The Negative Effect of Product Image Inconsistency on Product Overviews During the Online Product Search

Erik Maier
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 23, Number 1, 2019, pp. 110-143.


During the product search phase in online retail, consumers typically review product overviews, where they must decide whether to further investigate a product from the assortment and which products to assess. These product overviews are in practice frequently inconsistent in their image characteristics, that is, in terms of their product background (on white background vs. with contextual background) and/or product orientation (differing presentation angles of the products). Four studies in an e-commerce setting establish the negative effect of inconsistent product presentation in product overviews on assortment evaluations and choice satisfaction, a result of decreased fluency. In contrast, the present investigation also offers initial evidence refuting the idea that inconsistency in presentation of single products increases their choice for closer inspection through increased salience. This implies that online retailers should present their product assortments within each category as consistently as possible, specifically in terms of product background, as the negative effect of background inconsistency is larger (–6 percent to –19 percent) than of product orientation inconsistency (–3 percent to –6 percent). Further, we establish consistency as another antecedent of fluency.

Key Words and Phrases: Online retail, e-tail, product search, online search, image inconsistency, product image, online product presentation.