How User-Generated Visual Content Became Fundamental to Ecommerce

The impact of user-generated photos and videos on purchase behavior, based on insights from more than 7,500 U.S. consumers.

Power Points

A growing number of consumers depend on visual content, such as photos and videos, to make informed purchase decisions.
  • Today 100% look for visual content before making a purchase at least sometimes. In 2016, 97% indicated this was the case.

  • 86% of consumers always or regularly seek out photos and videos prior to purchase, compared to 72% in 2016.
Increasingly, consumers seek out photos and videos from other consumers -- and value them more than brand or retailer-supplied visual content.
  • Nearly all (99%) of consumers look for photos and videos submitted from other customers at least occasionally. In 2016, 88% did so.

  • 77% of consumers always or regularly seek out visual content from others who have already purchased a product. This number is even higher among Millennial (84%) and Gen Z (91%) shoppers.

  • 80% of consumers find photos from other customers more valuable than photos from brands or retailers. This is a significant increase from 2016, when 44% indicated they valued user-generated photos more than brand or retailer supplied visual content.
The presence (or absence) of user-generated visuals can make or break a sale.
  • 85% of shoppers are more likely to buy a product that has reviews that include visual content in addition to written text, up from 72% in 2016.

  • Younger shoppers are especially swayed by visual content; 99% of Gen Z shoppers and 89% of Millennials are more likely to purchase products that have reviews that feature photos and videos.

  • A third of Gen Z consumers and nearly a quarter (21%) of Millennials won’t purchase a product if there are no photos or videos from other consumers who have purchased it.
User-generated visual content is valued across myriad product categories.
  • Consumers find user-generated photos and videos helpful when purchasing products across a wide range of categories.

  • The top product categories consumers value user-generated visual content include clothing (78%), electronics (70%), appliances (63%), home and garden (62%) and health and beauty (60%).

Introduction

We’re Living in a Highly Visual World

Photos and videos have become integral to the lives of modern consumers. Photography and videography — once limited to those with fancy equipment and specialized training — is now accessible to anyone with a mobile phone.

And channels like Instagram provide a platform for these amateur photographers and videographers to publish their content and share their opinions.

Visual Content has Become a Key Component of the Path to Purchase

The proliferation of photos and videos has also transformed shopping behavior. In the past, consumers found inspiration and discovered new products by visiting brick-and-mortar stores. This still happens, but a growing number of consumers now get inspiration by scrolling through their Instagram feeds.

Then, when they’re evaluating whether to buy a product, they look for photos and videos — including those taken by other consumers who have already purchased a product — as they seek to make more informed purchase decisions.

Brands and Retailers Must Provide the Visual Content Consumers Seek

Today’s consumers expect to find plenty of visual content for the products they’re considering. And increasingly, they specifically seek out photos and videos taken by other consumers. If shoppers can’t find what they’re looking for, they’re likely to look elsewhere.  

Brands and retailers must make it a priority to showcase both professional photos and videos, as well as visual content from customers. It’s well worth the effort.

Our recent analysis of 1.5MM online product pages from more than 1,200 brand and retailer sites found that there’s a 91.4% lift in conversion when visitors interact with user-generated photos and videos on a product page.

There’s a 91.4% lift in conversion when visitors interact with user-generated photos and videos on a product page.

Understand the Role of Visual Content to Optimize Your Strategy

In order to develop effective strategies to collect and display user-generated visual content, brands and retailers must take a step back and understand the role this content plays in the online purchase journey — and how it influences purchase behavior.

Recently, PowerReviews surveyed more than 7,500 U.S. consumers to better understand how they use both brand provided and consumer-generated visual content when navigating the purchase journey.

We also wanted to understand how the role of visual content has changed since 2016, when we conducted similar research.

We share the results below, before providing six impactful actions brands and retailers can take to better leverage user-generated imagery to drive sales based on the findings.

Who We Surveyed

Generations

Gen Z
(1997-present)
1%
Millennials
(1981-1996)
50%
Gen X
(1965-1980)
36%
Baby Boomers
(1946-1964)
13%

Household Income

How Dependence on Visual Content is Growing

When a consumer is shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, they can see, touch and – to a degree – try out a product prior to purchase.

Of course, that’s not possible when shopping online — which was becoming increasingly common anyway but has become even more so after Covid.

However, many shoppers turn to visual content to bridge this gap.

Nearly All Consumers Seek Out Visual Content

Visual content has always been important. And it’s getting even more important.

When we surveyed consumers in 2016, 97% indicated they looked for visual content prior to making a purchase at least occasionally. Today, even more consumers — 100% — say that’s the case.

Consumers Rely More on Visual Content Than They Did Five Years Ago
When researching a product prior to purchase, how often do you look for visuals, such as photos and videos, of that product?
2016
2021

As expected, younger consumers seek out visual content more frequently than their older counterparts. 95% of Gen Z shoppers and 88% of Millennials seek out visual content regularly or always. In comparison, nearly 85% of Gen X shoppers and 77% of Boomers do so.

