Monday, November 29, 2010

Cyber Monday

Welcome to Cyber Monday! Since we're all (I hope) swamped with order processing for the holidays, I'll keep this short.

If you've been selling via multiple venues, you'll see that the crowds come in waves; one virtual location is hot this year, and another has taken its place by next year. For our online store (yes, we sell online too - I believe it helps us understand our website clients' needs better!), we saw great traffic through eBay about 2-3 years ago, and while that's cooled off, sales on Amazon are now sizzling. Online sales in general are up over last year, for the 3rd year in a row, as buyers are becoming more and more savvy and looking for the best possible bargains.

This is the best time of year to remember the one thing that buyers want most of all from the stores they shop - platinum level customer service! Yes, even above a great product and a great price, they want to know that the company they're buying from is trustworthy and respectful. How do you convey this to them?

(a) Invest in a good website design, so you LOOK the part (yes, shameless plug - but it's true!);
(b) Answer your phone and answer all email inquiries promptly and politely;
(c) Ship FAST! As fast as you can;
(d) Sell a good quality product, not the cheapest or a fad item, and you'll be glad you did; and
(e) Stand behind your product. Guarantee it. Have a generous returns policy and let people know about it upfront.

The goal is to build lifetime customers who'll tell their friends about you, who'll give your product as gifts, who'll come back and buy from you again and again. So treat each small sale like you're serving a long-time family friend, and you'll see your customer list grow year after year.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS and happy selling!!

This week's question: What do YOU do to offer platinum-level service?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holiday Sales & Reinvesting

So many people right now are contacting us to have their websites designed (or redesigned) - and it's so exciting! It's also a PERFECT TIME to do so. Most online retailers are seeing their holiday sales take off right about now. In fact, it's an early season for many of us, as the online economy is taking off - despite, or perhaps because of - a weaker U.S. economy overall. Let's face it, when pennies are tight and people are on careful budgets, they are much more likely to shop online, where they can comparison shop for prices, browse at their leisure for unique and/or handmade gifts that can't be found at the local superstore, and save themselves both time and money they would otherwise spend driving, parking, hauling packages home, gift wrapping, and then shipping all those gifts out, one-by-one. How much easier to point, click, and know it's done!?

And, how much easier for you, the online retailer, to take a small portion of those funds now starting to rush in, and reinvest them back into your business, by upgrading to a professional eCommerce website with a beautiful, completely customized JennarationX design? At this time of year (and because we have such affordable prices and easy payment plans), you'll barely notice the cost investment in your budget, and after the holiday is over, you'll still be seeing website traffic and SALES! Yes, sales, after the New Year! Because that website design is an investment that pays off, and continues to pay off, over time.

We've done some statistical studies: JennarationX designed websites garner 40% improvements in sell-through rates (the number of people who visit your site and then BUY something) - and ANOTHER 40% to 60% in final sale price (the amount people are willing to pay for your product)! That's amazing, isn't it? That means your investment in the design process generally pays for itself within 30-60 days, and then it's all pure profit.

Why is this? Because online retail is a visual medium. You don't have a beautiful physical storefront in the mall to show off... or a big sign over a physical door... or a beautiful showroom, with expensive mahogany and glass counters and shelves to display your products... or a retail designer to arrange your products optimally... or specialized retail lighting designed specifically to make your product sparkle perfectly under the lights. What you've got is your visual appearance online.

A beautiful, well designed website tells buyers that (a) you have been around for awhile (even if this not true, it gives the appearance of stability), (b) you are financially successful (otherwise, you'd probably only be able to afford one of those cheap looking free template stores), (c) that you care about being seen as professional and successful (which probably means you alo care about your customers being happy, and about the quality of your product, and many other (real or apparent) inferences).

So, the bottom line is: if you want buyers to perceive you as successful, professional, high-quality, reliable, and caring very much about their happiness and buying satisfaction, you need to SHOW it with a beautiful website that showcases your products and makes them look fantastic.

