Aside from offering quality products, a business’s key to success  is their visual merchandising. Almost every store you’ll ever enter employs it, and most hire professional teams to create visual strategies and regularly swap old displays for new ones. Let me paint you a little picture of how good merchandising can enhance and inspire a shopper’s experience:

You stroll into the shop, the entrance garlanded with strings of abstract paper flowers. A spicy, floral fragrance, evocative of some exotic paradise, wafts from a nearby candle. The salesgirl is folding a sweater to your left. “Beautiful Sunday, isn’t it?” she greets you, flashing a smile as she returns to her task. She stands near a wrought-iron table, floral-printed blouses piled in organized chaos next to a vintage watering can and a stack of books.

You walk into the store. It’s well-lit, though a little too bright. There is a hanging rack to your right, clothing of uniform color and shape hung from a silver bar. A salesman can be heard, faintly shuffling in the back room, but he is as tangible as a ghost. More clothes, blocked on various tables and pedestals arranged in a grid, populate the entirety of the store. Black-and-white signs declare the price of each item.

Do you see why merchandising is what makes or breaks a brick-and-mortar storefront? If you don’t entice your customers into the experience of buying from you, they have zero incentive to choose your product over anyone else’s, unless you’re going for broke with a deeply-discounted sale. Recent studies show that customers are driven to shop to be inspired, rather than being inspired to shop. Catering to their desire for delight and discovery is the key to success in sales.

This is all well and good for stores with a physical presence, but what about ecommerce sites? If you’re hawking your wares on the Internet, how can you sell the experience? Doesn’t “the experience” consist of sitting behind a screen, bathed in white light and mindlessly clicking “add to cart”?

The truth is, there are many ways to merchandise your products online, and the secret lies in your product description. With a well-crafted product description, you can transport potential customers into a world where your goods are the instruments of happiness.

Buying this would be a good excuse to drink more ... soda!

Kikkerland’s wrestler-as-a-bottle-opener will appeal to customers with a sense of humor, but Amazon’s product description gets boring and lengthy.

Research Your Audience

Before you begin constructing your product’s fantasy world, you need to know who you’re selling to. Research your target customer. How do they speak? Are they inclined to the casual and humorous, or the formal and elegant? What are their interests? Do they prefer rugged endeavors in the out-of-doors, or would they rather have a tea party, lace doilies and all? Determine their comfort level with language. Are they teens on the cutting edge of trendy, who would respond to slang? Are they experts in the field who would nod knowingly at your technical jargon?

Tailoring your description to the proper demographics will cause your content to resonate with your customer and make your product all the more appealing. To discover what terms they’re searching for, try checking out Google’s Trends or AdWords, or try typing your keywords into Content Runner’s Idea Engine to get a feel for what’s trending in your topic.

It's so exciting!

The Kikkerland site has a much more attractive approach. The image is way more dynamic, and their description is short, concise, and funny. They know their customers.

This all plays a very important role in establishing your “product personality.” Properly representing your brand through the voice, tone, and language use in your product descriptions is like PR for the Internet; you’ll do well to avoid the metaphorical wardrobe malfunctions.

Cut Your Jargon

Nothing is more boring than slogging through the sticky muck of jargon-heavy writing. If your average customer has to look up the definition for every third word, they’re going to ignore your content, find someone who explains it more clearly, and buy from them. Find layman’s terms for what you need to convey, and use them wherever possible. Use just enough expertise and technical phrasing to convince, yet try not to overwhelm. Jargon density is certainly a delicate balance; if you’re worried about it, err on the side of less.

That said, always emphasize the practical benefits of your product. Consider what may seem obvious that could give a customer a “wow!” moment. For instance, is your fancy bowl oven-safe? You could bake gourmet macaroni-and-cheese, delivering it steaming-hot to the table in one delectable dish.

Organize and Optimize

In direct opposition to the section above, there are definitely times when you have to include the technical aspects of your product to help it sell. This is really apparent in anything gadget-y or technological in nature, or products that have complex components, uses, or materials. However, there is a saving grace available that will both evade lengthy, boring, jargon-heavy paragraphs and still allow you to highlight all the necessary specs:

  • It’s the bullet point.

Bulleting your info allows those who would rather skip it to, well, skim it and skip it, yet still provides valuable information to the customer who finds it relevant. Be sure to spice it up by partnering each piece of information with a tangible benefit.

Not gonna lie, I kind of want one.

