Writing Descriptions that Sell

The post office usually delivers a glossy new retail catalog or two (or fifty) to most homes during the holiday season. Whether offering children's toys, jewelry, or country hams, the cover of a commercial catalog will suggest itself to be full of superlative items for gifting or entertaining. What would one tend to think if inside the cover of a "Country Smokehouse" catalog the full page display of an item for sale had only a two word description:

"Big ham."

Surely this would require the reader to wonder if this 'description' referenced the image on the page next to it, a sugar cured, fully cooked, 16 pound, spiral sliced ham - ready to serve, or if "Big ham" was text actually only intended to point a symbolic finger at the grinning bubba in Santa Hat and red suspenders who in a mock dinnertime tableau hovered expectantly over said product.

Professional marketers don't consider it to be a waste of time to provide full and complete descriptions for each individual item they offer. They know, in fact, that an exacting presentation is an essential aspect of salesmanship. They would never expect their customers to resort to guesswork about the specific characteristics of an item, especially if that information might be important to making the sale.

Some e-commerce shops employ unbelievably brief comments like: "Very pretty!” or "Rhinestone necklace email for measurements"; and the always popular, "Description to follow” as placeholders for actual descriptions. Making a single brief observation about an item or submitting a non-substantive remark that reveals absolutely nothing about it at all does not constitute a description. If a customer is being specifically told they will have to ask to be supplied with pertinent information about an item, it's pretty obvious it is not being described sufficiently.

Customers who are in the 'gifting' mode usually have a limited number of days to shop until the date of the event. Whether for an anniversary, a birthday or Christmas, there is almost always going to be a deadline that a potential customer must meet. If information isn't instantly available concerning measurements or about the condition of a piece, a shopper must also figure into the gift equation that they will need time to receive an acceptable answer, along with a week or more for shipping. People who feel they are in a rush will almost never be patient enough to ask questions and wait for answers, they will simply look for a more accommodating source where they will find their questions answered before they are ever asked.

Try to think in terms of the need for immediate gratification or impulse buying, which experienced retailers recognize as a big player in day-to-day sales. If a shop owner withholds absolutely essential item information, expecting that a customer will be willing to ask for it, or if they assume that people will blindly buy something without first knowing all the facts, then they may just as well accept that the only thing they have accomplished is to successfully cripple their own sales.

The importance of fully describing an item for prospective buyers would seem obvious, so it is curious why examples like those given above can ever be found, but they are. Regularly. It can only be assumed that for some shop owners it is more important to list many items quickly, than it is to list all items in a fashion that is likely to facilitate their actual sale.

Unfortunately, besides failing to expedite sales when items are listed with no noticeable description, a technique that can best be described as 'speed listing' can also present a shop owner with the real possibility of having an item flagged for not meeting the e-commerce mall site's basic listing requirements. Listing items without an appreciable description is not an acceptable practice, whether your shop is located in a online mall type setting, where independent shop owners are housed under one ‘roof’ or if you are a stand alone e-commerce site with one owner. A reasonable effort needs to be made to provide some real information about each item at the time it is listed, including a full text description and a quality photo.

Encouraging people to ask any questions they might have before making a purchase is fine, and many will do just that, regardless of how much up-front information has been supplied. But shoppers shouldn't be forced to ask questions simply because the item was never described for them in the first place.

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