Copywriting for e-commerce

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  • July 12, 2011
Felicity Crouch

Felicity Crouch

Marketing Manager

Many e-commerce websites don’t take into account how important the copy that accompanies each product or service is in persuading the customer to take that next step towards purchase. As such, the copy is never a focus, and often ends up being inconsistent or in some cases, non-existent.

Research and studies have actually found that quality copy can increase conversion rates by significant amounts, revealing a valuable tool for gaining the competitive edge against other e-commerce sites.

Because the content of an e-commerce site needs to be updated so frequently, online retail companies often just copy and paste the manufacturer’s description, creating an inconsistent tone across the whole site. Not only is this confusing to a customer, but it’s difficult for them to gauge the authenticity of the company and trust them.

Communication is the key to selling, and although a picture can say a thousand words, it can’t connect with the customer. Quality e-commerce copy should do three things; engage, inform, and persuade. Take a look at the following guidelines if you want to know how to write quality copy for an e-commerce site, and how it can help increase conversion.

Engage:

Firstly, the layout of your copy is important because it has to catch the eye. Bullet points are the best way of providing key information and details quickly, as the customer can quickly scan over it. A brief paragraph or two to support this is where you can engage with the customer; using short, descriptive sentences which are informative and positive about the product.

Play.com does this perfectly; each product has a good-sized image, with a clear price and availability status displayed next to it. Below is a short yet engaging paragraph about the product, and you can click across to a bulleted list of specifications:

Play.com
Products on Play.com are marketed perfectly, making all the key information immediately visible, and compressing details and persuasive copy into bite-sized amounts.

Play.com - key features
The ‘Key Features’ paragraph tells you sufficient information about the product, whilst incorporating a positive and persuasive tone.

Play.com - technical specifications
Being able to simply click through to the ‘Technical Specification’ section is an easy-to-use feature for the customer, and the bullet points are detailed yet short enough to be engaging, and informative at a glance.

Establishing the right tone from the beginning is essential to drawing customers in; be too enthusiastic, and they’ll feel patronised; be too bland and they’ll feel like they’re not valued as a customer. Engaging your customer is about pulling them in at first glance, and grabbing their attention with quality, unique copy.

Inform:

Your writing needs to be easily understood, so you should write clearly and simply, avoiding complex and technical words wherever possible. Be careful not to use jargon too, as customers will be confused and look elsewhere.

The primary purpose of accompanying copy is to inform the customer about the product or service being sold, and so keep descriptions straight-forward and to the point. Although your copy should be positive, it’s important not to be too enthusiastic as the customer could see it as exaggeration and feel like they’re being misled.

You should know your audience, and understand what it is they’ll be looking for. So for example, if your site sells digital cameras, your audience will want to know how many mega-pixels the camera is, the dimensions of it, and the level of zoom. Remember that selling online takes more effort; customers can’t pick up the camera up or try it out, and so they need as much information as possible before deciding to purchase.

However, it’s essential to find that balance between informing your customer, and engaging with them. The Debenhams website is an example of how too much detail can be off-putting. There’s no attempt whatsoever to connect with the customer, which makes the process seem detached and impersonal.

The Debenhams website

Whilst Debenhams provides plenty of detailed information on the specifications of their products, there’s no engaging or persuasive text to go with it.

Debenhams provides detailed information, but no engaging copy

Along with this specifications table, Debenhams provides user reviews, which can be very informative – but still provide no connection from the brand to the consumer whatsoever.

Persuade:

Before you add copy to your e-commerce site, decide on a tone of voice that reflects your brand and what you’re about, and then stick to it throughout the site, ensuring it’s consistent throughout.

However, although it’s important to be individual and original with your copy; don’t change e-commerce elements which have become a crucial aspect of the user journey. So, for example, don’t alter the ‘add to basket’ and ‘contact us’ copy, as these are things the customer now looks for and expects to find easily.

Your copy should inform and encourage users to find out more about the product or service, adequately explaining why each detail matters to them. For example, don’t just say: “This camera has 14 megapixels”, instead, say: “This camera has a 14 megapixels, ensuring the memories you capture are crystal clear.”

John Lewis include five or more paragraphs of copy alongside their product, explaining how the customer could benefit from it and what the specifications will mean to them. The result is an informative and engaging piece of copy, as shown in this text taken from a description of an LED television:

“In addition, surf the internet from the comfort of your sofa as well as staying in touch with loved ones, wherever they are in the world, courtesy of Skype. If you’re heading out for the evening, simply record your must-see programmes straight onto hard-disk via USB.”

And of course, checking there are zero spelling and grammar mistakes is an absolute must. This will only make you look careless, inexperienced and inept, and customer’s won’t want to give their money to someone they don’t trust.

Don’t forget…

The initial things a customer will be looking at on an e-commerce site is an image of the product, and a price, so make sure both of these elements are clear. Secondly, the customer will want to know more about the product, and why they should buy it. This is where your informative and engaging copy plays it part. Thirdly, the customer will want to know more about the payment, delivery, and returns process, so state these clearly and don’t make the user have to search the site for the details.

Flawless copy could be the feature of your site that makes you stand out from the rest. Put the time and effort into informing and persuading your customer to purchase from your site, and they’ll feel more compelled to invest their time and money into your products.

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