Why Online Retailers Need to Optimise Images For Better Engagement

By Akamai

By Enrique Duvos - Director Product Marketing & Enablement EMEA at Akamai Technologies

Images are all over the Internet. From pictures that illustrate news stories and the millions of ‘selfies’ on social media, through to images that grace product catalogues and enticing advertising shots, it is hard to imagine how we could communicate effectively now without them.

Anyone working in ecommerce is all too aware of the dynamic impact that rich, visually appealing content has on the audience. There have been numerous studies that attest to the relationship between better quality and more frequent images and higher user engagement. eBay, for example, in its Seller Centre, has said that listings with better photo quality are 5% more likely to sell. This is based on a study reviewing 6.8 million listings.

Skyword, the content marketing platform, found, when measuring the performance of content, that on average, total views increased by 94 per cent if an article contained a relevant photograph or infographic compared to those without.

Images, therefore are a crucial driver for online user engagement in ecommerce. Organisations are increasingly building them into a responsive web design which should, in today’s omnichannel environment, ensure their audience receives a seamless and continuous experience, regardless of the device, location and context. But in reality, it’s not that simple.

Here are some tips to help you optimise images for online retail.

Images on mobiles vs. desktops

Even employing a basic responsive design does not eliminate the problems of over-downloading on mobile devices, particularly when it comes to large images, which increases page load times.

One of the biggest challenges for ecommerce retailers is balancing the visual richness of their websites with a fast delivery. Users are clearly influenced by imagery, but on one important condition, it must never get in the way of what they are doing or slow them down.

By the same token, it’s important to remember when using a responsive web design that while taking into account the requirements for a mobile-optimised site, particularly when it comes to the size of images, it should not be at the expense of the desktop experience.

Recent data indicates that conversion rates for both desktops and tablets are still considerably higher than those on smartphones, so there is clearly the need for an approach that will be effective across all devices.

A plethora of pictures

Consider for a moment just how many products are featured on an average ecommerce site, and in some cases these can be viewed from different angles or have different artistic touches. The product shots are separate to the brand imagery, or even to ‘lifestyle’ shots which set the scene.

Almost all ecommerce sites will use high quality pictures taken professionally and amounting to many megabytes in size and many dots-per-inch in resolution.  Those images can then be ‘retouched’ in the studio and edited and saved in a format that is suitable for the website.

According to a recent book published on the topic of High Performance Images, once pictures reach this stage, they are often loaded into a digital asset manager for cataloguing prior to being published on a content management system.

Organisations have their master image, but despite this long process, they still have to produce the derivative images that will eventually be seen on the website. This would include resizing the picture for mobile or tablet optimisation, using the appropriate format for that particular browser, and maintaining the highest quality without impacting performance.

The next aspect to consider is the demand on resources for both storage and maintenance as the volume of images, even for a single product, rises. The IT teams responsible for infrastructure and operations have to deal with the complexity of the many images stored and ensure they are included in any disaster recovery plans.

Establishing image management

When it comes to online retail and image optimisation, help is now at hand — it comes in the combination of a good image management strategy and cloud-based solutions. These have been developed to help ecommerce retailers take control of image processing, costs and storage whilst still ensuring that the customer enjoys great images and fast downloads.

Whilst automating the processing of images is a part of the solution, image management software is designed to work with and optimise the human element. A comprehensive range of image management functions can be assimilated with a retailer’s digital asset management workflow, and this will allow the ‘master’ image to be automatically converted into all the formats and sizes needed.

The website requests a single image URL and the cloud-based software provides the appropriate image, automatically optimized for the device on which it will be viewed.

Apart from adding fluidity to the process, it also makes it much faster. A customer we have been working with who has recently started to use image management, has been able to reduce image preparation time by a quarter, and this has had two important knock-on benefits.

They are now able to market their products onto their website much more speedily, resulting in a faster sales turnaround, and they are realising the advantages of a reduction in infrastructure needed to store the images, and without compromising quality and performance.

Getting the right help

For retailers considering how best to manage their images, it is a good idea to come up with a plan of attack and look at the various options available in image management solutions. If storage is becoming an issue then a cloud-based solution can help by taking care of all the image variants, reducing operational overhead and improving back-up and recovery times.

Performance can be enhanced by ensuring the solution distributes images as close to consumers as possible without increasing download times. Compromising quality vs speed is no longer an option, therefore a solution that helps with automatically delivering the best quality and sized image for the right device will have a long-term benefit on the user experience. The solution must also be scalable and future proof — new image sizes and formats will have to be added as they emerge.


Given the importance of images and their ability to help retailers succeed in the highly competitive ecommerce market, there is a growing need to get on top of image management.

While responsive web design certainly helps in the process, it takes a dedicated solution to optimise images for online retail, in order to utilise them to with a direct impact.

That’s not just on the immediate customer experience, but on revenue, encouraging long-term user engagement and in helping with infrastructure and operational costs.

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