Before starting my own business in 2001, I spent 18 years working in the home shopping sector, so there’s not much I didn’t learn about selling off the page (or screen).
In print catalogues, every inch of space is selling space. There’s not much room for text as the pictures tell the story. Therefore the copy should only add information that’s not visible in the image.
For my first writing job I had to write purely descriptive copy such as:
“Black skirt with two patch pockets. Material: 50% polyester, 50% cotton. All garments washable. Please see size guides at the back of the catalogue.”
Writing something short is actually harder than writing something long, so every word has to pay its way.
Online, you don’t have the same restrictions with word count. You might also want to include keywords to help with search. And you definitely want to allow customers to leave reviews. (These days, what other people say about your products is more convincing than anything you say yourself.)
Some examples of great e-commerce copywriting…
I love the Hawkin’s catalogue, because they usually put real effort into writing interesting copy about each item. They sell retro and fun gifts, toys and games, so it’s a good fit with the brand to inject a little fun into the product descriptions. Here’s a great example from their website:
Bring some beat and rhythm to your work space with this great sounding drum set you can fit on your desk. It may not look like much, but it surprised us how much you can get out of the scaled down tom-tom, pair of snares and the cymbal. You may not become a drumming sensation overnight with this mini kit, but even Phil Collins (ask dad) had to start somewhere.
- Mini drum kit and stand.
- Has a tom-tom, two snares and a splash crash cymbal.
- Includes two drum sticks.
- Easily assembled in minutes without tools.
- Assembled drums 44cm tall.
Land’s End famously give extra information that compels customers to buy. Here’s their description of one of this season’s skirts. Note the friendly tone of voice, their use of the word ‘you’ (which is always good), and the way they’ve turned features into benefits:
Put the wrap on style
The awesome look of a wrap skirt, with none of the perils. (You know what we mean.) The shape is slim and straight, with an invisible back zipper. 33% cotton/32% acrylic/20% polyester/10% wool/5% other. Dry clean. Imported.
- Plaid fabric has tweedy texture
- Faux wrap style is created by a single front pleat
- Slimming straight silhouette
- Smooth full lining
- Modern above-knee length
- Approx waist to hem lengths: Regular, 22’; Petite, 20 1/2’
Just look at the creativity, humour and personality in this description of an avocado bath bomb from the Lush website:
Grab the avocado, olive oil and lemongrass. No, you’re not going to have a salad; you’re going to ‘ave a bath! Use this when your skin is thirsty and your mind is blocked. If you haven’t got a friend to tell you to pull your socks up and get back up and out there, then this ballistic will do the job for you!
What you can learn from this
Don’t just take the manufacturer’s spec and assume that’s the best selling copy you can use. Instead, take your customer’s perspective, think about what’s important to them, and write your copy with that in mind.
This article is adapted from my third book, The Little Fish Guide to Writing your own Website