The Bigger Picture (Literally)

By Taylor Smithfield

The average person forms a first impression within a mere 50 milliseconds.1 Stop and think about that for 1,000 milliseconds — I mean a second. Our ability to make warp speed judgments has become second-nature thanks to a steady diet of visual content. We largely communicate in photos, videos, emojis, memes and GIFs. Not only that, but we regularly interact with overflowing Facebook feeds, YouTube channels, Snapchat videos and countless advertisements. Out of necessity, we’ve trained our brains to rapidly sort information, lest we become overwhelmed.

Successful brands find creative ways to speak this second language, and we’ve previously discussed many of those communication strategies in Outdoor Marketplace. However, it’s easy to be dazzled by new trends and technologies and miss the bigger picture. While e-commerce allows you to conveniently reach customers from every corner of the country, if you can’t successfully communicate with them, your platform is meaningless.

Customer Confusion

Because visitors to your online store can’t physically handle products or ask questions in real time, your virtual presentation must be as similar to your in-store experience as possible. Online shoppers prefer to browse products from their phone largely out of convenience, so if you inconvenience them, they’ll gladly go elsewhere.

Have you ever passed on an online purchase because you were underwhelmed by the product listing? Maybe the photos were poor quality, the description too vague or you were confused about basic functionality. Countless would-be sales are interrupted every day due to simple but avoidable customer confusion.

Purchasing decisions rely heavily on accurate and engaging shopping experiences, especially when it comes to online firearms transactions. The majority of manufacturers provide quality photos of their products, but what about your inventory of used firearms? It’s often very easy to spot the difference between a photo taken by a manufacturer and a dealer because you (naturally) don’t have access to expensive equipment and a studio. But do you have to be a professional photographer to put forth a professional image? Not anymore.

Illuminating Your Subject

Thanks to new technologies, it’s easier to create content from the comfort of your own phone, including professional product photography. Today’s smartphones are equipped with surprisingly powerful cameras, so you don’t necessarily have to invest in an expensive DSLR. Of course, there is some skill (and good lighting) involved. Let’s get practical.

If you regularly photograph products for your online store, I’d suggested purchasing a lightbox. A lightbox is simply a miniature, portable studio where you can properly light and backdrop products — a staple tool of many online retailers. It flawlessly illuminates your subject, highlighting details important to customers. It provides both professional context and consistency for your photographs; just flip the lights on and shoot! Photos taken in a lightbox will either have a white background or the appearance of a transparent background, just like the professionals.

On the contrary, you may choose to photograph firearms against a different background, maybe a wooden counter or floor. Either way, forgoing a lightbox means you must photograph in even, indirect, natural light (avoid standard artificial lights like the plague!). Relying on natural light ensures your product won’t have a yellow or blue cast, a subtle difference that can be a major turnoff.

Regardless of your desired shooting conditions, it’s important to provide customers with multiple views of a firearm, both wide and tight shots. Colors represented in photos should closely mimic real life (another advantage of a lightbox is color accuracy). Upon page load, the larger the photo the better (Say this five times: “In the big picture, bigger pictures are better”). Skinner Auctions, an eBay-inspired website, increased their conversion rate seven times over when they simply increased the size of their photos. Likewise, customers appreciate the ability to zoom in for details, a feature you’ve probably used yourself.

Adding Context

While you can certainly create interactive experiences with photos alone, video is an even more powerful medium. Watching someone handle, load or shoot a firearm can add context. It also lowers the barrier to an often-intimidating purchase when customers can imagine themselves handling a firearm in a similar manner.

As with product photography, videography has become easier to master thanks to phone cameras. There are several approaches to filming firearms to consider, though. You may choose to film a gun close up, with a pair of hands demonstrating features. You could also shoot someone from the waist up to simulate the face-to-face interaction a customer would have with an in-store sales associate. These personal touches can counteract the often sterile nature of online shopping. Regardless of how you choose to film, it’s important to use a phone tripod for stability so customers can focus on the firearm and not their nausea.

You can also go a step further and film instructional how-to videos with different types of guns, a strategy Advanced Auto Parts says has been wildly successful. They claim visitors to their site who watch a how-to video stay twice as long and visit twice as many pages as those who don’t.

In addition, it would be beneficial to feature an instructional video about the firearms purchasing process. Due to misrepresentations about online gun purchases, it’s quite possible you’re losing sales because would-be customers feel the process is too difficult or dangerous. A little education goes a long way.

Visual Vocabulary

Of course, it’s also essential to ensure the text accompanying your product listing is equally appealing. Ask yourself if your product descriptions pass this test: Are they interesting, succinct and accurate? Have you formatted a tidy list of specs and features? Is there a convenient contact method for customers with questions? Is the listing crowded or too busy?

The communication methods we’ve discussed may seem over the top, and may have been at one point. But because we now predominantly speak this second language — this visual vocabulary — it’s become the number-one way to communicate with customers, and certainly the best way for you to reach yours.

We’d love to hear how you approach your online product displays. What are your strategies for making a virtual sale? Would you ever consider upgrading to a lightbox or adding product demonstration videos? Send in your thoughts to

1 “Managing Your Brand Reputation Online in 2015,” B&T,

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