How Often Consumers Seek Out Visual Content Prior to Purchase
Boomers
Gen X
Millennials
Gen Z

Consumers Want Authentic Real-Life User-Generated Visual Content

Consumers have an appetite for visual content. But not just any photos and videos will satisfy them. That’s because increasingly, shoppers want to find visual content from other shoppers who have already purchased the product in question.

When conducting research prior to purchase, nearly all (99%) of consumers look for photos and videos submitted by other consumers at least occasionally. In 2016, 88% said this was the case.

Those who seek out user-generated visual content are doing so more frequently than they were just five years ago. Today, 77% of consumers always or regularly seek out visual content from others who have already purchased a product, compared to just over a third (39%) in 2016.

Consumers Seek Out User-Generated Visual Content Prior to Purchase
2016
2021

Not surprisingly, younger consumers are more likely to frequently seek out user-generated photos and videos than older ones. 91% of Gen Z shoppers always or regularly seek out user-generated visual content prior to making a purchase, compared to 61% of Boomers.

Consumers Seek Out User-Generated Visual Content Prior to Purchase
Boomers
Gen X
Millennials
Gen Z

Consumers Value User-Submitted Visual Content Over Brand Provided Content

Brands and retailers invest time and resources to capture great photos and videos of their products. And while professional photos and videos are certainly important, increasingly, consumers value user-generated visual content more.

When contemplating a purchase, 80% of consumers say that a photo from another customer is more valuable than one from a brand or retailer.

In 2016, less than half (44%) felt this way. Clearly, user-generated photos are becoming table stakes as more consumers navigate the online purchase journey.

Types of Photos Consumers Value More
What kind of product photos are more valuable to you: professional photos supplied by the brand/retailer, or those supplied by another customer?
2016
2021

Younger consumers are more likely to value user-generated photos over that provided by brands and retailers. 91% of Gen Z shoppers and 85% of Millennials value user-generated photos more than professional ones.

In comparison, 78% of Gen Xers and 68% of Boomers indicate that a photo supplied by another consumer is more valuable than one provided by a brand or retailer.

However, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of each generational group favors user-generated photos. Brands and retailers must make it a priority to collect and display plenty of this content — regardless of their target demographic.

Type of Photos Most Valued by Consumers
What kind of product photos are more valuable to you: professional photos supplied by the brand/retailer, or those supplied by another customer?
Boomers
Gen X
Millennials
Gen Z

How Visual UGC Impacts Purchase Behavior

Consumers of all ages seek out photos and videos supplied by other consumers. And the presence (or absence) of this content has a significant impact on purchase behavior.

User-Generated Imagery Increases Purchase Likelihood

We know that product reviews have a huge impact on whether or not a consumer purchases a product. The presence of photos and videos within those reviews makes them even more powerful.

85% of shoppers indicate they’re more likely to buy a product that has reviews that feature photos and videos in addition to written text. In 2016, 72% felt this way.

I’m More Likely to Buy a Product That Has Reviews that Feature Photos and Videos
2016
72%
2021
85%

Shoppers of all ages are swayed by the presence of user-generated visual content in reviews. But it’s particularly influential for younger shoppers.

99% of Gen Zers and 89% of Millennials are more likely to purchase products that have reviews that feature photos and videos, compared to 83% of Gen X consumers and 77% of Boomers.

I’m More Likely to Buy a Product That Has Reviews that Feature Photos and Videos
Boomers
77%
Gen X
83%
Millennials
89%
Gen Z
99%

Clearly, when shoppers see what a product looks like in real life being used by real people, it boosts their confidence and increases their likelihood to buy.

This is in line with our recent analysis that found that brands and retailers can experience a 91.4% lift in conversion when visitors engage with user-generated photos and videos (worth noting: the conversion lift is even higher for certain highly visual categories, such as apparel and home and garden).

The impact of visual content on conversion is likely to increase as photography and videography becomes more accessible and widespread.

The Absence of User-Submitted Visual Content Can Deter Customers

What’s the risk of not displaying photos and videos captured by your customers? Some shoppers simply won’t purchase products if they can’t find this content.

This is especially true for younger shoppers. A third of Gen Z shoppers and 21% of Millennials won’t purchase a product if there are no photos or videos from others who have bought the product. In comparison, 15% of Gen X shoppers and 14% of Boomers feel this way.

I Will Still Buy Products With No User-Submitted Images/Videos?
Boomers
86%
Gen X
85%
Millennials
79%
Gen Z
67%

For the majority of shoppers, a lack of user-generated photos isn’t necessarily a barrier to purchase.

However, the presence of this content can inspire shoppers and increase trust, which will then increase their likelihood of making a purchase.

So make it a priority to collect and prominently display user-generated visual content. It’s well worth the effort as you look for gains that drive bottom line impact. 

Why Consumers Value User-Generated Visual Content

Increasingly, consumers seek out authentic photos and videos submitted by their fellow shoppers. But why do consumers find this content so valuable?

