Scene Sells: Why Spatial Backgrounds Outperform Isolated Product Depictions Online

Daniel Brylla and Gianfranco Walsh
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 24, Number 4, 2020, pp. 497-526.


Online retailers work to optimize product presentations; this study relies on scene perception theory to predict that product images with spatial backgrounds lead to more favorable consumer responses than isolated product images, in which products appear to be floating in the air, because spatial backgrounds facilitate visual processing and aesthetic experiences. Three experiments test these predictions and reveal that consumers evaluate products more favorably, express higher purchase intentions, are willing to pay more, and are more likely to choose a product depicted on a spatial background, even when product characteristics were considered. This effect is robust to short and long exposure times and for durable and consumable products. It is mediated by processing fluency and aesthetic experience and moderated by two variables: shoppers’ purchase involvement and online experience. These findings challenge an established industry practice to use isolated images and suggest that retailers instead should depict products in scenes to facilitate consumers’ perceptions and enhance their own revenues. Moreover, this study highlights the importance of scene perception for efficient and effective information processing in online retailing.