The online buying experience is a unique animal. The Internet has given us both the opportunity to proffer our wares through digital storefronts and peruse the offerings of others in a way that has expanded commerce and redefined our business relationships. On the other hand, the lack of a physical retailer introduces gaps in product and business perception; gaps that can adversely affect conversion rates and customer attitudes.
For this reason, our business models must adapt to the changing landscape. Simply placing products on an online marketplace and expecting them to sell is the sailing equivalent of casting out your boat and expecting to reach India. The fact is, products need a little guidance in order to reach the customer’s heart and home. That guidance comes in the form of product pages.
But what makes a good product page? What must we include to maximize effectiveness? More importantly, what does the customer feel when they view our products? By tapping into the psychology of online retail, we can tailor our copy, our efforts, and our mentality to best facilitate the two most important aspects of commerce: customer experience and sales conversion.
Online’s Brick-And-Mortar Analogs
It is crucial to understand the commonalities of online shopping in comparison to traditional brick-and-mortar outlets. For a moment, close your eyes and walk into a store in your imagination. Usually, you are greeted by a friendly, smiling salesperson and asked if you need help, thus acknowledging your presence and making you feel significant. You peruse carefully crafted product displays that not only show physical items in a flattering setting, but also place them in a familiar context. The decor of the store is usually pleasing, but non-partisan, allowing your desires and ideas to fill the space.
Now consider the traditional online shopping experience. Sitting in your home or browsing through your mobile device, you experience fonts, layout, and pictures. In effect, these are the salespeople, making a first impression and helping you form perceptions about the business. Items are “laid out”, sometimes in a grid pattern, sometimes in collections. Pictures of attractive individuals using the products are usually displayed near the top in order to increase brand perception and put the items in a familiar and comprehensible context. In essence, each of these pieces of the shopping puzzle serve the same function as a physical store, but in very different ways.
Understanding the Customer Experience
The difference between these experiences is that, without a helping hand to make decisions, users need a degree of guidance to help answer questions and allay concerns associated with purchase. This introduces two concepts that are key to understanding the function of product pages.
The first concept, exercised by brick-and-mortar businesses, is the idea that the longer a customer lingers in a store, the more likely they are to purchase something. You’ll notice that, in clothing stores for example, the customer effectively “disappears” into the business with only product in view. Stores are also commonly set up to retain customer traffic instead of ferrying it out the door. In this way, it is important for product pages to provide relevant information and capture customer attention, so as to prevent a virtual departure from the digital store.
The second concept of note lies in the fact that customers experience a “journey of emotions” during their purchase. That’s not to say that they weep with joy or recoil in disgust, but the internal dialog that guides a sales conversion necessitates consideration. In general, the one emotion prohibiting purchase is fear. Fear of disappointment, fear of loss from the expenditure of money, uncertainty regarding product quality and shipping logistics; each of these must be addressed in order to facilitate conversion. This is where your product pages come in.
Optimizing Your Product Pages
Since price is the greatest concern on the minds of consumers, start here. Prices should be obvious upon arrival at the page, but savings should be even more prominent. Move the inner-narrative from, “how can I afford this?” to, “how can I afford not to purchase this?” Keep customers “in your shop” by making price comparison apparent and available on the page. Include shipping cost in the price so that customers are not disappointed at checkout, which may inhibit conversion. Finally, facilitate the next step in the transaction process by making it obvious.
Since conversion is of the utmost importance, employ a little more psychology to drive purchases. Show stock information to introduce the element of scarcity. The fear of loss experienced by humans is one of the more powerful motivators in commercial activities so offering this information helps the customer make their decision. Include high-resolution pictures from multiple angles and in familiar contexts. This allows the customer to envision themselves using the item, and allays one of the primary concerns of online shoppers: the inability to physically touch and scrutinize products. Finally, give a comprehensive picture of all color and style variations by including photographs of these options.
Product descriptions should also address the fundamental fears of online shoppers. Consider consumer concerns and focus your description on addressing them. The depth of such content should be contingent on the inherent risk of purchase: larger, more involved items like expensive watches and automobiles necessitate a stronger case to justify purchase. Put the items in the context of user benefit, e.g. “anti-lock brakes keep your family safe.” In addition, include product specifications that allow consumers to measure and visualize items for themselves.
But even with a mountain of raw data and verbal assurance, little is more effective in remedying customer concerns than the objective testimonial of un-biased human beings. Place quotes from editorials next to areas of product descriptions that create friction or fear. Feature customer editorials based on their fulfillment of values stated in the description. Compare and contrast reviews in order to give a full picture of pros and cons and prevent customers from seeking third-party validation outside the page. Finally, put faces on product reviews. Showing the human face of an opinion will do wonders in building trust and confidence.
Online commerce is not a simple matter of listing and shipping. Wary, overwhelmed consumers want guidance when sifting through product bins and it is your job to give it to them. Understanding the function of page elements is key to constructing effective copy and motivating conversion. Prominently display price and savings and streamline the customer experience. Focus product descriptions on customer fears and address them with effectively. Include human faces and testimonials that lend objective credibility to your claims and expect good things in return. Remember, your website is the store, product display, and salesperson. Understand your role in the customer experience and enjoy the fruits of your empathy.