Detailed descriptions or just the specs, ma'am?
May 28, 2013 8:22 AM   Subscribe

When you're shopping online, do you like to see detailed descriptions or just the bare bones specs? Or have you seen research that says one or the other? I'm responsible for adding new products to our online shops, and I'm trying to justify the time spent writing detailed descriptions.

Here's my example:

Site A and Site B have a ball of yarn that they sell - same price, same photo, but Site A just lists the info from the distributors, whereas Site B spends a bit more time and writes a description.

Site A has:

Pro Baby Acrylic Yarn
Weight: 100g
Fibre: 100% acrylic
Yardage: 440y
Meterage: 400m
Colour: Pink

Site B has:

Pro Baby Acrylic Yarn
This 100% acrylic yarn is machine-washable and comfortably soft - making it perfect for baby blankets and clothing. The 100 gram ball gives you 440 yards or 400 meters, and the soft pink colour is ideal for any new bundle of joy in your life.
Fibre: 100% acrylic
Weight: 100 gram
Yardage: 440 yards
Meterage: 400 meters
Colour: Pink

Unfortunately, my job does not involve writing about yarn, but I'm trying to justify the time I spend writing things like Site B, because while Site B might have more detail, Site A has had the item up for longer.

I think they help sales, but that might be because I like having detailed descriptions when I'm shopping. So I need to know if there's research or if other people have different opinions.
posted by Katemonkey to Shopping (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For me personally, site A is fine if I know exactly what I want and I'm price shopping, whereas site B is better if I'm not sure what I want and need information to help me decide. So from my perspective, the answer to your question depends on what you are selling, who are your customers, and why are they visiting your site and considering purchasing from you. If the price is the same on sites A and B, I think the nicely written description would give me a better feeling about site B and as long as everything else about site B is as nice or nicer than site A and the shipping costs and return policies are the same or better, I would favor buying from site B.
posted by Dansaman at 8:28 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

My personal preference would be a bit of both. There is s no need to repeat information or describe the color if there is a picture of it.

Pro Baby Acrylic Yarn
This 100% acrylic yarn is machine-washable and comfortably soft - making it perfect for baby blankets and clothing.

Fibre: 100% acrylic
Weight: 100 gram
Yardage: 440 yards
Meterage: 400 meters
Colour: Pink
posted by Requiax at 8:29 AM on May 28, 2013

I definitely prefer more detail, but in your B example you're restating most of the detail which is not the same thing. I do like the additional info that it's machine-washable and soft. The last sentence is unnecessarily repetitive and actually kind of irritating in that if I was buying it for a not-newborn purpose I'd not want it as much. So I guess it depends on the content and the value-add.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:29 AM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I prefer more information. If the manufacturer has a description, it is legitimate to copy/paste from their website. It is even better to crowd source extra information by allowing reviews from your customers.
posted by JJ86 at 8:34 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

If this were my site or if I had to justify the time, I would find similar products on my site (i.e. blue yarn and purple yarn) and write a sample like A for 1 product and a sample like B for the other. Do this for several more so that you have a reasonable n size (N=20?). Keep track of the amt of time it takes you to write A type samples vs. B.

Now go back a few months later and see, 1) is there a discrepancy in # of people who click on blue and purple (to view it) - assuming this would be the same and 2) is there a difference in the proportion of those people who purchase.

If you consistently see a higher proportion of people purchasing a certain description type AND it doesn't cost more to write it, go with that.
posted by Wolfster at 8:35 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agree with posters above (a bit of both but not lots of editorializing re: Option B) and would add that reviews from other users are what often tip the scales for me. I've been doing a lot of online clothes shopping lately and have found it very helpful to hear from other customers re: whether or not an item runs true to size, what type of the quality the fabric is, etc.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 8:36 AM on May 28, 2013

To see if it makes a difference, you can do A/B split testing using Google Website Optimizer, Optimizely, or Visual Website Optimizer (the latter two are very easy to use and very similar to each other, the main difference being different tier levels in their price structure).
posted by Dansaman at 8:42 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

It really depends on the thing in question and whether I'm familiar with it or not, and whether it's the sort of thing that's likely to have descriptions/reviews on another site.

