Product hero images: What your mobile shoppers need and want from them

By Dave Brewis


While often overlooked, the product ‘hero’ image is an essential element of online retail. When used effectively, it conveys essential, purchase-influencing information often appearing towards the end of an online customer journey. The product hero image pops up at a crucial moment in a customer’s potential conversion from browser to buyer.

However, getting product hero images right has long proven a challenge for online retailers, especially on  mobile channels. This should be a major cause for concern. Mobile commerce is no longer the fringe activity it was a few years ago.

This article will examine what shoppers need and want from product images on mobile, and discuss how to make sure your shot are ready. 

Consumer behaviour and buying habits continue to change

Mobile has become the key channel  for retailers as consumer behaviour and buying habits continue to change. Indeed, over half of all online sales are being made through mobile devices. In the UK grocery sector alone, 40 per cent of all online purchases are made via smartphone.

Furthermore, mobile is becoming the platform of choice for the next generation of shoppers. Roughly 91% of UK millennials own a smartphone, and 80% of under-25 year-olds use their phones to go online as often as they do through computers.

In recent years, retailers have been doing their best to play catch-up with this new customer behaviour. Some investment, at least, has gone towards boosting the integrity of mobile channels and retailers are beginning to adopt solutions which help them optimise their content for mobile.

A challenge

However mastering how product hero images appear on mobile remains elusive. A recent study by Cambridge University and Unilever found that generic pack shots, widely used for product hero images, fail to communicate basic, essential information to mobile customers. The prevalence of such images results in a diminished customer experience.

Shoppers cannot immediately find or indeed recognise the products they are looking for, and tend to scroll aimlessly and frustratingly. For the retailer, this means fewer conversions and poor sales performance across their mobile channel.

The problem is much greater than one might think. Similar-looking and similarly-packaged products fill our store shelves, and swamp our search pages. To illustrate the problem, consider a range of bottled shampoos: within that single brand, different products will share the same basic bottle shape, and the pertinent information which defines product variant will appear only in small type on the packaging.

Mobile shoppers rarely have the time to squint at miniscule text appearing on pack shots, nor do they have the patience to zoom in on images manually.

The key problem then is that when packshots are used as hero images, critical information about the product is not visually conveyed. First impressions are very important to consumers, with research from Google suggesting that humans form a positive or negative opinion of an image in as little as 17 milliseconds.

Customers appreciate when images are clear and understandable, but the true benefit of great mobile images is that they help them make decisions faster. This means more sales in a shorter period of time.

Clearly, when a mobile customer cannot tell what product they are looking at, the opportunity for sale is lost. There is also evidence to suggest that customers are purchasing products by mistake, only to feel misled by the retailer. As a result, retailers may not only be missing sales, but actually losing customers. Retailers simply cannot afford to deliver these deeply compromised shopping experiences in a mobile-first world.

Fortunately the Cambridge study presents solutions, at the core of which lies the principle that product hero images must visually communicate key information immediately, and more effectively when browsed on mobile devices.

A Solution

Image of mobile shopping images

One solution is ‘Mobile Ready Hero Images’. Developed according to specific design principles, Mobile Ready Hero Images describe a set of visual standards which are quickly becoming the ideal thumbnail alternative to pack shots. Mobile Ready Hero Images are essentially product pack shots embellished with clear off-pack information, detailing, for example, product weight, size and variant.

When tested side-by-side, Mobile Ready Hero Images outperform pack shots both in customer experience and overall sales. They streamline the shopping experience, cutting out unnecessary blank space on product shots so that shoppers have only the information they need to make fast purchasing decisions.

In simulated shopping tests conducted by SKIM on Amazon, Mobile Ready Hero Images delivered a considerable increase in product selection. Their use also resulted in an impressive sales uplift for various retailers when trialled live against pack shots. For example, Surf branded products saw an average weekly sales uplift of 74.5 per cent on the Coles website when Mobile Ready Hero Images replaced their pack shots.

Be aware of the siginificant challenges around generating Mobile Ready Hero Images. Creating them from scratch requires considerable post-production time and investment, due to the sheer number of products and variants required. This is further magnified for products sold in international markets, where off-pack information needs to be localised.

The task for retailers is to streamline and automate as many of the production stages as possible, and streamline the shopping experience, cutting out unnecessary blank space on product shots so that shoppers have only the information they need to make fast purchasing decisions.

In addition to the mobile-ready hero guidelines, there are further steps that retailers can take to get the most out of their product images on mobile. For maximum effectiveness, they should be high-quality and represent the product in the best possible light to form a positive first impression.

Yet they must also be optimised for the platform. Large images are attention-grabbing and showcase a product’s craftsmanship and detail, but they must be able to scale with the small size of the phone screen. Mobile Ready Hero Images can transform a product’s sales potential, but not if half of the image is hiding somewhere offscreen.

Image of mobile shopping images


As online retail shoppers increasingly use mobile to shop on the go, retailers should be seriously considering how their product images appear on mobile. Mobile is fast becoming the front door for the next generation of shoppers, and they expect the full range of product information to be delivered to them immediately and on-demand.


By Dave Brewis, Chief Marketing Officer, Amplience


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