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Unilever’s global e-commerce experience design director, Oliver Bradley, is on a mission to make product images in grocery more mobile friendly. Here he responds to key questions and challenges to the approach to mobile-optimised images he’s developed with the University of Cambridge.

Grocer Gold and Platinum members can click or tap here to read our in-depth piece on the quest to define a global standard for mobile ready hero images. 

You are widely seen as the face of the mobile ready hero image cause. Why are you so passionate about this, and what prompted you to start working with Cambridge University?

For me, it’s just about giving online shoppers the best experience. We started this project 4 years ago by really looking at what it was like to be an online shopper and using eyetracker technology to see how people did their normal shop. And a few things became clear. Firstly, shoppers struggled to recognise when they had found the product they wanted. We observed that the vast majority of grocery shoppers online don’t click through to each product detail page to verify and read all the product information – they simply add to basket from the thumbnail image in Search results or favourite. Secondly, people vertically scroll quickly on mobile and that can lead to mistakes if pack size isn’t clear. And most importantly, people don’t have perfect eyesight and they struggle to make out tiny detail on conventional pack shot. Online shopping is cross-generational, and we need to make it as accessible as possible. People primarily shop online because it’s fast and convenient, and mobile ready hero images are about making the experience even better.

Your work has brought a lot of attention to mobile design and got lots of brands to think about mobile optimisation – but why haven’t these initiatives been led by retailers rather than brands?

UK retailers have done a lot to improve their mobile experience, and it’s been fantastic to really go on this journey together. At Unilever, we have a proud tradition of creating iconic product packaging that stands out on shelf. It’s easy to find male toiletries by looking for the iconic Lynx black packaging. Or find Ben & Jerry’s by looking for our iconic black and white cow in the freezer. We’re bringing that brand recognition to e-commerce, along with variant recognition and understanding of pack size. These specifically created digital “mobile ready hero images” are made from the digital artwork and represent the pack without being a pack-shot photo.

Read more: Mobile grocery and feeding the digital desire

GS1 are now looking to create a global standard from a new working group, but brands have been more enthusiastic to join than retailers. Why is that?

We’ve actually got good retailer representation with Tesco, Ocado, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Carrefour and Walmart all part of the working group along with Google and around 20 manufacturers.

Is it realistic to expect that GS1 will be able to create a global standard when some retailers consider brand content on their site to be something they will set the rules about? How will you persuade them to think otherwise?

Retailers of course own and create image guidelines and standards just as they would do in their stores. But we’re confident that the GS1 working group will get to set the global standards for mobile ready hero images. The Cambridge Open Source guidelines are already live in 76 retailers in over 30 markets and we have in effect already created a “beta” industry standard. Manufacturers across the world are behind this initiative, and ultimately, we believe retailers will want to adopt standards that are best for their customers.

How many of the big 6 retailers in the UK are currently using the Cambridge/Unilever approach?

I’m very happy to say that all of the big six are using mobile ready hero images.

How many retailers have you managed to AB split test your images with, and what were the results?

We can’t divulge the exact details of which retailers we tested with, but we have AB split test with 4 different retailers. Here are the results uplifts from AB tests done in markets outside UK

a) Laundry hero images with number of washes callouts 2.6% lift

b) Ben & Jerry’s hero images 3.6% lift

c) Simple Skincare hero images 19.6% lift

d) Magnum Hero images 24% lift

Read more: It’s time for retailers to master mobile

You worked with Cambridge on a category approach, but if the solution with coloured lozenges was fully implemented, wouldn’t categories look visually noisy with lozenges of lots of different colours in one category? Wouldn’t that make shopping harder rather than easier?

No more so than a shelf with lots of different products on it! It’s actually really easy for the shopper to navigate using the lozenges. We’ve open sourced our work, so all manufacturers can use the same size, design and typeface to make sites look very neat.

It’s been suggested to me there’s a conflict of interest in your being co-chair of the GS1 working group, given you’ve already developed a specific approach with Cambridge. How do you respond to that? If the GS1 group recommends a solution that differs from the Cambridge approach, will you be happy?

We went into this project to make shopping online easier for consumers, and we will go with the solution that improves the experience. We can measure that improvement with a usability study, not just sales uplift. My intention with the GS1 group is that we should set an inclusive design target for usability performance (visual clarity, speed, error rates in completing a task) that is acceptable for a Hero Image on a mobile device, and the group wants these objective measures in place to ensure our solution is robust and shopper-first.

If you were to start your journey with mobile ready hero images again today, what would you do differently?

I would have liked to have started the industry group with GS1 earlier! Getting everyone around the table to openly discuss concerns with mobile ready hero images and hopes for what they can deliver is hugely important. Understanding and listening to retailer perspective is hugely important. We can really make online shopping the best possible experience for shoppers if we do it together. 2018 will be the year for m-commerce.

Read more: The quest to define a global standard for mobile ready hero images