I will say that the example description you provide for the yarn is not one I would find all that helpful. I would expect the washability of a yarn to be part of the specifications, so included for both sites A & B, and I don't think a site's assessment of the color is anything I'm likely to care about. The info on yardage is just repetitive, unless you're able to say something like 'this is enough for most sock projects' or 'get two balls to make an average sized shawl'. The only useful, additional information in that descriptions is that the yarn is soft and appropriate for baby blankets and baby clothing.

I realize that's just an example, but I'm nitpicking it to make the point that what's important is the information, more than how it is presented. A description that doesn't add much in the way of information isn't going to make a difference just by being there.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:52 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

From an ethos standpoint, Site B with the added text reads as slightly more "professional," in that it demonstrates that the product selections are being curated by an actual person with semi-specialized knowledge about yarn crafts, as opposed to a random conglomerate or some guy who happened to pick up a lot of cheap East Asian goods, or whatever. As a consumer, seeing a brief and well-written product description translates (rightly or wrongly) into some level of confidence about the customer service experience I'm likely to encounter if I shop from this website. On the other hand, flowery, lengthy or repetitive descriptions are irritating-- so Requiax's edit is even better than the Site B description as originally posted.
posted by Bardolph at 8:53 AM on May 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

What I like to see (and maybe I'm special, I don't know) is this:

Main page (with all the results):

1) Picture (that is big enough to see)
2) Price
3) Some indication if it is available in other colors
4) Rating (if available)

Item page:


Bonus if there's a description in prose, where someone took the time to write a sentence or two about the product (like in your site B example).

I just thought about it, and I realized that that's exactly what I like to see no matter what I'm shopping for. Minimal info on the results page, all of the relevant info and a brief description on the page about the one particular item.
posted by phunniemee at 8:57 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's no need for the descriptors here, since the values are self-explanatory - instead of . . .

Pro Baby Acrylic Yarn
Weight: 100g
Fibre: 100% acrylic
Yardage: 440y
Meterage: 400m
Colour: Pink

. . . I'd use:

Pro Baby Acrylic Yarn

Pink / 100g / 100% acrylic / 440 yards / 400 meters

Displaying the color would be much better than "pink". People are skimming, so you want to avoid narrative text and reduce text in general where possible.

The above is obviously a basic Web design heuristic - I agree w/others that usability testing (even w/a limited number of users) is a necessary follow-up.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:58 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it depends what you're selling. In particular, I actually find site B kind of off-putting and it makes me inclined to not believe its claims. I couldn't quite tell you why. I think it's because I expect an acrylic yarn with 'baby' in its name to be soft and machine-washable (though I think site A should specify that, even though it's pretty obvious). That's why I'm buying it. I expect it to be, I don't know, workmanlike and that's perfectly okay, it doesn't need two sentences restating the label and being sappy.

I think REI does a decent job (picking something at random). Some of the sentences feel pretty fluffy, but between the description and specs, they've covered most of what you'd want to know. I think the description is giving you a run down of the thinks you'd look at if you were holding the item and the specs are what you'd read off the label. The description is much more objective than 'it's so soft and wonderful for babies!' and I think that's why the marketing cruft is more tolerable.
posted by hoyland at 8:59 AM on May 28, 2013

More information, but only if it is more information, not the same information or a sales pitch.
posted by windykites at 9:00 AM on May 28, 2013

I'd prefer Site A with the additions of "Recommended Uses:" and "Machine Washable: Y/N." Besides those two bits of info, Site B just reiterates what's in the list in narrative form.

When there's a lot of quantitative info available in list form, I'm looking to the narrative for qualitative description. So if you do Site B, omit what's already in the accompanying list.
posted by headnsouth at 9:00 AM on May 28, 2013

I think the additional detail helps sell the product. I prefer more detail when I shop.
posted by theora55 at 9:11 AM on May 28, 2013

I was looking up baby yarn yesterday (I know that's not what you are selling, but still). I prefer Site B because it underlines why this is suitable for a baby -i.e. because it is washable and soft (before yesterday, I did not know why certain yarns were better for babies, because I've always knitted for grown ups). So, in this instance, Site B is more useful.

However, in general I prefer when specifications are full yet presented in a matter-of-fact way. The narrative form reads like a marketing blurb, which I'd rather not bother with.