And, based on the number of contacts and sales we're receiving this season, I'm so excited to see that so many of you are doing just that! Way to go, guys! You're investing in your own success, and we are so delighted to invest in your success, too.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Product Photography, Part 4: Selecting the Perfect Photo & Removing Backgrounds

Okay, so over the past few weeks, you've gathered together the materials for an affordable-yet-professional photography station in your lightbox and snapped oodles of pictures using great lighting, proper white-out backdrops, white balance and ideal resolution, right?

Now we're going to work with the output, which should already be a great quality photo with all the essentials (clarity, brightness, and a non-distracting background), to give it the maximum professional edge for display in your eCommerce store.

Since there are dozens of great photo editing programs out there and each one is slightly different, I'll give you the industry standard terms for these techniques, and you can look into your specific program to find out where it's located within the menu. If it doesn't have one or more of the capabilities listed below, look for something that does. My favorite cost-conscious image editing program is Photoshop Elements, list priced at $99.

Below are the 5 image editing steps to get a fabulous end photo that buyers will be drooling over.

This step may seem obvious, but I want to talk for just a moment about how to select your final image from the several that you took. (You did take several, right?)

The optimal things to look for are:
a) Do I like the PLACEMENT of the product? (Is it positioned straight, facing the camera? Is this the best angle to view the product from?)

b) Is it the proper RESOLUTION - crisp and clear, with all the details showing well?

c) Is it well LIT, without any harsh shadows or fuzzy bits?

Here's what's surprisingly NOT as important, because I'm going to show you how to fix these below:

a) Is the color exactly right? (This is any easy fix.)

b) Is the picture slightly off-angle, or is the product not centered? (Again, easy fix).

c) Are there distractions in the background, or minor imperfections such as dust or scratches? (Again, as long as they're small these can be readily removed.)

No matter how good your backdrop is at removing visual clutter, there are always unwanted shadows, light/color reflections, bits of lint on your drop cloth, etc. The closer you can get to a white or "transparent" background, the better.

I like to do this step early on, so that what you're left with is just the product itself. This will allow you to see it more clearly - just like removing the background allows your buyer to see the product more clearly.

There are lots of ways of improving or even erasing the background of your image - experiment to see which of these gives you the best result:

a. Lighten - this technique is the easiest, but only works if your foreground product is bright or dark and does not contain white or light grey. Use the color selector tool to choose the predominant shade of your background. Then use the lighten tool and/or desaturate tool to take out any color and unwanted shadows.

b. Correct - if you only see a few odd spots of dust, remove them or airbrush over them.

c. Erase - this technique works if you have a product that's very easy to trace around, such as a book or painting with lots of straight edges. Use your eraser tool to literally remove the background from around your product.

d. Extract - this tool is available in Photoshop and essentially does step c, above, for you. Choose Extract > Smart Extract, use the mouse to highlight the outline of your product (it doesn't have to be perfect, you can preview and edit it before saving), then let the software extract the foreground object out of the background for you, leaving a clean white canvas behind your item.

All of the above techniques will be infinitely more easy if you've taken the proper steps to add high volume lighting, white-out backgrounds (lightbox or drop cloth), and set the white balance on your camera. Once you get the hang of it, each image's extraction should take you just 2 to 3 minutes.

Product Photography Step 2 Example, Image Background Removal

In the above images, I've used technique A for the center image, and technique C for the far right image. Two notes about this technique: (1) give yourself some time, because this is a skill you'll get better with as you practice, and (2) did you notice how much brighter and more appealing the right ring is than the left? And yet I've done nothing yet to tweak the ring itself! THAT is the magic of background removal, and why I've spent so much time describing it.

...Part 4 to be continued next week.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Product Photography, Part 3: 5 Steps to Staging & Taking Photos

Taking photos of products available for wholesale or retail sale is a specialized field, referred to as "industrial photography" (even if your product is not "industrial" in nature) - as opposed to landscapes still lifes, or portraits. That's because it takes a specific skill to photograph an inanimate object and make it look appealing, even exciting. And that's exactly what you want to do - bring out all the best qualities in what you have to sell. You don't want to portray anything false or misleading to your customers, but you do want to lure and seduce them to pull out their credit cards because they simply MUST have this fabulous looking item.

