A field guide to ecommerce & selling online – Part 2

30 Jun A field guide to ecommerce & selling online – Part 2

4 essential ecommerce tips for success

[Tweet “These 4 ecommerce tips should form part of any online sales strategy from its outset.”]

Have you ever been in an unfamiliar town and wandered into a shop without really paying attention to what it sells, only to take a look and realise it’s not for you and walk right out again? Well, people in their thousands do this every hour of every single day on the Internet. Having successfully managed to bring people through the door to your website, what can you do to make them stay long enough to buy?

Designing an eCommerce website can be a daunting task. There is so much to take in to consideration that it can often be difficult to know where to start. The following 4 ecommerce tips should form part of any online sales strategy from its outset.

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1 – Have a strong value proposition

Without a doubt this has to be one of your most important choices when designing your online store.  Your value proposition is what communicates to customers why you are the best place to spend their money. This is especially important with small or start-up businesses. Without an established brand identity you are going to have to paint a very clear picture as to why you are the best possible company to buy from.

But are value propositions really that important? Consider this case study on “bland” advertising that looked at these two approaches to writing a value proposition. It presents the following pair of value propositions.

  • Simple Fix for Blown Head Gaskets
  • Repairs Blown Head Gaskets in Just One Hour

Both examples promise to achieve the same results, but the value proposition for these two examples is quite different. Which do you think had the best results?

The second example achieved an incredible 58% increase in conversion during AB testing. When we take a minute to consider why, it isn’t exactly rocket science.

The first value proposition is just not clear enough about what the customer is buying. By adding “just one hour” to the second statement, we are suddenly adding a very specific benefit to justify why the customer should buy this product when compared to another product that perhaps needs to cure over night.

[Tweet “Your value proposition should be clear from the moment a customer lands on your homepage”]

Ok, so how do you write that killer value proposition?

Conversion expert Peep Laja suggests that you should be concentrating on:

  • Relevancy – what problem will your product solve or how will it improve their current situation?
  • Quantify value – be specific when explaining the benefits of your offering. “It’ll save you money!” is a fairly useless statement, likely to evoke a yeah, yeah reaction. “You will save £25 a month on your water bill.” on the other hand is far more likely to provoke a sale.
  • Highlight your point of difference, why your offering or product is better than the competition in some meaningful way. “25% longer life than other light bulbs.”

We see a really strong example of a good value proposition on Silly Old Sea Dog’s website. As soon as you arrive you know exactly what their offering is and what value it contains.

  • A handmade british clothing product
  • Vintage inspired design
  • Available in sizes to suit the smallest and largest body

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Now make it crystal clear

Unless you are a very established brand you won’t have the luxury of subtlety. Your value proposition should be clear from the moment a customer lands on your homepage, its sentiment should pervade the fabric of the rest of your site.

Try getting someone that knows nothing about your business to look at your homepage designs for a couple of seconds then ask them what the site sells and why they should buy from it. If they struggle to answer, you might need to look again at your value proposition and how it is communicated by your content.

Build confidence

When you are happy with your value proposition, make it stronger. There are a few extra things you can do to turn that good proposition into a great one.

  • Customer testimonials. People love the reassurance they get from knowing someone else was happy to buy from you and had a great experience.
  • Assurance. We are all bound by the distance selling regulations so why not make them a selling point. Avoid pithy statements like “Satisfaction Guaranteed”, remember quantify the benefits and say instead, “We know you’ll love it but if you don’t, send it back within 30 days. No charge”.
  • Social proof. Testimonials are great but what other confidence building proof can you offer? Have you got any notable press coverage or particular brands that you serve? Could you share any interesting facts or company data about your performance?


2 – Divide and conquer

[Tweet “Sometimes when we have too much to choose from, we choose nothing at all”]

Choice is a great thing? A few years ago,  a study was conducted involving jams.  This study has now become a landmark piece of research. Tasting tables were set up in a supermarket that offered jams for shoppers to try. On the first day of the experiment, 24 different flavours of jam were available to try. The next time they only put out 6 flavours. Both tests were run on consecutive Saturdays to ensure a similar demographic and volume of customers in store.

So what did the results show?

When 24 flavours were available, 60% of customers stopped to try the jams and 3% of those went on to make a purchase. When 6 flavours were offered, 40% stopped to taste and 30% of those went on to buy one of the products. So here’s the important figures: 31 customers bought jam when only 6 flavours were offered and only 4 people bought jam when 24 flavours were offered. That’s a difference of nearly 800%!

To put this all another way, when we offer more products, more customers will visit your store but fewer people will make a purchase. It is great to get high traffic to your eCommerce store but at the end of the day, it is your sales that matter.

The results suggest that when there are too many choices available, your customers get into a state of “choice overload” or “analysis paralysis”. Sometimes when we have too much to choose from, we choose nothing at all.

So should you remove half your products from your offering? No, but you should take steps to minimise the chance of putting off your customers from making purchases.

What should you do to take advantage of these findings?

[Tweet “Limit the amount of products you show to your customers on any single page”]

You will find higher conversion rates if you present fewer products to your customers at any one time. The best way to do this? Grouping your products logically and separating them into category pages.

