Jane Davidson

Giving Jane Davidson some ecommerce vadavoom

Sarah Murray is the owner and manager of the Edinburgh luxury womenswear boutique named for her mother, Jane Davidson. Founded by Jane in 1969 in the Grassmarket, selling cult British brands like Jean Muir and Ozzie Clark, the store is now in Thistle Street in Newtown.

The store has grown steadily since it opened at its current site, expanding over four floors in the last 10 years. But when I started working with Sarah Murray in 2011, she was about ready to stop selling online, because it wasn’t making her any money.

Jane Davidson stocks exquisite clothes at high-end prices. Dresses sell from between £300 and £2,000. But back in 2011 they weren’t selling online at all.  And I could see why.  The clothes were being photographed in the back of the shop on a mannequin.  The images were too dark to see the gorgeous details that make designer clothes so desirable.  

Plus, the Jane Davidson website wasn’t great back in 2011. It lacked energy, and the user experience was only so, so. 

Sarah is one of the savviest marketers and business owners that I know, so this is no disrespect to her. Taking great photographs of clothes for ecommerce is a specialist skill. You need to know what works, and then you need to know how to take a great picture. And digital retail is a dark art. There are so many variables. It might look easy, but it’s anything but. 

Convincing Sarah to give ecommerce another go

I was on a mission to make Scottish ecommerce take off. I’d just left my role as a senior photographer at Amazon, which was a 15-month full immersion into the art of photographing products to sell. Shooting hundreds of thousands of products had given me serious ecommerce image skills and I wanted to share them.

So, I told Sarah that she could make money online if she upped her photography game. It took all my persuasive skills because her online experience had been so disappointing. Sarah was convinced that ecommerce wasn’t the right channel for high-end clothing. But I was determined.

I showed her Net-a-Porter. I showed her Harvey Nicks online. I showed her Asos, not for their price points, but because of their impeccable grasp of how to shoot fashion so it sells (and sells). I found stats that proved that high-end fashion was ecommerce catnip if presented in the right way. And I told her, in detail, how we’d fix her images and update her website to make them sell.

In short, I wore the poor woman down, and finally she agreed to give it a go

Website √ Top model √ Quality images √

We started with a complete overhaul of the Jane Davidson website. We got in a website designer who understood high-end ecommerce. He built a clean, elegant framework to show off the beautiful clothes.

We discussed how best to display the clothes, deciding to use models, after reviewing the most successful high-end ecommerce players at the time. We settled on a combination of high-quality invisible ghost mannequin shots, and images on a model.

For each garment we took product shots on an invisible ghost mannequin. Then we took front, back and detail shots.  Then we photographed the outfit on a model to get a lifestyle vibe.

A big conversation was around where we cropped the shots. A lot of high fashion ecommerce shots are cropped at the lip, because you don’t need to see the model’s face to imagine wearing the clothes. It can also be more cost effective for brands not to shoot model’s faces, as it lowers the royalty costs of the images.

Sometimes brands use the same model in many product shots, but don’t necessarily want them to become the face of their brand.  Because we were using the model Anna Freemantle, who has shared catwalks with Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, appeared in Elle and Vogue, and modelled for Louis Vuitton, Versace, Chanel and Valentino, we were quite happy (read ecstatic) for Anna to become the face of the brand.

But we still experimented with crops and full-face shots, so that we could A/B test them like good digital marketers. In the end, the cropped shots performed slightly better for sales, probably because it’s easier for women to imagine themselves in the clothes without a model’s face in their place.

By the way, don’t let anyone tell you that the life of a top model is glamourous. Anna, Sarah, and I would photograph 60 outfits for Jane Davidson in a day. I’d learned tricks to speed garment shoots up at Amazon, but they were still gruelling marathons, and Anna was an utter pro to the very last frame.

Naming images for SEO

Renaming images for search was important for Jane Davidson. Sarah and I talked about what search terms women were likely to use and did keyword research to support our hypotheses.

The more specific we got with our naming, the better the sales. So, for example, an image named ‘Black cashmere polo neck jumper Diane von Furstenberg’ out-performs an image named ‘black polo neck’ for sales, because it attracts a more qualified audience. Women who click on the first image are more likely to know the Diane von Furstenberg brand and have the budget to buy cashmere.

Always, always, rename your images before you upload them. Image search is growing in importance every year. If you upload images without meaningful names, you’re missing out on chances to sell.

A before and after example of Jane Davidson's website

Investing in imagery pays off

By this stage, Sarah’s commitment and hard work was beginning to pay off. Ecommerce sales were growing steadily. One morning she posted a photo of a £1,600 Roksanda Ilincic dress on Facebook and sold it the same day to a shopper in the US.

Sarah’s now a successful ecommerce marketing specialist. As well as running Jane Davidson, she works as an adviser for Atterly.com, an online global boutique with a mix of independent labels.

I photographed clothing with Sarah for seven years, until 2018, and by the time I stopped working with her and turned my attention to coaching, ecommerce was making more money for Jane Davidson than their bricks and mortar store.

Creative marketing campaign at Dundas Castle with Anna Freemantle . Photography Mark Mainz
Fashion shoot with model Anna Freemantle for Jane Davidson. Photography by Mark Mainz
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