The10 Biggest Mistakes in Merchandise Presentation
By Glenda Shasho Jones
A cataloger's job of presenting merchandise is second in importance only to selecting the right merchandise. Readers decide in seconds whether they're going to continue to read about a product or move on. The amount of information readers comprehend "at a glance" isn't limited by their brains; it's only limited by what we put in front of them. Even those interested in a product will skip over it if they don't understand it or they're not "sold" on it.
What and how you show product in your catalog makes all the difference in the world. The following list contains the most frequent mistakes made by catalog merchandisers.
Mistake No. 1: Mediocre or Poor Photography
There's no excuse for low quality photography. Your shots should be technically excellent, whether still life or on-figure. This quality affects everything down the line, including color quality and print photo reproduction.
Lighting is a critical factor in making your photos top quality. It can romance a shot, but it can also kill a sale if it's so dramatic that you can't see the product. Lighting for dramatic colors (e.g. black and white being a common challenge) is an art.
Aesthetics make a big difference too. Merchandise can come to life when shot at the right angle.
Mistake No. 2: Busy Backgrounds and Surfaces
Sometimes, in the effort to warm up a shot, create a sense of place or simply add drama, creative talent on the set (art directors, photographers and stylists) set up shots that backfire. Why? Complicated backgrounds actually take readers' eyes away from the product, the very place you want readers to focus. In some cases, art directors are so excited about a great location (or simply want to justify the expense of traveling) that they make the background as important as the merchandise, when they should be directing the photographer to blur out a background.
Still life shots quickly can get complicated with busy backgrounds and too many props. When busy backgrounds are used too often, they create spreads where eyeflow goes out the window and readers are encouraged to just turn the page or abandon the book, since their eyes don't know where to go.
Backgrounds can be very important. But when in doubt, leave it out: Simple is almost always better.
Mistake No. 3: Disorganized Presentations
Customers respond best when you give them an organized presentation. This doesn't mean that every spread has to be in a grid format, but it does mean that there should be a flow to pages that naturally takes readers' eyes to features, sub-features and less important products, in that order. Copy should be secondary and easy to match to products. Elements that pull the eyes away from the product can also be a problem, whether they be type treatment, color, icons or other less important elements.
Mistake No. 4: Weak Selling Efforts
Catalogers must use a variety of elements to be their salespeople. Work hard to show customers why they should be buying something. This is especially true for complicated, performance-oriented or expensive products.
Frontgate, for example, realizes that an expensive barbecue grill needs a lot of romancing, in terms of call-outs, bullets and microscopic shots. Staples does the same hard work when selling office chairs. And while fashion apparel is sometimes "just a great shot," many apparel catalogers have learned that they need to show inset and magnified shots of product details to enhance sales.
Mistake No. 5: Lack of Product Detail
Ask yourself the following:
→ Do you think your customer has no need to see the length of the hem in a photograph?
→ Does your art director argue that "pulling back" ruins the shot?
→ Do you try to sell appliances without showing all the features?
→ Do you show luggage closed because showing it open would be "ugly"?
→ Does the copywriter try to comfort you by showing you that the information is in the copyblock?
If you think you can get away with avoiding these and other details, think again. People don't read. They have to see it in the art. Use copy for reinforcement and supporting additional information, but not as a replacement for product detail that's integral to a purchase.
Customers take in a huge amount of information in a split second, and if there's a piece of critical data missing — such as a skirt or pant length, important waist detail or fabric close-up, you're upping the odds that customers will turn past a garment in which they otherwise might have been interested. Even if customers aren't conscious of why they're not stopping, the decision to stop or continue on is made in seconds.
Mistake No. 6: Poor Propping or Styling
Sometimes the best intentions backfire when propping and styling actually wind up undermining product presentation. There are several reasons why this happens:
1. Overuse of props: Sometimes it's fun to have a lot of options, but too much just takes readers away from the product.
2. Cheap props: Photo shoots need adequate prop budgets if that's what's needed to achieve a desired look. Cheap looks cheapen photography. Plastic leaves look plastic. Better to have fewer, but better quality props.
3. Unrelated props: Sometimes creative talent (perhaps in the attempt to be creative) use props that make no sense to the reader and may actually be unclear or contrary to what's being sold. This becomes confusing and disorients the shopper.
Mistake No. 7: Poor Model Selection
Most experienced catalogers have learned that good models pay for themselves in spades. It's usually the smaller or newer companies that don't understand and/or underestimate the effect of models. These catalogers tend to use less experienced models either because they don't know any better or because of the expense. However, there are too many reasons to use higher-level models, such as the following:
They know how to move, so they're more productive during the day.
They know how to interact with the camera, so they give you better poses.
They know how to take direction better to accomplish your goals.
They can provide more versatility with looks and behavior.
They usually look better in print; that's why they're getting the bigger bucks!
Ultimately, this translates into increased productivity and sales.
Mistake No. 8: Underestimating Merchandise Shot Size
Size matters! Readers want to see the largest depictions of your merchandise within the density requirements you have. This means product size takes precedence over white space, copy, headlines and the variety of design treatments. You still can create features based on squinch (square inch analysis) and other merchandising factors. You still can devote space to selling copy, important elements, such as icons, and even editorial copy.
It doesn't mean your readers won't find great merchandise from a small shot; it means you'll get better overall performance by upsizing the merchandise. Catalogers can keep the same density and still up-size product shots by 5 percent or 10 percent.
Mistake No. 9: Lack of Appropriate Aspiration in Presentation
The key word here is "appropriate," as it relates to creating and displaying an environment that your customer feels is desirable and achievable. To do this, it's imperative that catalogers understand their customers and that the visual interpretation of this aspiration is understood by the creative talent painting the picture. Ask: "What's my customer's aspiration?" Is it:
Achieving more style or dressing more comfortably?
Getting more service and information, or simply getting the best price?
And by the way, the more a catalog tries to show it all, the more diluted the presentation.
Mistake No. 10: Inadequate or Inappropriate Copy
While a picture is worth 1,000 words, we still need vocabulary to communicate what photography can't. There are a lot of missed opportunities and mistakes:
1. "Fluff" copy: Wordiness and overuse of non-related copy is often perceived by readers as a "waste of time." Except in isolated situations, it's not the romance or stimulation intended by the cataloger.
2. Missing information: When details that help a purchase decision (i.e., care or performance information) aren't included, people don't buy.
3. Lack of "voice": There's value when we create differentiation and interest in a catalog though words reflecting brand "personality." n
Glenda Shasho Jones is president of New York-based consulting firm Shasho/Jones Direct. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.