So, what's the best way to stage and photograph your items for sale? Well, there's obviously some variation based on (a) the product line you carry, and (b) your selling venues. But the basic rules apply across the board.

Stage for a white background, free of distractions, props, or textures. If you have small items, I recommend a lightbox - particularly for watches, jewelry, or other metal/glass items that reflect their surroundings easily. If you have medium- to large-sized products, a table or floor space with a white matte drop cloth behind it is ideal. If you have the capability of removing the photo's background in PhotoShop (known as "extraction"), that's great - but you'll still want to make the process as quick and easy as possible by staging properly.

Obviously, there are a few exceptions to the "white space" background. For example, some pieces of crystal or glass itesm show up more clearly when photographed over a black background. (In that case, make sure you have a lint-free surface that doesn't pick up lots of dust particles!) I've also seen some very nice photography that uses textured backgrounds (i.e., a slab of marble) or natural elements (i.e., flowers or leaves) to add color and interest to the images. In some rare cases, this can be very effective. However, generally speaking, studies overwhelmingly show that buyers prefer to see JUST the product in an image, with a white or transparent background. This is why nearly every professional eCommerce website displays their product photos this way, with almost no exceptions.

Take a quick study of the above photos. All 3 of these images were pulled from the first few pages of an eBay search of live auction listings for "women's black dress". All 3 feature nearly identical styling and are listing within the same price range.

Image 1 shows the dress spread out on the floor, which makes it look large and flat, not at all appealing. The background texture is distracting, and if you look at the enlarged photo, there is visible debris on the floor, including a (dirty?) white sock in the top right corner. Not very appealing!!

Image 2 is better, showing the dress upright on a hanger with a nearly neutral background, free of distractions. However, the scrawny wire hanger subtly conveys "cheap" and the flatness of the dress does nothing for its visual appeal.

Image 3 is perfect, and looks straight out of a high-end catalog or eCommerce site. Think you can't get your images to look this good? Think again! With a bit of practice using the techniques discussed today and that I'll discuss next week, you can absolutely get your product images looking much more like example #3 than #1.

Now here's the big question: Ask yourself what you would be willing to pay for dress #1? How about dress #2, and finally dress #3? I don't know about you, but I would pay about 3 times more money for dress #3 than the other two, even without knowing the brand name or the materials! And so would most buyers.

You've heard that the secret to real estate purchasing is "location, location, location"? When it comes to product photography, remember this secret: lighting, lighting, lighting! As I said last week, you really can't have too much lighting. Invest in several small, affordable clip-on lamps that can be easily placed all around your object, and full-spectrum ("natural"/"daylight") light bulbs. You may also want to experiment with diffusers or light tents to remove glares, especially if your product has highly reflective surfaces. View the object from several angles to make sure you don't have any stark shadows.

Now that your background is blocked and your lighting is adjusted, set the white balance on your camera! This is an amazingly important step that most people don't know about - after all, in everyday photo snapshots of your friends, family, and that music concert you went to last weekend, "white balance" is not something you need to know about. But when it comes to product photography, it can make a significant difference in the quality of your image's clarity and color.

Most digital cameras have a white balance feature, and it's very easy to set, requiring just a few steps and 15 seconds to get right before you start snapping pics. Read your camera's manual for specifics on how to do this simple but critical step.

Check your distance requirements. All cameras have an ideal range of focus - too close or too far and you'll end up with fuzzy edges. There's a lot you can do in photo editing software to improve an image, but there's almost nothing you can do to really improve focus - it needs to be right from the get-go. If you're photographing small objects up close, get that camera manual out again and spend 5 minutes figuring out how to "macro zoom" so you can really show the product detail to your buyers. If you have larger objects (i.e., clothing on a mannequin, furniture, vehicles), experiment with wide lens options. Taking the time to find the optimal distance for best photo clarity is a one-time investment that will pay BIG dividends.

You're ready to start snapping pics! Now here's where that large memory card and the rechargeable batteries I recommended last week come into play, because you want to take LOTS of pics. Even if you'll ultimately only display a single image of your product on your website, take about 10-20 images of the item. Step in a little, step back a little, make slight changes to your angle or to the lighting. Once you get your pictures uploaded, you may be surprised to see odd angles, reflections, or shadows that you weren't aware of originally, so having a selection of images to choose from will come in very handy and save you considerable time over having to go back and reshoot.

