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How To Write Product Descriptions That Sell

By March 18, 2013June 28th, 2015Writing & Content Marketing
How To Write Product Descriptions That Sell

If you’re a retailer and have anything from a gigantic warehouse to a small Etsy store, this post is for you.

If you’re selling digital products, you may want to drag a chair up, too, because you have an additional challenge, and that’s selling something that doesn’t really exist.

It may seem like a small thing – a product description. You throw in a few details, answer a couple of FAQs, support it with some glowing reviews or testimonials and let the product sell itself.

Especially if it’s a physical product, I bet you rely quite heavily on photos. People are so visual these days, right? We’ll see an amazing thingamabob on Pinterest and just swoop in and buy it, won’t we?

Well… maybe. Great photos, five-star reviews and armies of evangelists can come together to create a powerful selling tool.

But if you overlook the humble product description you may just be taking that glowing candle of goodness and throwing a bucket of water over it.

Remember, when people shop online they cannot touch, see or evaluate your product the way they could if they walked into a store and saw it and touched it for themselves. They’re relying on you to be their eyes, ears and touch for them. So don’t disappoint!

Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your product descriptions, so you’re not inadvertently sabotaging the sale.

Stop Being So Lazy

This is for you, the retailer who is selling the same doohickey as a dozen other retailers. The leather sofa. The red purse. The ceramic coffee mug.

You may try to compete on service, price, shipping charges (or lack of them) and a dozen other things, but have you ever tried competing on description?

One of my personal pet peeves is shopping online for a particular type of product and finding that product listed on any number of retailer websites – all of them with the exact same product description. Every. Single. One.

Not one extra detail to be found anywhere.

This happens because the manufacturer of that product has a catalog somewhere that every retailer copies from. So consumers get the same exact 50 word description right down to the commas.

And those descriptions are usually pretty sparse. They don’t exactly entice. Yet every retailer copies them word for word.

I get it. It can be a lot of work to rewrite those things, and if you’re setting up an eCommerce site, you’ve got about 400 billion other things to think about, so you grab the description and go. Especially if you have a large inventory, rewriting hundreds or thousands of descriptions can seem daunting to impossible.

But here’s what I have to say to that: suck it up and do it. Do two at a time. Do one a day. Just do them. If you don’t then you’re not giving detail-hungry consumers any reason to shop with you instead of any number of other retailers just like you.

Your descriptions can literally be the differentiating factor that makes or breaks the sale.

Entice Me

There is an emotional component to shopping, as there is to anything else we do in life.

Think about the last time you were at a restaurant. When you looked at the menu, did you read, “Two egg omelet with peppers and cheddar”? No, you didn’t, I guarantee it!

You read, “Omelet made with two farm-fresh eggs, whipped to buttery perfection with crisp, red bell peppers and melted Vermont cheddar.”

Here’s another thing I (almost) guarantee: you couldn’t care less whether your cheddar comes from Vermont, Wisconsin or New Jersey as long as it tastes delicious.

But I bet you would buy an omelet made with Vermont cheddar over one made with just-cheddar any day of the week.

Why? Because it appeals to us emotionally. Farm-fresh eggs conjure up images of happy golden summer days even though they probably came from the same egg truck I saw hauling just-eggs down the Jersey Turnpike last week.

No matter what your product is, you need to make it sound enticing. You need to add a little bit of extra sparkle and flair to your language so that “red purse” is “supple leather purse in a shade of pure crimson”.

So that “blue cotton shirt” is “velvety brushed cotton in the rich tones of a blue summer sky, as soft as a summer breeze against your skin.”

Ok, so I’m writing off the top of my head! But you get the point. Just because you’re writing a product description doesn’t mean you can’t tap into your inner poet. Conjure up some sensory emotions and it will make people want your product more. (And please remember that lying is not an option. If your cotton shirt is as rough as sandpaper, you probably want to skip the summer breezes.)

Balance Features And Benefits

This is important for physical and digital products alike. We get easily mired in feature-speak and forget to tell people why they want to buy our product.

The scented candle you’re selling may be 8 inches tall, burn for 26 hours and smell like apple pie, but there’s more to it than that. Nobody buys a candle because it’s 8 inches high. Or even because it smells like apple pie.

We buy it because the scent of apple pie reminds us of our childhood, and the winter afternoons we baked with our moms in the kitchen. It brings us back to happy, simple and safe days. You need to tap into that reason and remind people why they’re really buying your product.

Likewise with digital products, your eBook may teach people the 10 steps to build a fishing boat but people don’t really want to build a fishing boat. They want to be sitting on a fishing boat on a Saturday afternoon, basking in the sun without a care in the world and enjoying the summer breeze.

Get to the heart of your customer’s desires and put that into your product description. Remind people why they want – and need – your product.

And remember to balance! Flowery words and compelling emotions will get you a good way there, but people still need details. Remember what I said earlier, about being your customers’ eyes, ears and touch. Dimensions, colors, materials, ingredients, sizes and is it dishwasher safe? Include all of the relevant details so your customers know what they’re getting.

You may be selling a childhood memory and a delicious scent but if you forget to tell people that your candle is actually two inches high then you will probably have some disgruntled people leaving you crabby reviews.

Show Me A Lifestyle

This is a little bit of enticing mixed with a few benefits then amped up some more. Many times the reason we buy a product is not because it’s what we need. Sometimes it’s not even what we want. It’s what it represents that we want.