One thing I find useful when buying yarn, but is applicable to other products, is knowing how many units are in stock. It would be really annoying if, say, you run out of paint and there isn't any left in stock to finish the room you're redecorating.
posted by dumdidumdum at 9:20 AM on May 28, 2013

I love detail and descriptions, but I hate the cozy, kind of treacly tone of B (other offenders: ModCloth.) I think the information is good but the phrasing just turns me off, which is a very personal quirk! I think Zappos is usually a website that offers the kind of important information I want, like materials, heel height, and most importantly, photos from all sides.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:28 AM on May 28, 2013

I always prefer more information, but I agree with previous posters that most of the additional text on site B is not actually additional information. Site B with only the first sentence of that blurb would be much better. Nobody needs all the info twice.
posted by stillnocturnal at 9:41 AM on May 28, 2013

I really like matter-of-factly descriptions, with information about how you would use a product. Say I want to buy sheet-metal cutters. Do I want large ones, small ones? Might I want a two pairs, one lefthanded and the other righthanded? I'll care about fairly objective qualities (durable forged construction), but not about the fluff (don't rhapsodize about the color).

One good example for relatively technical items: Audiopile, despite the old school Web design.

Categorizing can also matter and help me decide, for instance on the length of a chainsaw: a length of X" is good for small jobs, but if you want to harvest firewood, you're better off with something longer. However, don't bother with those special type of saws unless you're doing Y or Z.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:42 AM on May 28, 2013

Is it possible for you to split the product specifications from the product description area in the product page design? Then you can include all the necessary information for a buyer who knows what they want, as well as something marketing-y for a browser who needs more info. And I agree with others about not repeating yourself.

If you have to make a choice, I would go with more information over less. A buyer who knows what they are looking for is less likely to reject your product if you waffle on a bit. Whereas someone who is browsing and unsure of what they want is more likely to reject your product if you don't use your words to give them a feel for what they are purchasing. I could show you loads of power point presentations I've made on this topic over the years, but that's the main thing.
posted by guessthis at 9:43 AM on May 28, 2013

Since I cannot see it in person, I'd like a full and detailed description. I will not purchase from the internet without that because returning and shipping is a pita.
posted by mightshould at 9:48 AM on May 28, 2013

Descriptions are useful to me when they provide non-quantifiable information like softness and/or when they provide some sort of evidence that the seller knows the product well. Like "This is one of the softest 100% acrylic yarns we've tested. It's highly pill-resistant and holds up well to repeated washings." It also shows that some effort has been put into the online shop. If all else is equal, I'll buy from the site that seems better maintained and more professional.

As jetlagaddict mentions, ModCloth lays the syrupy copy on thick, which is part of their thing and appeals to a certain audience (but repels others). However, they're a good example of a sort of A/B combination. Here's an example: the "The Story" section provides a blurb about all the fanciful parties you can wear this frocky number to, which I don't need and won't read. But if you click on the "Details" tab, you learn where the dress is lined and where it is sheer, what parts are and aren't stretchy, and that the sash is removable. That information is useful, and it's a little more in depth than the A example you provided.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:50 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Definitely depends on what you're selling.

For clothing/shoes, where it helps to know every little detail possible about looks and fit, it's great. Zappos' product videos are an extreme example of added info.

I also appreciate sites with customer reviews, though I realize that only people with extremely negative or extremely positive things are going to post. But on clothing sites it helps fill in the gaps of what the product description and model photos don't necessarily tell you (not all bad things, either). Maybe look at Amazon reviews of the product category you're in to see what aspects of the product people discuss in reviews, and try to emulate that in your descriptions. Even the negative stuff might be a positive, depending on the buyer.
posted by kmel at 10:14 AM on May 28, 2013

I think they help sales

This is what user testing was invented for. You don't have to guess; do a split test and find out for sure.
posted by ook at 10:32 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sockdreams is a site that has product information more like B and which I appreciate.

For a random example:
Fiber Content: 50% cotton, 20% acrylic, 18% polyester, 10% nylon, 2% spandex. Machine wash warm, tumble dry low.

Sizing Tips: The tag says "Women's 9-11, men's 7-11", and feet smaller than women's US 8.5 might find the toes too loose. Testers have found that these socks can actually fit a few sizes larger than a men's 11, especially on narrower feet.

So I get all the tag information including the stated sizes but also get some verbage that tells me how I can interpret the info. I also remember reading some customer comments on a strapless dress that described exactly how the strapless-ness was achieved (little sticky plastic strip) and whether it could/should be worn without a bra - very helpful and not something covered with a pure description. For mechanical things, I also like descriptions of the noise level.

