The past decade has seen the rise of new and ambitious online retailers. A plethora of online stores has flooded the market, and many shoppers now prefer to buy online than off.
A particular concern to ecommerce is the customer’s ability to click away from a site at any time. The aim of any online store is to guide the user through the buying process screen by screen – so by the time they see, “please enter your credit card details,” they are comfortable with their purchase and willing to hand over that treasured CCV number.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Keeping users clicking through from one shopping screen to the next is more of a challenge than you might think. It turns out making sales requires more than pretty product photos and buy now buttons.
It requires customer trust
Traditional retail stores build customer trust with salespeople, who talk away doubts, and answer the questions that arise as part of the buying process.
Online stores have to say the same things that a salesperson would – but without the ability to have a real conversation. They must rely on copy – which means, really, they must rely on a copywriter.
Moreover, virtual platforms give their customers far more power than traditional brick-and-mortar stores. When’s the last time you saw an abandoned shopping cart in a store – yet this is common online. Users can reach the very last stage of buying and then – without consequence – walk away.
Worse still is customers who do purchase, but then receive an item nothing like that promised by the chic image online. You can hope that a refund or Yelp complaint is as far as it goes, but poor experiences travel fast by high-speed internet, and even faster through word of mouth, eroding a company’s reputation, customer loyalty…and bank balance.
With all the pitfalls unique to online shopping, and without the luxury of being able to speak directly to customers, or even have them handle and inspect a product, sales online must rely purely on the imagery and text.
It is these two elements that keep users clicking through a site and not away from it. Sure, good prices, special deals, regular sales and convincing advertising are influencing factors, but people are emotional buyers. Our senses rule our purchases. Base instinct, rather than logic, very often guides our choices – after all, it’s not called retail therapy for nothing.
Photos replace physical access to a product; copy replaces salespeople
True, some of the biggest online retailers don’t use much copy. They rely on bulk. Dozens of departmental categories with scores of sub-categories – there isn’t even space for copy. Bulk products implies big sales – it’s just a matter of cold-hearted statistics.
But for most online stores, that’s not a reality; and many actively avoid such a soulless approach. So for them, it’s all about photos you can feel, and copy that explains them.
And by “explains,” I really mean mimicking what a good salesperson would say. Not a grease-hair silver-aviator used-car salesperson; rather, a knowledgeable member of your company who really wants to help your customer choose the right product to meet his need.
For this, your average email writer isn’t quite the right hire.
You need someone with experience in distilling a sales conversation into a written format that’s engaging and natural. Someone who knows how to take the tactile, emotional experience of handling a product, and condense it into a gripping description that titillates your prospect’s senses. Someone who can get into both your prospect’s and your salesperson’s shoes, and merge their perspectives into a balanced, fair, and ultimately persuasive copy deck that stimulates desire without overselling.
That person is a copywriter – which means that hiring a copywriter is of prime importance to any ecommerce business.
Surprisingly, while most ecommerce companies are quite willing to spend money on the expertise of web designers, many never consider adding a copywriter to their staff.
This is rather like a brick-and-mortar store spending a lot of money on interior decorators, but never hiring any sales staff.
Of course, online business is more flexible than offline. You don’t necessarily want to lock yourself into salaried staff for writing copy. Many businesses don’t have the volume to justify that; instead they contract copy work out to a freelancer or agency. Others – usually smaller ecommerce businesses – invest in training their existing staff to take on copywriting roles.
Whichever way you choose to go, it starts with recognizing the core value of copy as a business asset with a high return on investment.