Modcloth carefully crafts every single product description on their site, making for hundreds and hundreds of stories. The excellent puns are only icing on the cake! How else could a cat-and-ice-cream dress get almost 1400 “loves”?

Show, Don’t Tell

One of the sacred tenets of creative writing is to always show the reader what’s happening, rather than merely telling them. Apply this awe-inspiring concept to your product descriptions to create vivid, engaging content for your site. Creating an interactive, imaginative situation with your product will not only impress the reader, it will get them hooked on your brand and keep them coming back for more.

There are a few tricks to this that the savvy writer will immediately employ. First of all, use verbs, in all their active and connotative glory, instead of static adjectives. A single verb can encompass the meaning of an adjective, while also capturing the reader’s attention. Why does everyone say they couldn’t put down the Hunger Games books? Here’s a hint: aside from the incredible story, it’s all written in present, active voice. How can you stop reading in the middle of an active moment? The same idea applies to writing your product description. It’s hard enough to get people to actually read what’s on a web page; once they do, try not to bore them.

Second, make sure you place your customer in a situation with your product. Even if it must be short, use your blurb to show the customer how useful the product will be.

The alarm on your desk buzzes. It’s ten a.m. At 10:01, your report is late, and your boss will be in to lecture you at 10:05. “C’mon,” you think, “Don’t lag!” Sweat beads on your forehead, but instead of a rotating hourglass, your email dings. “Message Sent!” reads the screen. You sigh with relief. Good thing you upgraded to Extremely Functional Computer Model S-5000 yesterday!

Orange juice splashing into a sparkling glass, acrobatic pancakes flying through the air, the smell of bacon sizzling in a hot pan. Let Happy Pigs Vegan Bacon Product transport you back to the (now cruelty-free) Sunday morning breakfast of your youth.

Crafting an active situation helps the customer envision the product’s usefulness creatively, and gives life to an otherwise static image of your product. By making it interesting and engaging, your product description has a better chance of being read and responded to than your typical “this-does-this-and-that-so-you-should-buy-it” material.

Pictures are a horse of a different color, and probably deserve a blog post all their own. If you can, try to include vibrant images of the product, possibly in use by a happy-looking model. A flat image on a white background isn’t very enticing, and images that are blurry or poorly lit couldn’t be saved by product descriptions written by J.K. Rowling herself.

New gadgets are enticing enough on their own...

You can’t compare Apple to oranges, but they always hit the mark when it comes to making products desirable. Large header and font, complementary color scheme, short & sweet; they did it all.

Consider Readability

Try to keep things fairly short and sweet. You only have someone’s attention for so long, and most of their attention is going to go to the images, anyway.

Use section headers to break up longer content. This helps move the customer’s eyes through the page, and makes extensive information seem less intimidating (I’ve tricked you into reading this far, haven’t I?).

Make sure your content packs a punch. Keep things concise and avoid extra words wherever possible. Example given: this paragraph.

Use large font sizes—slightly larger for headers—and, if possible, a color scheme. This will both relieve eye strain—the less work someone has to do to read, the longer they’ll keep reading—and spice up the text visually. Reading text that’s all the same size and color is like listening to the drone of a professor with a monotone voice.

The Dangers of Duplicity

Duplicate content can be a hard thing to avoid when it comes to product descriptions. What if you have seven different color options for your item? What if the manufacturer requires certain information to be included on the page? If search engines like Google think there’s too much duplicate content on your site, you could end up being penalized—and lower search rankings are definitely not what you’re aiming for.

As with all Internet writing these days, creating unique content that’s written for the reader is what will get you higher rankings. Intriguing, exciting product descriptions are your best bet for getting your products noticed through search. If possible, try to include color, size, or other customization options on a drop-down menu to avoid multiple pages with the same copy-pasted information, which could be misconstrued as duplicate content. If you must include manufacturer-mandated material that’s found on other sites around the web, add unique content of your own, or follow some tips from Moz to combat any penalties. Google, undisputed king of the Internet, also has some good advice regarding canonical URLs that can help you out here as well.

With ecommerce, your customers can’t stroll into your shop and hold your product in their hands. They can’t be tempted by a feat of adept merchandising, or lured to open their wallet by the tantalizing scent of a tropical paradise. Your chance to captivate and impress your customers lies fully in your product descriptions. Don’t just copy and paste, or settle for bland or technical tidbits. Invest in creating a moment. Strive to be the first store, not the second; give your customers an experience to enjoy, and watch your sales rise.