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How Big Is a Breadbox?

  |  June 25, 2003   |  Comments

Minimize returns, maximize satisfaction by adding perspective to your e-commerce site.

Ever buy something online and discover it's not the right size? It happened to me just the other day, when I purchased a mini dollhouse for my daughter. To our dismay, we hadn't realized how "mini" it actually was.

Fortunately, the Web is perfect for providing prospective buyers detailed descriptions and multiple views of an object. The Nordstrom site is fantastic for illustrating what you'll look like in a dress when you enter a room -- as well as when you exit. Other companies have succeeded by comparing products to everyday objects: a CD, a hair brush, even a tin of Altoids.

As a recent item in Internet Marketing Report points out, providing everyday size comparisons sure beats trying to decipher the dimensions of 34 5/8in. x 59 1/2in. x 19 1/2in. It's certainly better than describing something as "bigger than a bread box." I don't know about you, but I can't tell you the last time I saw a bread box (or measured one, for that matter).

Consider using a familiar object to demonstrate the size of items on your site. It's a simple, why-didn't-I-think-of-it-sooner content addition... and it works. Here are examples found while e-shopping this week:

  • Pentax shows its Optio camera fitting snugly inside an Altoids box. A neat comparison, although the exaggerated photo of an ant ably shouldering the camera does cause one to question the veracity of images on the page.

  • Amazon.com shows a super-mini Leica digital camera perched on the upper edge of a computer keyboard.

  • The Canon ELPH digital camera is pictured cradled in the palm of an adult's hand.

  • For another super-small camera, Amazon provides a ruler, demonstrating the wee thing is just 2 in. x 4 in. But the ruler is larger than actual size, throwing off the impact of this incredibly diminutive product.

It's worth mentioning there are good examples of object comparisons on low-tech sites, while a few larger companies still don't measure up. Among those clearly getting the picture:

  • TinyRC.com, a site selling tiny car and military collectables, includes several images comparing its miniaturized tanks' size to that of a quarter.

  • Just how big is that wooden wall clock? Cartwright Woodcraft shows customers it's several notches bigger than an average dinner plate.

  • For those with exceptionally petite fingers, check out the Happy Hacking Keyboard, described as "about half the size of a letter-sized sheet of paper." It's displayed as the toddler-sized offspring of a standard keyboard.

Several larger retailers, particularly a few well-known furniture purveyors, could learn a lesson from Cartwright. It's only reasonable most people would want a very clear concept of the size of a chest of drawers before it's wheeled into their homes. Some sites just don't get the point.

Many items on Ikea's Web site simply float in white space. Granted, furniture dimensions are provided and you can download comprehensive catalogs that are chocked full of home decorating ideas. But for the online version, wouldn't it be more effective to place that bookshelf next to a couch, door, or even lamp?

Wal-Mart's furniture floats in a white void, too. Yes, you can click to get a larger view of that entertainment center, but, again, there's no sense of perspective.

Speaking of perspective, Apple's Yao Ming/Verne Troyer ad is inspired, and it certainly captured public attention. One could argue it also confused potential buyers. The 12in. PowerBook in the hands of a 7ft. 5in. basketball player looks positively puny. The 17 in. model resting on the lap of Mini-Me appears colossal. On the site, measurements aren't better clarified. The 12in., 15in., and 17in. models are shown side by side without any other object for reference.

For all e-retailers who haven't thought of size comparisons, don't scratch your head -- but do take a look at this amazing comparison of head lice to an ordinary dime.

Comparative graphics aren't brain surgery. It's commonsense content that helps increase buyer satisfaction and minimize returns from misinformed customers.

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Susan Solomon

Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.

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