Online stores have transformed the retail industry. Suddenly, shop floor space is defined by what the customer sees on their screens, not the square meters in a High Street store. The smallest retailer can access the same global audience as the largest multinational, levelling the playing field and creating huge opportunity. The trouble is, as almost every established and aspiring retailer has realised, creating a crowded and ultra-competitive marketplace. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in multi-vendor marketplaces like Amazon or Ebay, where dozens of merchants compete to sell similar or even identical products. Which one will the customer buy? The secret sauce of the product description has a huge impact on that decision.
Nailing the basics
If you are not selling only in your online shop, it is worth making yourself aware of the rules, limitations and opportunities offered by the platform where your product description is going to be doing its job(s). Amazon, for example, has a 2,000 character limit for its product descriptions. It is your job to work out how to use this online retailing ‘space’ most effectively. Similarly, different platforms will have different rules about html tags. You can use these to help your product description stand out and be easier to read but you do not want your hard work stripped out by the content editor.
Be SEO aware
The product description is not just poured over by potential customers, the search engines will be reading it too. You can add value by thinking about other words and phrases that may help drive traffic. Have a look at descriptions for similar products and type a few relevant keywords into a search engine and see what comes up. Think about synonyms and different phrases customers might use to search for that product. Even small changes can attract more traffic. More traffic means more sales, happier clients and more work for you.
Now that we have covered these fundamentals, it is time to look at the two critical elements of a great product description, which we have referred to here as the spice and the goodness. Let us consider the goodness first. The goodness is all the necessary information a potential customer is going to need to decide whether to purchase. This can include size, colour, materials and all manner of relevant technical details. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes: you are going to buy this item online without physically interacting with it. What do you need to know about the product to make that decision an easy one? We’ve called this ‘goodness’ because it needs to be accurate, informative and not misleading. It is like the healthy, nourishing ingredients of a good meal.
Now that we have brought together all these healthy ingredients for our product description, we need to entice our potential customer to bite. We can think of these elements as the spice in our product description copy. The customer now has the information he needs to make an informed choice but why is he going to choose our product, rather than the similar one above or below us in the listings? He cannot touch, taste or feel the product, so adding sensory cues can be powerful in reinforcing an online purchasing decision. Here, we need to be compensating for the inability of the customer to interact physically with the product in an online environment. We can do that by thinking carefully about the words we use.
Engage the senses and engage the customer
Let’s take something simple like a sofa. Rather than just tell the customer that it is constructed with a solid wood frame and cotton covers, can we do more? We can tell him how the fabric is soft and warm to the touch, creating a relaxing and luxurious environment in his home. This tells him how the sofa feels, and how he will feel when using it. We can tell him that the solid wood frame is sturdy and strong, creating a feeling of reassurance, while perhaps suggesting natural, environmentally sound credentials. Talking about vibrant reds or relaxing greens helps the customer visualise the sofa and, more importantly, visualise the environment it will help create in his home.
What we are doing when we engage the senses in this way is creating desire: the desire to own our product. The sort of desire we create depends on the sort of product we are helping to sell. If it is a computer game, have we managed to communicate the excitement of the gameplay? If it is a power tool, can the customer feel the pride they will experience in a job well done? If it is clothing, have we emphasised how stylish our customer is going to look in the item, and how confident and positive that is going to make them feel? Lots of purchasing decisions are just as emotional as they are logical or practical and it is our job, and the job of the product description, to create that emotion.
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