Consumers Value User-Generated Visual Content for a Variety of Reasons

Top Reasons Consumers Value User-Submitted Photos and Videos
To see what the product looks like in real life
86%
To get a better sense of the size or sizing of the product
75%
It’s more authentic and “real” than standard brand-created imagery
65%
To understand how the product performs
58%
To see if the product fits your own personal need
56%
It creates trust in the product and/or brand
42%

The most popular reason — selected by 86% of survey respondents — is that this content allows shoppers to see what the product looks like in real life.

While photos and videos produced by a brand show a product in its best light, user-generated content allows shoppers to see a product being used by real people in real situations — and that gives shoppers more realistic expectations.  

Three-quarters of shoppers indicate that user-generated visual media helps them get a better sense of the size or sizing of a product. This makes sense, as it’s often difficult to gauge the size of a product — or select the right size for an item like clothing — when shopping online. 

Consumers seek out user-generated photos and videos for a number of reasons. When you showcase this content on your website, you’re equipping these shoppers with an important tool that fuels better decisions.

When User-Generated Photos and Videos Matter Most

Clearly, a growing number of consumers seek out user-generated photos and videos. And the presence (or absence) of this content impacts purchase behavior.

But does user-generated visual content matter more for certain product categories than it does for others?

User-Generated Visual Media Aids Purchase Decisions Across Many Product Categories

As it turns out, consumers value user-generated photos and videos when they’re shopping for a wide array of products. But some categories do rise to the top. 

Clothing tops the list. Over three-quarters (78%) find user-generated photos and videos valuable when shopping for clothes. Electronics is a close second. 70% of consumers value user-generated visual content when purchasing products in this category.

Consumers also value user-generated photos and videos for product categories including appliances (63%), home and garden (62%), health and beauty (60%), shoes (59%), toys (48%), computers (48%) and groceries (30%).

While it’s true that visual content is especially valuable for certain product categories, it’s important to note that a significant number of consumers value this content across all of the product categories included in this survey. Even 30% of those shopping for groceries consider user-generated visual content to be helpful when making purchase decisions!

Brands and retailers must make it a priority to collect and display user-generated content, regardless of the types of products they sell. Those that don’t risk losing customers to a brand that better meets their expectations.

Consumers Consider User-Generated Visual Content Helpful for Many Product Types
Clothing
78%
Electronics
70%
Appliances
63%
Home & Garden
62%
Health & Beauty
60%
Shoes
59%
Toys
48%
Computers
48%
Groceries
30%

6 Tips for Leveraging Visual UGC to Attract & Convert Shoppers

Visual content plays a large (and growing) role in the path to purchase. Brands and retailers must make it a priority to collect and showcase user-generated visual content in order to attract and convert the growing number of consumers who seek it out.

Read on for our six top recommendations, based on the key findings of this report.

1
Ask for Photos and Videos as Part of Reviews

Most shoppers (85% to be exact) are more likely to buy a product that has reviews that include photos and videos in addition to written text. So be sure to ask your shoppers to submit photos and videos as part of the review process. 

In your post purchase emails, make it clear that you want your shoppers to share visual content in their reviews. And make it easy for them to upload this content directly from their computer or mobile device — or even their social media profiles.

Also, experiment with asking for visual content both before and after shoppers provide reviews. Then, stick with the option that generates the highest volume of user-generated visual content. 

Allow Shoppers to Submit Visual Content Independent of Reviews

Consider giving customers the option to submit a photo or video without an accompanying rating and review. It’s an effective way to generate a high volume of user-generated visual content — quickly.

2
3
Curate Visual Photos and Videos from Social Media

Chances are, your customers are already posting photos and videos on your products in action on their own social media channels, such as Instagram. So start curating this visual content onto your own website.

Showcase Visual UGC Throughout Your Website

99% of consumers specifically seek out photos and videos submitted by other consumers. So make it easy for your shoppers to find what they’re looking for.  

At a minimum, add an image gallery to your product pages that showcases visual content submitted by those who have already purchased the product. Doing so will help shoppers understand what a product looks like in real life. An image gallery will increase shopper confidence — and those who engage with it will be more likely to convert.

In addition, consider showcasing user-generated visual content on other parts of your website. For example, consider adding shoppable user-generated visual content galleries on other key pages, including your homepage. These galleries will spark inspiration — and encourage sales.

4
5
Leverage Visual Content in Other Marketing Initiatives

Look for opportunities to enhance your marketing initiatives with photos and videos from your customers. For example, consider featuring user-generated visual content in email and digital campaigns, as well as on your own social media channels. Doing so is a great way to capture the attention of shoppers actively seeking out photos and videos from others like them.

Analyze Impact and Optimize Accordingly

It’s not enough to simply collect and display user-generated visual content and hope for the best. Instead, it’s essential to regularly analyze how this content impacts the purchase behavior of your customers. Then, you can use these insights to optimize the ways you collect and display content to drive even better results.

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