tip like the color is actually more mint than neon green could be missed unless you read reviews AND view pictures. Plus, it's less programming work when your reviews product has image upload already available.
Modern Line Furniture has a testimonials page with customer images linked to from the home page (though the call-to-action gets a bit lost in the home page clutter).
The testimonials page links through to the product pages for items featured in the room. Yay! There's hope for a transaction!
Community / Resource Section
Some retailers actually have a community component to their e-stores, like David's Bridal. Customers can upload pictures from their weddings, and brides-to-be can surf them to get inspiration for dress styles and color schemes.
While this is a good idea, the community section is kind of a dead end -- there is no link back to products or tools that facilitate a purchase decision like shop-by-color.
Alternative Energy Store has a similar community gallery, but without links to products or buying guides, it's not very helpful.
With links to products, the gallery could be a social tool for product discovery. I just haven't come across a retailer who's doing that well (community gallery that aids shopping). Have you? Please share your find in the comments.