Cloudinary Global E-Commerce Survey Reveals Visual Content Can Help Reduce Returns by One Third

Intelligent image and video management shown to drive brand and consumer benefits at every stage of the buyer journey, while modern experiences like 3D, 360-degree images and UGC could improve conversions by up to 57%

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--()--Cloudinary, the image and video platform that powers many of the world’s top brands, today released the results of its first global e-commerce survey. The survey highlights generational trends along with a range of benefits to consumers and brands that managing visual content intelligently can have on the entire buying journey. The survey revealed that brands that effectively deploy images and videos to their target demographics can slash returns by up to a third, potentially saving retailers billions of dollars each year. Further analysis of the survey results and recommendations for brands to respond to the data can be found on Cloudinary’s blog.

The independent survey* of 2,693 consumers across Australia, Germany, the UK, and the US found that for the majority of those surveyed (57%), the entire shopping journey from research to purchase is now taking place online. While every age group relies on reviews to make buying decisions, the survey showed that the younger the consumer, the more likely they are to shop online frequently and rely on visual and social media testimonials to “seal the deal.”

The survey also found that detailed and realistic product images could play a role in reducing returns and abandoned carts. According to NRF data, consumers were expected to return $816 billion worth of retail merchandise in 2022. For every $1 billion in sales, the average retailer incurs $165 million in merchandise returns. Nearly a third (30%) of respondents reported that they returned goods because the products did not look as expected on the website, and 46% of respondents reported abandoning carts of clothing/shoes because they were unsure if the items would fit. That same group said they would be more likely to buy if they had access to helpful media such as 360-degree images (57%), 3D models (53%), and UGC videos (50%).

The criteria for what makes “a great shopping experience” - and consequently higher conversation rates - also varies by age group. The top three for Gen Z were user reviews with images (63%), text-only reviews (62%) and a detailed product gallery (52%). At the other end, the Silent Generation most valued a detailed product gallery (67%), text-only reviews (60%) and branded product videos (28%).

Other highlights from the survey include findings in these areas:

  • Product research and buying habits: Among respondents, 57% expressed a preference for researching and buying products online. 28% prefer to research online and then buy in store. Only 10% of those surveyed research and buy in store; only 5% research in store and then buy online. Overall, 62% stated that online research is important to them when making purchasing decisions.
  • Top criteria for product research: The top five factors consumers considered when researching products were product reviews (81%); product pages on retailer websites (56%); conversations with friends (50%); videos from real customers showing products in use (37%); and brand videos (27%).
  • Generational device divide: Both Generation Z (73%) and Millennials (74%) primarily shop online using their smartphones, underlining the need for retailers targeting these buyers to adopt a mobile-first approach. Gen Z is also the most likely group to use a brands’ app (26%) to shop. In contrast, Baby Boomers (64%) and the Silent Generation (71%) shop online mainly from desktop PCs.
  • Converting Sales from Unfamiliar Buyers: Only half (52%) of shoppers said that they've bought a product from a brand they didn't know - but 47% said they did so because the product page had user images to review. This compares against just 28% saying that user images make them more likely to buy a product they're interested in in general. This presents a crucial opportunity for brands to build trust with consumers when there’s no existing brand awareness or affinity, and for ambitious smaller brands.

“Highly visual and informative online shopping experiences are table stakes for retailers today,” said Genevieve Haldeman, VP of corporate marketing, Cloudinary. “In order to engage their buyers, brands need to offer innovative and immersive experiences while also delivering exceptional performance, regardless of the channel shoppers choose. Effective use of user-generated image and video content along with innovations like 3D, 360 images and augmented reality applications will help those brands better capture the next generation of shoppers while also improving conversion and reducing returns.”

The data offers several actionable insights for brands looking to improve digital customer engagement and experiences:

  • Adopt a mobile-first approach that automatically offers shoppers the same engaging experience they see online;
  • Employ UGC to allow shoppers to see products in the real-world while maintaining brand integrity;
  • Incorporate branded video and support UGC video without sacrificing performance;
  • Adopt next-gen technologies such as 3D, 360 spin sets and augmented reality to bring products to life; and
  • Leverage automation and AI to adapt to market shifts, shorten time to market, and eliminate costly, manual, and repetitive tasks for intelligently optimized and high-fidelity imagery and video.

To learn more about the ways in which Cloudinary automates image and video management for e-commerce businesses, visit


The Cloudinary Global E-Commerce Survey was conducted by independent research company Researchscape International, polling 2,693 consumers across Australia, Germany, the UK, and the US between March 27 and April 11, 2023. Results were weighted to be representative of the overall population by country, age, and gender.

About Cloudinary

Cloudinary is the image and video technology platform that enables the world’s most engaging brands to deliver transformative visual experiences at global scale. More than 1.5 million users and 10,000 customers, including Apartment Therapy, Bleacher Report, Bombas, Grubhub, Hinge, NBC, Mediavine, Minted, Paul Smith and Peloton, rely on Cloudinary to bring their campaigns, apps and sites to life. With the world’s most powerful image and video APIs backed by industry-leading artificial intelligence and patented technology, Cloudinary offers a single source of truth for brands to manage, transform, optimize, and deliver visual experiences at scale. As a result, the most engaging brands across all industries are seeing up to a 203% ROI using Cloudinary with benefits including faster time to market, higher user satisfaction and increased engagement and conversions. For more information, visit


Juli Greenwood
Sr. Director, Global Communications and Customer Marketing

Release Summary

Global consumer survey reveals actionable insights for brands to build trust, improve conversions and reduce returns using images, videos, and UGC


Juli Greenwood
Sr. Director, Global Communications and Customer Marketing