Practical Ecommerce

Ecommerce Know-How: Writing Product Descriptions that Sell

An ecommerce website, boiled down to its dry essence, is a virtual salesman at best and a slow-to-deliver electronic vending machine at worst. Consciously or not, online stores are conceived, designed, and created to sell products while making as little personal contact with a customer as possible. And as such, well-written product descriptions can have a significant impact on a store’s success.

No Touch Sales Creates Greater Efficiency

Part of the reason that ecommerce has been so successful is that it minimizes human contact. While that may sound crazy, it’s true. A minimum of human contact means that shoppers can seek and find the products they want without interacting with quirky or featherbrained store clerks, and online merchants can sell thousands of products without having to expend resources answering the same questions over and over again.

Consider this, recently my computer mouse broke at 9:30pm on a Wednesday, and I could not effectively use my computer. I headed to the local Fred Meyer store and bought a new Kensington-brand mouse for about $20. The event took nearly an hour and a half. Why? Because the twenty-something, frizzy-haired clerk would not let me get out of there. He engaged me in a wandering conversation about computers (why didn’t I want a wireless mouse?), video games, and indie music. I was too polite to just get my mouse and get out.

Likewise, I know many websites that add frequently asked question (FAQ) sections, specifically so that they don’t have to have personal, individual contact with the thousands of visitors coming to their site each month. Those businesses can scale and make more money when not making contact. Don’t believe me? Just try to get in touch with someone on Amazon.com.

So with all of this impersonal efficiency, copywriting—particularly copywriting for product descriptions—is vitally important.

Product Descriptions in a No Touch Sale

In this “eCommerce Know-How,” I am going to explain three steps toward writing compelling product descriptions that will sell—even when you don’t have personal contact with your web-surfing customers.

Video: Product Descriptions That Sell

No. 1: Know Your Audience, and Imagine Who is Speaking and Who is Listening

Before committing words to page (or screen), know who you are and know for whom you’re writing. A few years back, I had a project that required me to write promotional copy targeting young engineers just graduating from college. We knew from demographic profiles that they were very interested in gadgets, video games, and blogging. So we defined a persona or imaginary person that would compose the copy, speaking to our target as a peer. We knew whom we were writing to, and that guided our language.

Try to do the same in your product descriptions. Actually imagine your best customers when you write.

No. 2: Get Your Customer’s Attention

Good product descriptions must quickly capture a reader’s/shopper’s attention—if a reader is not paying attention even the most eloquent and persuasive writing becomes a soliloquy.

To some extent, I went out of my way to grab your attention in this article. Notice how I started, “An ecommerce website, boiled down to its dry essence, is a virtual salesman at best and a slow-to-deliver electronic vending machine at worst.” Given that I am writing to the ecommerce community, that was a pretty edgy opening. I wanted to grab your attention (and even get your dander up), so that you would keep reading my article. I used the word “dry” and the phrase “slow-to-deliver electronic vending machine” to specifically challenge you, my reader (see knowing your audience in point no. 1).

While I am not necessarily suggesting this specific tact for your product descriptions, I want to encourage you to grab attention very quickly. And be willing to use strong words, questions, and the like to achieve that end. Below are several examples of attention-grabbing phrases from some of my favorite ecommerce product descriptions. None of these is earth shattering. But each will get a reader’s interest.

  • “A Peppermint flavoured [sic] lollipop, which contains real farm raised ants!” From Edible.com, this opening gets my attention without straying far from the product.
  • “Have you mangled your thumb more times than you’d like to admit?” This attention-capturing phrase from Hartville Tool engages readers, asking a question.
  • “Walk into a room and make an impression.” From Pierotucci.
  • “Meet Darth Talon, Sith Vixen.” Got noticed at Entertainment Earth.
  • ” This tart, fresh, and tangy scent will make you want the real thing” from 100Candles.com.

