Content 102: How to Think Like an E-Commerce Writer

Writing E-commerce content differs from traditional marketing copywriting in one important way. When writing a product description for the web, you aren’t broadcasting the information to a wide audience; rather, you are presenting specific product information at the destination point of a search or browse path.

To the web shopper, finding the right product is the pot of gold at rainbow’s end. Your job is to help get them there. Here are four ways to help aspiring E-commerce writers learn the craft.

Think like a customer. Imagine yourself as the web shopper. Whether browsing or searching, the customer probably has an idea of what they want. In the universe of click shopping, you want to make the customer’s path to the product straightforward and simple. Online buyers aren’t going to read through an encyclopedic description. They want swift gratification. Like songbirds, if the feeder is empty, they’ll go to the next yard.

Not all supplier information is created equal. Content developers typically write product descriptions from data sheets or brochures supplied by the manufacturer. This information falls into three general categories: marketing fluff, features and benefits, and specifications.

The fluff — lines like “world’s greatest widget” or “fastest gizmo on the market” — can safely be ignored. EVERYbody’s product is the greatest thing since The Wheel. Can the manufacturer prove it? If not, move on. Social proof is key now with millennials, also. 

The features and benefits ARE key elements. Most times the manufacturer leads off with the chief selling points of the product and follows with secondary information. They may be in bulleted form (great!) or you may need to extract them from paragraphs. Ask yourself: “What does a customer need to know about this product?” and organize from there. Not every factoid needs to make your final cut. You can omit what I call the Things Included in the Instructions, like a replacement parts list or detailed operating steps.

The third content element — specifications — are likewise critical. These are usually product level facts specific to an individual SKU (Size, Volume, Color, Dimensions, etc.). These are the details of your ordering tables and charts.

You don’t have to include every piece of information in your web descriptions. Rule of thumb: If the customer needs to know the information in order to buy the product, use it. If not, leave it out. Compare against similar product descriptions to gauge where to draw the line. Write as lean as possible within the parameters of your company’s guidelines.

A picture is worth 1,000 words. A good quality photo or series of product views answer more customer questions in a blink than you could hope to address in a page of text. Go the extra mile and ask the supplier for product photos. A web page without one looks unfinished. Because it is.

Let’s go to the video (wall). One quick and easy way to understand the basic concepts of E-commerce writing is to visit the “TV wall” at your local big box store.

Look at all the TVs. Note how they are arranged — largest screens to small, cutting-edge tech to simplest. See how the brands are positioned. Then read the tags beneath each model. Note the absence of marketing fluff. The content is all about facts, features and benefits. In a headline and three to four bullets a customer can make unit-to-unit comparisons. Divide and conquer, until the customer winnows the selections down to two to three models before making a choice. The more you study the TV wall — or a display of baseball gloves or lawnmowers, for example — the more nuances you’ll discover. Try it for yourself. You’ll hone your ability to cut to the important details and ignore the rest.

Crafting content to enable a customer to get to and from the product pages to the checkout as quickly as possible — that’s the essence of the E-commerce writer’s job.

Dan Skantar is Director of Content Services for JP Enterprises

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