Yes, all of these steps are a time investment. Keep reminding yourself that the quality of your product photos will dramatically affect both your sell-through rate and the sales price you can command, for either the better or the worse - and by as much as 40% to 80%! That's no small impact. eCommerce is a visual medium, so work with that, and learn how to visually stimulate and lure your buyers into loving and wanting your products, and you'll see your success online soar.

Next week I'll discuss how to edit, crop, and prepare your product images for optimal online viewing. As always, I look forward to your comments and questions, or feel free to share your own product photography secrets and tricks!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Inspiration

"All that you can achieve and all that you fail to achieve is the direct result of your own thoughts." --James Allen

Friday, November 5, 2010

Welcome to Friday - time for a new customer spotlight!

Spotlight On: Sinelleo Combo Deals of the Day
Service: New logo, eBay store design, and matching eCommerce store design

The Need: Pepe has a great product line - high end designer clothing at amazing prices - and great energy. He wanted to capture a hip, urban, youthful spirit that would appeal to his younger, brand-conscious customers, but that would also be clean, upscale, and have the professional quality of the "big guys". When we asked him for sample sites he likes, he went straight to Ralph Lauren!

The Solution: So, how do you combine the elegance of top brand names with a fun, energetic quality? We hope we've done it! By keeping this website clean and very well organized, with a simple color scheme of cool blues and greens, it has the feel of an easy to navigate professional design. By giving Pepe's logo tons of eye appeal and using youthful models and lots of subtle textures, the site gets an added punch of funky and hip. Cool + upscale = problem solved!

Q & A:

Q: What kinds of model pictures can I use?

A: Anything you have the copyright license to may be used on your website. Images you may use include:
  • Photographic images you take yourself
  • Full-rights stock photography you purchase
  • Limited-rights stock photography you purchase (as long as it's not resold in any form
  • Images from your vendor(s) that you have express rights to use
Images you may not include:
  • Photos of celebrities
  • Photos you found on another website
  • Stock photography images purchased by someone else
  • Ad images from your vendors/suppliers/brands (unless you have their written consent)
  • Model and/or product images from your vendors/suppliers/brands (unless you have their written consent)

Q: Does this include my product photos? Can't I use the photos from the manufacturer's website or print catalog?

A: Technically, no - unless you have their express written consent, this is copyrighted intellectual property and cannot be "borrowed" for use with your sales. Do people do it? Sure, all the time. But they set themselves up for a copyright infringement suit and can cause themselves a lot of headache and hassle if they are pursued. (And yes, people ARE pursued for this every day. Amazon and eBay both have very strict VERO policies, too.)

Q: So where do I get my images then?

A: Product Images: You can start with asking your suppliers if you can use their images - many will say yes. Some have limitations on where or how they can be used (for example, "not on eBay" is a common restriction), while others will give you full access. In lieu of that, you should take your own product photographs - they add significant value to your web business, becoming your own intellectual property asset! (You can also hire an "industrial photographer" to take your product photos, but this can get quite expensive - expect to pay $10 to $30 per photo for raw, unedited images - and up to $50 to $250 per edited image!)

Model Images: There are some great stock photography sites out there that sell limited-rights access to professional images. Depending on the image quality and usage rights, you can expect to pay between $2 and $25 for standard images at sites like and, two of my favorites. Or, ask your designer! We make it our business to find the best quality stock photo images, and maintain lightboxes for all kinds of different photography subjects, from plants to foods to men and women in various kinds of activity and attire.

Let us know your feedback and questions about this site design (or any of our others). And thank you, Pepe, for working with us on both of your new websites! We know you're ready to take the urban market by storm.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Holiday eCards

Now is the perfect time to get your holiday ecards ready to go - before the big rush of last-minute orders!

What? You don't do a holiday ecard? ...Can you hear my gasp from here? My dears, get yourselves out there! Sending periodic emails to your customers builds loyalty and brand recognition, and is still the #1 most cost-effective marketing technique out there. If you're selling on eBay or Amazon, this is especially important for reminding buyers that you are your own selling entity online. Plus, it's a nice thing to do.

