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Selling Online? Too Many Pics May Not Be Smart

internet economy
. / Credit: Internet Image via Shutterstock

While online retailers like to use pictures of their products to entice consumers, using too many could cause consumers to spend their money elsewhere, new research shows.

A study to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research discovered that visual presentations can lead to information overload and result in less consideration by consumers, especially when making a purchasing decision.

The study's authors, Claudia Townsend from the University of Miamiand Barbara Kahn from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said that 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," Townsend and Kahn wrote in their research.

As part of the study, the authors examined how consumers process visual information in both small and large groups of images. Their experiments used eye-tracking software to identify whether the participants processed the image groupings in a random pattern or in a more systematic (left to right) approach similar to reading.

The results demonstrated that while people claim to prefer visual depictions because they feel easier and faster to digest, there are situations when they should take the time to process the information more deeply.

Mobile apps are an example of the negative type of visual overload the research points to. Townsend and Kahn said apps heavily favor graphics in the user interface, which can unintentionally lead consumers to bypass the point of purchase.

The authors determined that small image sets are key to reducing visual overload and increasing the systematic processing of information, which when lowered results in a negative influence on perceptual and behavioral consequences.

The study, "Visual Preference Heuristic: The Influence of Visual versus Verbal Depiction on Assortment Processing, Perceived Variety, and Choice Overload," will appear in the February 2014 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.

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