Limit the amount of products you show to your customers on any single page.

In a recent study that is still being reviewed, researchers have explored the impact of arranging products horizontally vs vertically. But already you can see these effects being used all over the place.


The research shows that people perceive more variety when products are displayed horizontally and as a result are more likely to buy more than one item from the row. Conversely, when items are organised vertically, people tend not to see the variety and pick only one item from the column.

How can you use this to your advantage? Group similar products horizontally because your customers will perceive more variety. Place different products in their own row using the vertical arrangement to help them rationalise your product range and limit the chance of “choice overload”.

3 – Text image balance

[Tweet “Too much visual content seems to encourage customers to skim and skip.”]

Do people buy more when products are presented to them visually or verbally? Visually of course, and by a huge margin, but sometime there is cause to introduce more text.

In a 2013 study, researchers discovered that when customers were presented with too many product images, they become overwhelmed and often put of the purchase indefinitely. Too much visual content seems to encourage customers to skim and skip.

The research suggests that customers tend to slow down and consider their purchase more carefully when they are presented in writings. Good product descriptions are more likely to encourage customers to think about how the product fits their requirements and how they will use it. The research also revealed that people could better remember product that were verbally described.

Most importantly, the test showed that verbal descriptions are far more effective than visual descriptions, when customers are looking at a lot of products. Customers tend to stop shopping when there are too many images but slow down and consider a purchase when there is text to read.

Unfortunately there is no magic number as to the correct ratio of text to images. This ratio also changes based on your target market and your particular product range.  Our best advice is to carry out your own A/B tests to find the best balance for your products.

We can see a good and balanced example over at Neon Wetsuits.

Their product category page is nice and simple. I’d be tempted to suggest they add a little bit more copy to each image to give customers a feel for the products. Some well shot studio photos of the wetsuits themselves would also be a welcome change. But overall a nice category page.

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We then move on to their individual product pages. For the target market of these wetsuits this is an almost pitch-perfect page. Some good use of emotive language in the product description with ample focus on the experiential aspect of owning the product. This is backed up well with some technical specification. The page is wrapped up nicely with a set of high quality images of the wetsuit being modelled.


And then here is an example of where things can go wrong. If your products have little diversity when photographed, use more text to support them.

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There is just far too much going on here. The prices vary a lot and the pictures give no sense of the actual product you’ll receive. The top right bottle weighs 2.2kg whereas the bottom right weighs only 500g; yet on this page they appear to be the same size. This is a great example of a situation that will require much more copy to support a limited variety of image.

4 – Product descriptions

[Tweet “To write great product descriptions you need to start by focusing on your ideal customer”]

I guess the problem most people have with writing product descriptions starts at the outset. You’d assume that a product description’s most important role is to describe your product. You would, however, be wrong in this assumption.

Why? Because your product descriptions need to sell your products.

To write great product descriptions you need to start by focusing on your ideal customer. If you write with a huge range of buyers in mind, you will end up writing pithy descriptions that end up addressing no one. The very best product descriptions will speak to your ideal customer directly and personally. You ask and answer questions for your ideal customer as if you were talking to them directly. You use the same words and phrases as they would use. You build a relationship with them.

Look at Think Geek’s product description for an LED torch. They have clearly identified a very specific ideal customer and they are speaking directly to them.

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When you set about writing your product descriptions, first get a clear picture of your perfect customer. What kind of humour do they have? What words and phrases do they use and which do they hate (You’re not going to get on the right foot selling a classic camera as the ideal “selfie machine”). What questions can you imagine they would ask that you need to answer?

Highlight the benefits that your products will bestow on your customer if they make the purchase. We all love our own products. We live and breathe them all day and it is easy to get excited about features and specifications. The problem is your customers respond less well to mundane facts as they do clear explanations of the benefits of each feature.

Consider not only the benefits of features but also how the product will make your customers feel. Will they be happier, healthier, or more productive? What problems will your product help solve? In short, don’t sell a product, sell an experience.

Avoid “yeah, yeah” phrases. There are certain things we would all expect from certain products. If I am buying a new pair of walking boots, being told that they are the highest quality will get my “yeah, yeah” going. I doubt you have ever heard someone describe their product as having an average quality or even low quality. So telling me that your product is of the highest quality will get me yeah, yeahing unless you can prove it to me.

Dyson are experts at this. On their product pages you’ll find no superlative claims unless backed up by actual facts. Their clear explanations of the benefits of each feature replace the expected bullet list specifications.

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Mini stories

[Tweet “telling a good story about your product will make your customers forget that they are being sold to”]

Telling stories in your descriptions can effectively lower rational barriers against persuasion. In other words, telling a good story about your product will make your customers forget that they are being sold to.

You can see a really nice example of this over at Tregothnan’s shop.

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When building stories into your product descriptions think about who made the product? What inspired the creation of the product? What obstacles need to be overcome to develop the product? How was the product tested?

Make your product descriptions scannable

Nothing puts people off reading more than dense blocks of text. Use different heading styles and sizes, bullet points and colours to break up your descriptions.

Innocent Drinks are the masters of this.

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By making your description easier to read you stand a better chance of turning your visitors into customers.

If you missed Part 1 of this field guide go check it out.

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