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Study finds saturation in images is key to marketing menu items

The food in the more highly saturated photos looked fresher and tastier to participants, and that led them to be more likely to purchase the food.

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An appealing photo of a pizza or other menu item can help a restaurant increase sales – especially if the right filter is used, a new study suggests. This is because photos high in color saturation make food look fresher and tastier to viewers, which increases their willingness to order the menu items.

Color saturation refers to the intensity of the color in the image – the vividness and richness of the reds and greens and blues.

But how well color saturation works to make food appealing depends on the visual distance of the food in the photo – and even on whether consumers plan to dine alone or with others.

In the cutthroat restaurant business, these results provide a simple method to increase sales, said Stephanie Liu, lead author of the study and associate professor of hospitality management at The Ohio State University.

“On Instagram, it means using the ‘X-Pro II’ filter on your food photos rather than the ‘Earlybird’ filter,” Liu said. “It is not difficult and doesn’t cost a dime, so it is an easy win for restaurant marketers.”

The study was published in the Journal of Business Research.

The researchers did two online studies.

In one study, 267 participants were asked to imagine themselves browsing through options on an online food ordering platform. They were shown photos of a poke bowl, a Hawaiian dish featuring chunks of raw, marinated fish, vegetables and sauce over rice.  They were from a fictitious restaurant named Poke Kitchen.

Study participants were randomly assigned to view one of the four different photos with either high or low color saturation and either close or farther away visual distance.

The photos with high color saturation were edited with professional graphic design software to be 130% more saturated than the low-saturation photos. The up-close photos were 130% larger in radius and appeared nearer to the observer than the more distant photo.

Participants were asked to rate how fresh the food in each photo looked, how tasty it looked and how likely they would be to purchase it.

The food in the more highly saturated photos looked fresher and tastier to participants, and that led them to be more likely to purchase the food, results showed.

But color saturation had a stronger effect when the food appeared more distant in the photos, Liu said. “When the food is shown close up, it is already easy for the viewers to imagine how fresh and tasty the food would be,” she said. “Color saturation is not as necessary.”

The second study involved 222 online participants.  In this case, the participants were asked to imagine they were browsing Instagram and came across images of pizza from a fictitious restaurant near their home named Pizza City. They were shown photos either high or low in color saturation.

People in the study were also told they would either be eating alone or with family that night and were again asked to rate the pizza on perceived freshness and tastiness and on whether they would likely purchase the menu item.

As in the previous study, the food in the color-saturated photo was always seen as fresher and tastier and one that people would be more likely to buy.  But that effect was stronger for people who were told they would be eating alone and weaker for those who would be eating with family.

“When people are eating with others, the social experience is a big part of what people look forward to,” Liu said. “But when they anticipate eating alone, they focus more on the food itself. They want the food to be fresher and tastier and that’s why color saturation is more important in this context.”

These findings are more important now than ever before, with people ordering online and looking at photos to help them decide what to eat, Liu said.

“Restaurants have to post pictures of their food on social media and online ordering platforms,” she said. “They should be paying as much attention, or maybe more, to the photos they post as they do to the text. Color saturation is one key element they need to focus on.”

Co-authors on the study were Laurie Luorong Wu of Temple University, Xi Yu of the City University of Macau and Huiling Huang of the University of Macau in China. Xi Yu and Huiling Huang are recent doctoral graduates of the hospitality management program at Ohio State.

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‘Top reviews’ can help sway shoppers, but there are limits

Although featured — or top — reviews on e-commerce sites can help cut down on information overload for customers trying to make purchasing decisions, too many such top reviews can pose an overload of their own, according to researchers.

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Although featured — or top — reviews on e-commerce sites can help cut down on information overload for customers trying to make purchasing decisions, too many such top reviews can pose an overload of their own, according to researchers.

