Online retailers can do a lot more to help sell their products online, by using better product descriptions to convince customers to buy, and providing better quality product photos, especially in the case of more expensive items.

A post by Katie Lee on the Telegraph blog yesterday asks the question: ‘Why is shopping online still so terrible?’, and based on the headline, I was prepared to defend e-tailers, as there are some excellent e-commerce sites around, and most have improved over the last year or so.

While the title may be a bit of a generalisation, there are some good points about the quality of sales copy on product pages, and the poor quality of product photos. I’ve been having a look at some examples where retailers could do a lot more to sell expensive items…

This leather sofa from Laura Ashley is priced from £1,900 upwards, depending on style and whether you opt for a two or three seater sofa, yet both the description and photos are woefully inadequate for a big ticket item.

Laura Ashley product page

The description consists of just one line: ‘A contemporary range with button detail on the back cushions‘, which doesn’t help much, and hardly represents a real effort to really sell the product to customers.

The photos are not good enough to help customers make a purchase decision. This may be OK for some cheaper items, but if you are going to spend £2,000 on a sofa, then you might want to see how it looks from various angles.

Instead, Laura Ashley provides just the one view which, though you can zoom in, is not really enough when you are asking customers for £2,000 or more. Also, though it is available in seven different colours, you can only see the one.

It isn’t just Laura Ashley though; I found a similar example, also a leather sofa on John Lewis. It doesn’t have to be this half-hearted though, and there are some sites that give you the tools to see products from different angles, or as they would look in your living room.

Mydeco, for instance, will let you see most of the sofas it displays from different angles, view them as they look in rooms created by other users of the site, or even create your own.


In another example of retailers not doing enough on product pages, Tesco has this outdoor log cabin for sale on its website but hasn’t really made too much effort to sell it. The product page is just the same as for a £5.99 DVD, but this item is £7,000.

The copy around the product is just a dull description of the product and its dimensions, and doesn’t really inspire you to purchase it, while the photos do not do enough to really showcase the product.

After all, if you are going to spend £7,000 on a log cabin, you might want to at least see what it looks like inside, and from some different angles, or when it is in use.

I’d be surprised if many people have bought the sofa from Laura Ashley’s website, or the log cabin from Tesco Direct, unless they have seen it in store first, as both stores have made little effort to convince customers about the products through descriptions and photos. 

I talked to copywriter Nick Usborne recently, and he said that many online retailers are too minimalist with their product pages, and don’t work hard enough on writing persuasive product descriptions. He also made the point that ‘the higher the price, the harder you have to work on the copy‘, something which both Laura Ashley and Tesco have failed to do. 

As he suggested, some e-commerce sites would do better to hire a professional copywriter or, as Katie Lee says in her post, an aspiring journalist, to create more compelling product descriptions while, in the case of product images, if you are asking customers to spend thousands, it isn’t too much to ask to provide some decent photos.