The Four Commandments of Selling Products Online
One of the greatest advantages of learning to write product copy for catalogs is that it prepared me for writing online content in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
I’ve learned that most websites are terrible at selling products for fundamental reasons. These reasons can all be overcome by adhering to the following four principles:
1. Thou shalt differentiate.
In writing catalog copy, I learned early on that each product needs to stand on its own merit. It is the shared responsibility of the merchant and the writer to articulate why the customer should buy the product. This sounds easy, but it isn’t. It’s a task that gets incrementally more difficult as more products get added to a category. (It’s easier to differentiate three styles of polo shirts than 23.) But taking the time to figure out how to sell each item yields benefits for both your company and your customers. (It might even force the needed conversation about getting rid of styles that don’t sell.)
There are other benefits to differentiating copy at the product level. The first has to do with search. Companies often slap the same vendor copy on their website as their competitors. That means your search results will suffer because you’re not being rewarded for having original content. Even worse, if a customer is reading the same copy on multiple websites, the customer won’t give shopping from you a second thought—unless you have the lowest price or they’ve had a good buying experience from you in the past.
I often ask myself, “Why would any sane company leave so much of the purchase decision out of their hands when they could easily change that?”
2. Thou shalt make comparison shopping easy.
The problem with item merchandising (as opposed to category merchandising) is that rarely is anyone responsible for looking at the big picture. Here’s the difference. If someone is responsible for adding the new Model XYZ lawnmower photo and description to your website, they are unlikely to take the time to see if it is easy to compare the Model XYZ to the other lawnmowers on your site. If they don’t do that, your customer’s shopping experience is almost guaranteed to be lousy.
Two hallmarks of this approach are to be making similar claims (“the best lawnmower we sell”) or listing different product specs (horsepower on one, CCs on the other, for example). Faced with these kinds of discrepancies, the customer almost always chooses to shop elsewhere.
3. Thou shalt cross-sell.
Another benefit of category merchandising is that you can knowledgeably recommend other options. Because you’ve already done your homework and differentiated each product (“Our best choice for mowing lawns of 5 acres or less or lawns that feature a number of garden beds and shrubs that need to be mowed around”), it will be easy to offer other solutions (“Need a mower for larger lawns or commercial landscaping? Check out our Model ABC. The 42-inch blade covers more ground in less time.”).
You can’t add value and trust unless you really know what you are selling — EVERYTHING you are selling. Giving your staff the mandate and time to do so will have an enormous benefit for your company.
4. Thou shalt honor your brand.
Every word and every photo on your website should influence your customer’s experience with your brand. If they don’t, you should get rid of them. Period. It’s so easy to play the game of, “Even though we don’t carry that lawnmower, it’s the best photo” or, “The vendor says it’s the best model on the market, so we’ll take their word for it.” But the truth is that every little fib you make on the way to getting products and copy on your website will come back to haunt you.
Customers are more savvy and wary than ever.
And they’ve never been given more opportunities to shop elsewhere. One of the few places you can still outshine your competition is by creating a strong, differentiating brand experience. In fact, it’s the best investment you can make in the long-term viability of your company.