In a study of products and product reviews on online retail giant Amazon, the researchers found that top reviews — which are featured reviews that consumers have endorsed as the most helpful — can lead to higher sales and improved customer satisfaction. However, they added that when there are too many featured reviews, their influence can start to wane.

“We found that there is a situation that when there are too many top reviews, you fall right back into the trap where there is just too much information for the consumer,” said Wael Jabr, assistant professor of supply chain and information systems in the Penn State Smeal College of Business. “In this natural experiment we had some products with just three top reviews and others with significantly more. For products with way more top reviews, we saw the value of those top reviews goes away.”

The researchers used data from about 2.2 million reviews of 1,000 products on Amazon, including all review-related information, such as the overall number of reviews and featured reviews of those products. Sentiment of reviews was determined by the rating the customers gave the product. The researchers also tracked the Amazon sales ranking of the studied products over a 10-month period.

The effectiveness of the top reviews was based on how the performance of individual products changed over time. Specifically, the researchers looked at how the reviews started to disperse in their ratings and how the product sales rank changed. 

The study was published in Management Information Systems Quarterly.

According to Jabr, e-commerce sites chose to feature reviews because popular products tended to attract numerous reviews. The number of reviews for some of these products can be staggering, he added.

“For example, when Amazon put out the Echo Dot smart speaker, more than a million customers reviewed that product within the first four years of its release,” said Jabr. “So, do we need a million reviews to make a good decision on what to buy? Probably not. At a certain point, then, companies started to realize there is an overload that customers will face when we have to navigate this content. Retailers eventually came up with a variety of ways to kind of help you navigate this content, one of which is featuring reviews.”

Sentiment match

The researchers also found that the influence of top reviews is strengthened when their opinions tend to match the overall sentiment of the other reviews.

“When you look at the reviews, Amazon shows you the overall ratings of the reviews — for example, how many people gave it a four-star rating, or, how many people gave it a two or three, etcetera,” said Jabr. “We wondered, then, if the top review effect can be amplified. And it can. We found that when the distribution of top reviews and the distribution of overall reviews match, then the power of top reviews to influence gains strength. It is almost like there is a confirmation when the top reviews match what the crowd is saying.”

The power of top reviews to lift sales and satisfaction is limited, however, said Jabr, who worked with Mohammad Rahman, associate professor of management at the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University. For example, they found that top reviews lack the power to improve the status of less popular products.

The findings could help companies design better webpages while also helping customers make better decisions, said Jabr.

Selling isn’t enough

“Platforms, such as Amazon, are, of course, in the business of selling stuff, but selling stuff alone is not enough,” said Jabr. “Platforms want consumers satisfied with their purchases — and not return those purchases. They also want repeat consumers. In fact, Jeff Bezos himself is quoted saying, ‘We don’t make money when we sell things. We make money when we help consumers make better decisions.’”

The study explores whether there is a certain magic number of reviews as being an optimal amount of top reviews, according to the researchers.

“While the natural experiment does not compare every combination of numbers — for example, two reviews compared to three reviews, or two compared to four — we found that products with three reviews faired better than products with a varying number of reviews ranging from four to 10,” said Jabr. 

In addition to being thoughtful about selecting and displaying top reviews on a webpage, the researchers also suggest that, at a certain point, companies should switch from encouraging customers to review products to asking them to endorse reviews.

“Retailers often default to sending you an email saying, ‘Please rate our product,’ which we think is great,” said Jabr. “But when there are enough reviews, they may want to find a way to nudge the customers to decide on top reviews because that’s going to be much more valuable then writing one more review.”

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Why silly distractions at work can actually be good for you

Short positivity interventions can help employees make the best of their day and that employers and employees should consider incorporating more positivity into the workday.

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Positive interventions that distract us from difficult tasks actually help to reduce our stress levels, according to new research from WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management and Trinity Business School. 

The research, conducted by an international team of researchers, shows that short positive interventions, such as watching a funny YouTube video, can help you to overcome daily demands like dealing with annoying emails or the tasks you dread. In turn, this allows you to be more engaged, creative, and helpful toward your coworkers.

