Avoid Image Overload in Christmas Product Descriptions

If your all-singing, all-dancing ecommerce site is heavily laden with product images, you could be shooting yourself in the foot this Christmas.

In the second of today's posts from the Journal of Consumer Research, I'm looking at a study that suggests plain text can actually help shoppers to make better buying decisions - particularly at the point of purchase.

Claudia Townsend of the University of Miami and Barbara E Kahn of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania looked at how consumers interpret visual information when it appears as small or large groups of pictures.

They found that images are often preferred to plain text, but when too many pictures are presented, it can lead to less-good buying decisions being made.

"While visual images are fun, there may be a tendency to gloss over them, rather than make a purchase.

"At the point of actual consideration for purchase, a text-based interface should cause consumers to slow down, review each option more carefully, and be less likely to opt out of the choice."

The authors add that the findings are of particular relevance for mobile apps, which often have too heavy a reliance on the use of graphics in their user interface.

By using only small sets of images, app designers and webmasters alike can avoid visual overload, defined as "the less systematic processing of information resulting in a negative influence on perceptual and behavioural consequences".

For the full press release on this one, click here (external PDF link).

Why Text is Best

You might think I have a vested interest in flagging up that text works better than pictures at the point of purchase, as I'm a writer and not an illustrator or photographer.

But actually, it's the other way around - I'm a writer because I believe in the power of words, and it's great to see research that supports that opinion.

For webmasters, there's also good reason to welcome these findings, as plain text is more search-visible, takes less server space and bandwidth, and may be more compatible with access via simple mobile devices.

Plus of course, you can hire anyone, anywhere to write your product descriptions - aside from a laptop and some word processing software, there's not really any specialist equipment needed.

Contrast this with the time and technology it takes to get good-quality product photos taken, edited and uploaded, and there's all the more reason for ecommerce entrepreneurs to embrace text descriptions as the best way to flesh out an online product catalogue.