No. 3: Communicate, Persuade, Tell a Story

Once you have the shopper’s attention, communicate with them, telling them a product story that first appeals to their emotions—human nature—and second, if need be, offers logical support for the warm buying feelings they are experiencing.

“Copy cannot create desire for a product. It can only take the hopes, dreams, fears, and desires that already exist in the hearts of millions of people, and focus those already-existing desires onto a particular product. This is the copywriter’s task: not to create this mass desire—but to channel and direct it,” explained Eugene Schwartz, author of the book Breakthrough Advertising.

When you tap into universal desires, try to:

  • Tell a story;
  • Use extremely specific examples;
  • Appeal to emotions first;
  • Use engaging, descriptive language.

As an example, you will recall that I told you a little story earlier in this article, the one about going to Fred Meyer and encountering “the twenty-something, frizzy-haired clerk.” I used that story to engage you emotionally. If I was effective, you had an emotional response. I included very specific terms like the name of the store, the day of the week and time, and even the brand of mouse that I bought. All of those specifics lend to my story’s credibility.

Below are some positive examples of communicative product descriptions that you may want to emulate.

  • From Edible.com, ” A Peppermint flavoured lollipop, which contains real farm raised ants! The Ants are specially bred Polyrachis Black Ants, and they have a spicy peppery taste similar to chilli [sic] peppers, Ants are said to be good for giving you an energy boost, and the peppermint is great for freshening your breath. This is one of our tastiest lolly’s and also perhaps one of the less daunting to try. So go ahead you may be pleasantly surprised.”
  • The complete Thumbsaver’s description, “Have you mangled your thumb more times than you’d like to admit? Then put a halt to it with a pair of Thumbsavers! The built-in magnet at the end of the handle grips fasteners nice and tight while you place them just right for driving with your hammer or drill. Keeps all your fingers safely out of the danger zone. Great for positioning nails and screws in tight locations your hands can’t quite get into. Aluminum body with easy grip handle. Comes with one large and one small tool per pack. Imported.”
  • “Walk into a room and make an impression. Buttery-soft leather adds distinctive class and undeniable comfort to this sleek blazer perfect for work, weekend and travel,” is from Pierotucci

The Bottom Line

Know your audience, get its attention, and communicate. Those are the keys to writing product descriptions that sell, in my view. We’ve focused on written words, but, of course, images, sounds, and video can also serve as compelling product descriptions, but more about that in a later edition of “Ecommerce Know-How.”

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. dbldoozey May 16, 2009 Reply

    Funny AND useful

  2. Jan Riley May 19, 2009 Reply

    Armondo,

    Super article here!

    I think product descriptions are so often just tossed up and then forgotten, These are extremely important pages to look at and test because many more people are entering via a product page and they are using the web to find out information!

    I am also glad to hear you talk about having a distinct voice, just because it’s an ecommerce site – it does not have to be boring! You gave some good examples on just how effective it can be to have fun and get the message across.

    I Believe product descriptions are also a good way to continue to share (and demonstrate ) your Unique value proposition , because being able to convey that message is a critical step in differentiating your online store.
    see article on Unique Value Proposition for ecommerce > http://leadmastersusa.com/blog/?p=56

    I look forward to your next nuggets of wisdom.

    Jan

  3. Mireya Pizarro June 26, 2009 Reply

    A product description is what sells the product. You can have a great product but if the commercial or is boring then no one will buy. I am reading this book and it gave a great example about how an author wrote this book on punctuation. and named it this unique name.

  4. frank65l January 8, 2010 Reply

    Another tip of the hat to Armando,
    Expressing the benefits of your products, showing your customer how your products will help them achieve what they want, and a little quality salesmanship will go a long way to helping the ebiz succeed. Thanks again for quality information.

  5. Buggerzone June 24, 2011 Reply

    Great article! Very well explained, I loved the leather jacket description "..buttery soft leather"!
    I was wondering how to make product descriptions for electronics like laptops and cameras so personal and tangible. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you.