The research was led by Vera Schweitzer from WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management with co-authors Wladislaw Rivkin (Trinity), Fabiola Gerpott (WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management), Stefan Diestel (University of Wuppertal), Jana Kühnel (University of Vienna), Roman Prem (University of Graz), and Mo Wang (University of Florida).

So, according to this research, next time you find yourself secretly laughing at a hilarious video your colleague sent to you during the lunch break, you should embrace it. This will help you to recover from a stressful morning and prepare you to make the rest of the day a success.

Professor Vera Schweitzer, researcher at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, explained: “Our study shows that experiencing feelings of positivity throughout your workday can help you to remain effective ­ particularly when daily work demands require you to invest a lot of self-control, that is, regulatory resources to control your temper.

“Trying to stay calm after reading an annoying email, for example, is typically quite depleting for employees. Consequently, they might struggle to demonstrate self-control throughout the rest of their workday, which, in turn, would hamper their engagement, creativity, and behavior toward their colleagues.

“This is where positivity comes into play: Watching a funny video increases feelings of positivity. Such positive emotions allow employees to protect their regulatory resources even after dealing with resource-consuming self-control demands. In turn, this positively affects their effectiveness at work.”

Dr Wladislaw Rivkin added:“Today’s work environments are increasingly demanding, but we have limited understanding of what organizations and employees can do to prevent the stressful effects of self-control demands such as negative emails or unloved tasks. 

“Our research shows that short positivity interventions can help employees make the best of their day and that employers and employees should consider incorporating more positivity into the workday. For example, organizations could provide employees with recommendations about short funny videos via a daily newsletter or post a ‘joke of the day’ on the intranet. By doing so, employers can help mitigate the negative effects of self-control demands.” 

The researchers gathered their results by examining 85 employees over 12 workdays, who received a daily text- or video-based positivity micro-intervention. 

The paper, entitled ‘Some positivity per day can protect you a long way: A within-person field experiment to test an affect-resource model of employee effectiveness at work’, was published in the journal ‘Work & Stress’. 

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AXA Philippines recognized for protecting MSMEs

AXA was lauded for its development of MicroBiz Protek Jr., a property microinsurance product designed for Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in partnership with Cebuana Lhuillier.

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AXA Philippines was recognized by its partner Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) during the latter’s Regulatory Framework Promotion of Pro-poor Insurance Markets in Asia (RFPI) Closing Ceremony held at the New Coast Hotel in Manila.

Through GIZ RFPI, AXA was lauded for its development of MicroBiz Protek Jr., a property microinsurance product designed for Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in partnership with Cebuana Lhuillier. It insures microenterprises against calamities and provides coverage for burglary and robbery. The product also offers emergency assistance available in the Emma by AXA PH mobile app, which gives users free access to services such as ambulance, roadside, fire, and police assistance, while policyholders can pay their premiums through the app, among other things.

 GIZ also praised AXA Philippines for its support of Mutual Exchange Forum on Inclusive Insurance (MEFIN) activities such as regional Public-Private Dialogues during the awards program.

GIZ RFPI is a regional project that has been implemented in seven countries starting in 2013. It aims to develop direct climate risk insurance approaches for the poorest, poor, at-risk population and MSMEs in the partner countries including Indonesia, Vietnam and Philippines at the political-strategic level.

The awardees were selected based on their contributions on regulatory framework improvements, business model development, capacity building, knowledge exchange, and in the strengthening of the MEFIN initiatives.

“Every Filipino entrepreneur deserves to be protected while taking care of their business,” said Gael Lapie, CEO In-Charge and Chief Financial Officer of AXA Philippines. “This recognition reaffirms our commitment to making insurance and protection accessible for all, including the MSME owners.”

For more information about AXA Philippines, visit https://www.axa.com.ph/.

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