I don’t need new shoes. I don’t even particularly want new shoes. But there’s this awesome pair of black leather boots that promises to take me from my desk to a night out on the town. And I sooooo want to be “that woman” who has all her s#!t together and just breezes from work to play with a cool pair of heels.

I picture myself with my hair blowing in the wind – you know, perfectly tousled – and smiling with my super-white and perfectly straight teeth. And those shoes are totally with me.

All it took for that retailer to sell me a pair of boots was to show me a picture of what I could be. And I want to be that. And I’m a dumb, emotional, fallible human being who thinks that the right pair of boots is going to get me a little closer to that. But shut up, so are you! Now go write some product descriptions and stop rolling your eyes.

Solve My Problem

Sometimes if you’ve got the right product, you can bypass the poetry, the lifestyle and the rest of it and get straight to the problem.

A paper towel that does not crumble into tiny pieces of soggy pulp when I clean up after my cat that just puked all over my kitchen floor? Yeah, you can skip the poetry on that one. But I’ll buy that paper towel, I’ll tell you that much! If it lives up to its promise, I will buy it again and again.

Not to gross you out, which if you’re not a cat person I’ve undoubtedly done, but solving a simple, everyday problem in a way that other products don’t or can’t is enough to sell it. You just have to make sure that you let people know what the problem is – and then you have to come through on the solution.

Write In Human

Please, for the sake of customer sanity everywhere, avoid using lingo, industry jargon and marketing-ese in your writing of the sort that only your CEO and maybe your marketing director would understand or care about.

Straightforward, everyday language will appeal to your customers far more than a big-worded jumble of junk. If you have to describe your product as “state of the art” then you probably just have an inferiority complex. That isn’t a feature or a benefit and it’s not appealing in any way to a normal human.

Likewise for “the best”, “the most advanced” and if we’re talking digital, “the most advanced system…”

Stop selling me advanced systems! Go back to Product Descriptions 101 and figure out why I want this product and how you can make it appeal to me.

We humans respond to emotion (yum, farm fresh, just like mom used to make!) but we are more likely to roll our eyes at marketing language (cutting edge technology… really?)

Know the line between charm and bluster.

I hope I’ve given you some food for thought and you’ve got a pen (or keyboard) in your hand ready to improve your product descriptions right now. It may take some time to compose and perfect them, but it will be time well spent.

Are you happy with your product descriptions? What change could you make to improve them right now?

Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • This is just what I needed Carol!

    I’m in the production stage of a product. I must have written 100 lines to choose from on my sales page. When you said ” Sometimes it’s not even what we want. It’s what it represents that we want.” That’s exactly what I’m struggling with.

    Now, after reading this post, the adjectives are racing in my mind! Also, it is important to let the buyer know the description of the product.

    I’m an Ebay buyer and sometimes I go there and the description is a one line piece of crap. So, I don’t buy it. I see the photo, it creates an emotional response, but what the heck is it made of? Words can be tossed around lightly and buyer beware! I know that if I’m looking for .925 silver jewelry, the ones made in China are a different animal. (learned that the hard way)

    So, we do need to create that non technical description and appeal to the emotion of a person. Plus, give a good detailed description of what they are going to get.

    Thanks, I needed that! Off to play with some words.


    • Well, the universe must be on our side, Donna, because you seem to be in a good place to read a lot of stuff I write about 🙂 I’m really glad this could help and that the timing was good. I totally agree about the descriptions. It’s so frustrating to want to get information about something but not have any details. Then you email someone to find out…. wait… MAYBE get an answer… having details is so important.

      Good luck with your description and if you want to run it by me, let me know and I’ll throw in my 2 cents!

  • Great post Carol
    I actually advised a retail client to do this a few months back and they started on it but then got distracted. The thinking behind my suggestion came from a similar place as yours – i.e. wanting to differentiate. But one thing that it could also achieve is SEO links. If you have a skill for creative writing then it is possible to write a useful and informative description that at the same time makes people laugh. If you make people laugh then they are likely to share, and sharing leads to links.

    • Very true – humor can go a long way and even if people just share it because its funny, you never know who might be on the other end who thinks its funny AND wants to buy!

  • Hi Carol,

    Reading your post reminded me that people don’t want to buy a drill they want a hole. For anything and everything it comes down to that. Doesn’t it?

    You are so right. If you go to a restaurant and read a menu, each dish is not only detailed, but it’s written in a way that makes your mouth water and makes you want to say, hummmmm, I want that!

    I’m glad that you mentioned to avoid jargon. I am always amazed how people use jargon and abbreviations as if anybody understood this stuff. I know I don’t like it and almost NEVER understand it 🙂 I mean really, what’s a RAC, CAB, or TBR? It makes the custom feel stupid because they don’t understand, but it’s really the seller who is not smart for using jargon that makes the customer feel that way.

    Thanks for another very complete post full of goodies.

    • Yes, exactly Sylviane! I also thought about the “hole not the drill” thing too. I was at lunch today and I was thinking about the way they describe things. It was talking about coleslaw it said something like “crisp julienned carrots” and I thought, “that sounds better than coleslaw!”

      That’s why it’s called marketing 🙂

  • JP Powel says:


    Thank you for the blog about getting the poetry and romance into product descriptions. And remaining authentic at the same time. This is timely as I am completing the building of a WordPress web site for our 40 year old pottery business, Salt Marsh Pottery. Thanks also to my marketing coach Eileen Lonergan for sending me the link. Look forward to more of your insights. JP Powel, Salt Marsh Pottery