Fine-quality print cards can be very expensive, especially if you look into custom printing, and then of course there's the hand-addressing and postage expense. Not to mention killing trees.

When you go digital, you get the same beautiful effect, plus an immediate opportunity for buyers who are already at their computers to click on your site link or your bookmark - and they'll already be feeling warm and fuzzy, due to your heartfelt expression of gratitude and goodwill.

We have a selection of over 50 beautiful holiday ecards to choose from (including Christmas, Hannukah, and general winter holiday greetings) for only $50 - you pick your favorite image, your favorite saying, and then send them out to everyone on your list! Or, for $150, you can have a completely customized ecard with your store logo and branding plus full website navigation and your own completely unique message. Again, send it out to 20 people or 20,000 people - let your buyers know you care.

For examples of what we can do for you: - and see the Greeting Cards and Examples & Pricing tabs.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Product Photography, Part 2: Camera & Setup

As I mentioned last week, you'll see nearly immediate benefits by improving your product photography for your eCommerce website. And yes, that means Etsy and eBay sellers, too, without a doubt!

I'd like to start with the basic equipment first. No, don't start covering your eyes and going into a panic attack - you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that your professional equipment setup is surprisingly affordable! Do try to invest in the best quality you can afford; these items should last you for several years.

You definitely want to go digital here - you'll need to take a LOT of shots, and don't want to be stingy with film. The good news is, there are tons of fabulous choices for a good quality digital camera in the $100 to $250 range that will easily meet your needs.

Look for a camera that has:
  • 5 mp resolution or better
  • White balance setting
  • Macro zoom feature (if you'll be photographing objects smaller than a coffee cup)
  • Easy plug-in to your computer (i.e., cable or port)

You don't need much here - but you'll find the following investments will pay off nearly immediately:
  • A few good sized memory cards (so you don't have to be dumping photos every few minutes)
  • Rechargeable batteries - you'll want these right away! Digital cameras eat up batteries quickly. Get 2 sets - one for the camera, and one to be charging while you work. Radio Shack has great rechargeable batteries (and the recharger station) specifically for home electronics.
  • A case or protective cover for your camera - especially important if you will be traveling or going outdoors for your photo work, but also good for protecting your camera from dust, scratches, or falls while it's being stored at home.
  • A tripod - this can be a small table-top device, if your products are smaller, or a full-size, to-the-floor device. Look for one with multiple height and angle adjustments. Pick up a used one for a great price on eBay or Etsy.

I will talk more about product staging next week, because it's absolutely critical to taking a good product photo for online sales. For now, take a few minutes to look into the following:
  • For ALL items: Proper lighting. This means natural, full-spectrum light bulbs (you can get them at any Home Depot), and lots of them. Inexpensive clip-on desk lamps work great - you can pick them up for $10 apiece and affix them easily to surround your product photo area. Get several.
  • For small items: A desktop light box. We absolutely love GemEBox, made by MK Digital Direct. EZCube is another good brand to look at.
  • For clothing: A good-quality mannequin. Yes, you need one - please don't keep photographing your items laid out on the dirty floor! Yes, you can buy one from a store that's going out of business, but PLEASE make sure it's in good repair. That means no major scratches, and it should have hair. Yes, even if you sell used clothing.
  • For large items: Most large professional lightboxes are pretty expensive purchases, so if you're photographing large items we generally recommend that you start with some drop cloths to "white out" your backgrounds. You can get white canvas painters drop cloths at Home Depot, or some clean white cotton yarding at the fabric store. Make sure it's nice and thick, so you won't see things through the material. Also try to pick a fabric that doesn't collect dust or pet hair easily. While you're there, grab a few plastic zip-up bags to store your drop cloths in when not in use.

I know these items require both time and money investments. As you gather them, remind yourself that they will very likely pay for themselves in just a few weeks' time. After all, one of the beauties of selling online is that you literally have an even playing field with the "big guys" - give yourself the professional advantage of the right equipment, and I guarantee you'll be glad you did!