When you run a business, communication is critical. When shoppers are deciding whether or not to spend their money with your store, it’s often how you’re communicating, or not that becomes the deciding factor. Poorly written copy is arguably even worse than not saying anything at all.

Too many small businesses make the same common mistakes when writing sales copy and product descriptions. To help you avoid these costly errors, here are some of the most common mistakes:

1. Failure to make a connection

People pay twice as much for Apple devices because they believe in the story of great design and cool products. We associate Ben & Jerry with their “hippie” background, which appeals to many ice cream lovers. Hollywood actress Jessica Alba’s Honest Company sells eco-friendly baby products because:

“When I became a mom, I finally became the person I am, that I always should have been,” she says. “It’s the most satisfying job in the world. But, it can also be overwhelming and confusing. I created The Honest Company to help moms and to give all children a better, safer start.”

When shoppers connect with you, this bond is the beginning of customer loyalty and higher sales.

2. Not explaining the benefits

A key method in copywriting is describing the differences between features and benefits. A feature is a characteristic of a product; a benefit explains what the shopper will gain by buying it. These are two distinct ideas. Let’s look at the Amazon Kindle:

A feature of the Amazon Kindle is that it weighs less than six ounces. The resulting benefit of that feature is the comfort users experience when holding it for extended periods of time. Another feature is that it uses electron ink. The benefit is that you can easily read in both bright sunlight and dark rooms.

Many characteristics of a product, like the aforementioned electron ink and six ounce weight, are not compelling to consumers unless they understand the benefits of those features. Shoppers must be able to clearly identify what’s in it for them if they are to purchase the product.

3. Not being specific

In 1923 Claude Hopkins published his groundbreaking book on marketing and copywriting titled “Scientific Advertising.”

In his book, Hopkins points out how many marketers of that time were using generalized sale speak. Included in their product descriptions would be statements like “simply the best” or “cutting edge technology.”

Even then, this kind of generalized sales talk had little credibility. Still today, over-hyped sales copy without supporting evidence is completely ineffective.

At Edible Arrangements, they don’t simply say their bouquets are delicious, they provide enough specifics to make your mouth water as you read:

“The Orange Blossom is a modern fruit bouquet featuring juicy orange slices and wedges, and filled with fresh strawberries, grapes, cantaloupe and honeydew. Along with one dozen of our delicious apple bites dipped in decadent semi-sweet chocolate with white drizzle. A fun, refreshing gift idea for birthdays, congratulations, get well and more.”

4. Lacking social proof

In Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: the psychology of persuasion, he explains the importance of social proof in influencing buying decisions. Social proof is highly effective because people will invariably do what they see other people doing. Cialdini provides the example of one person in a crowd looking up into the sky driving others to look up as well. The more people who look up, the more others will follow.

If you add enough social proof to your description, it can be compelling enough to make a sale, even if other elements are lacking. You can find some good examples of social proof in the number of products sold, testimonials/reviews from previous customers, and media that features your product. Endorsements by key opinion leaders will also help.

A good example of effective of social proof in a product description is Hotels.com. When viewing results, you can see how many people have booked the same hotel in the past few hours. Not only does this provide proof that other people are booking these rooms, it also creates a sense of urgency that customers need to take action right away.

5. Not speaking to your target market

It is almost impossible to satisfy everyone’s requirement in a single product. You need to know exactly who you are selling to and what motivates that person to buy. Unfocused, generalized sales copy often fails to resonate with anyone.

Shampoo offers a line of tightly focused products. There are specific shampoos for fine, coarse, kinky, and oily hair. Clear Men Scalp Therapy is a shampoo designed for men suffering from dandruff. Men with this condition are much more likely to buy this particular item over a general purpose shampoo. It targets them directly.

Product descriptions are often too broad because of a poor understanding of who the target customer is. Clearly identifying your ideal customer and writing specifically for them can vastly improve the quality of your sales copy.

6. Not supporting product claims

Facts must back up any claims made in your product description. Referencing tests and studies will make the benefits of the product seem more credible. When shoppers read through the product description, there should be no doubt in their mind that the product will actually deliver on the promises in the copy.

Razor company Gillette has decades of experience writing product descriptions. They support almost every benefit they make with a technical specification of their razor. Instead of simply saying that Gillette razors are cost-effective compared to their competition, they show that one 12 count blade refill can last an entire year based on average days per use.

7. Descriptions that are too dense

Break up product descriptions so they’re easily scannable by the reader. Shoppers typically ignore large blocks of text. The copy must be easy to read and quickly digestible. Using shorter paragraphs, bullet points and subheadings will go a long way in making this happen.

Apple does a great job of making it easy to learn about their highly technical products. For their iPad, the page of features beautifully explains the benefit of the incredible technical innovations built into each device. Shoppers don’t have to work hard to find compelling information about the product to make their buying decision.

Instead, Do These 3 Things

1. It’s not what you sell, it’s how you sell it

It’s extremely common for retailers to sell the same products. Competitive advantages level the field here. It’s how you market an item that differentiates you from everyone else. And in the online world, this means sales copy.

Product descriptions might seem small and inconsequential, but they have the power to make or break an eCommerce business. It doesn’t matter how much traffic an eCommerce website receives if the retail copy doesn’t convince shoppers to click the “Buy Now” button.

2. Be creative and original

Publishing product features is necessary so shoppers can confirm they’re viewing the right product and can compare other products and retailers more accurately. However, just a list of features doesn’t help SEO rankings (the manufacturer and competitors have the same list after all) nor do these lists give any context for how the shopper will benefit from buying the item.

A busy mom shopping for a clothes dryer may not care about a steam setting until she’s told it will help cut down on her ironing, giving her more time to herself.

3. Make your products sound irresistible

Weaving features into product copy by referencing them to their associated benefits is an art form few retailers have mastered. There is one in particular that’s a shining example, however: J. Peterman. They do an incredible job with their product descriptions that they don’t even need to use real photos of their products!

With just a splash of engaging retail copy and a hand-illustrated drawing, J. Peterman sells hundreds of items to customers all over the world.


Kinda makes you want to buy a Panama Hat, doesn’t it?

Product descriptions are the most powerful piece of copy on an eCommerce website, not an afterthought. Be creative or hire a professional copywriter. Take the time to craft credible, properly targeted, compelling copy that will easily turn website traffic into paying customers.

As the advertising genius Leo Barnett said, good sales copy is simply, “Here’s what we’ve got. Here’s what it will do for you. Here’s how to get it.”

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