Especially when I'm ordering online, I like hearing some 'real person' voice come through in the product description - it makes the site feel more personal even though I realize it's probably just a huge faceless corperation. But like said above, too treacly is off-putting.
posted by hydrobatidae at 10:37 AM on May 28, 2013

I greatly prefer more detail to less.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:42 AM on May 28, 2013

Site B is better.

I might break the block of text apart into sections: Product Description, Product Details, Technical Details. For inspiration, see
posted by oceanjesse at 10:51 AM on May 28, 2013

If it's yarn, I just want the specs. I don't care that the copywriter at your site thinks it's "soft and fuzzy alpaca perfection". I just want to know the weight/gauge, the fiber, the yardage, etc.

The same is true for clothing. I love how some sites will give you measurements of the garment (especially length for skirts and dresses), tell you what size the model is wearing and how tall she is, and piles of specifics. Since I can't try the garment on myself.

For media products, I'm more interested in descriptions, reviews, etc.

For technical items, I find that some websites provide basic information in the "description", and then if you need to know something kind of unusual, you can click on a Full Technical Specs link.
posted by Sara C. at 11:29 AM on May 28, 2013

I kind of hate the Modcloth style of editorializing and spinning tales about all the clothes, J. Peterman style. The descriptions are twee and mostly when I'm looking for a party dress I just want to know, like, whether it's lined and how long the skirt is. Not some kind of cutesy story about strolling along a boardwalk on a crisp evening at the beach.
posted by Sara C. at 11:31 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

It has to be enough information to completely identify it in relation to similar offerings from other retailers. People have to be able to know whether they're buying what they want to be buying. Ask yourself, which approach will result in the fewest complaints and/or returns?
posted by rhizome at 11:39 AM on May 28, 2013

I prefer more information, but I want it to be INFORMATION, not marketing fluff or a syrupy story about the product. I tend not to trust a site that just obviously copies and pastes the manufacturer's information (to me, that approach screams "I am a reseller who knows nothing about this product!") I want to see:
-multiple photos - from all sides, full-length and close up, zoomed in shots of special details; for craft products, it's very helpful to see a picture of what it looks like finished/dry/made up (so, for example, if I'm buying a self-striping sock yarn I want to see a picture of a finished sock so I can see the way the pattern looks)
-exact dimensions
-material information
-helpful details that can't be gathered from the photos
-comparison to similar products. For example, for your yarn site, notes like "this is available in the same colors as our Super Sport yarn, but is lighter weight and has a softer hand" are very useful.
posted by oblique red at 11:48 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Definitely depends on the item being sold. I too feel like your B description has somewhat unnecessary editorializing; I am not in proximity to any babies and get somewhat irked when yarns I would otherwise use to make kitty toys (for instance) are marketed as being for babies of another species. I'm saying that tongue-in-cheek 'cause it's not humongo important, but yeah.

For clothes, I always read reviews and "true to size" info - some sites do this really well with a five-point scale, where the midpoint is "true to size". Reviews are so important to me for clothing (especially sports clothing, I'm a cyclist for info) that if I see something that looks good on Site A that has no reviews, I will go find any other site that does have reviews. Only a massive price/shipping differential will then change my mind.

For sewing supplies it's different, mainly because in sewing and thread arts there's so much tied into well-known makes/brands. My favorite online sewing shop in France sells only French-made items, many designed by them, and they have zero reviews and really spartan details. I often wish they had more detail, but I know their products and know that buying "an assortment of hand sewing needles in various sizes" will get me a boatload of really nice ones. Again, depends on what you're selling... if it's Widget XYZ that's available everywhere, then the more useful, applicable-to-reality detail there is, the better, but honestly it will probably play out more by price than anything else. If it's Unique Needles made by Maison Tralala de Beauvillage en France, you could probably do with less detail if people trust your product... but more detail is still appreciated. Is the steel handcrafted from lovingly-tended steel trees that grow in the pure waters of Lake Evian and the needles tested by craftswomen who wove the handgrown linen they use for that? That would be nice to hear. (As well as the size, quantity, etc, obviously.)

As for tech info, I'm with phunniemee. I'll ooh and aah over the Pure Nifty© showy pics, but if I can't see All The Info on a spec page, I'll click elsewhere to find it. And by All The Info, seriously, ALL. THE. INFO. There is no such thing as not enough when it comes to tech specs.
posted by fraula at 11:56 AM on May 28, 2013

get somewhat irked when yarns I would otherwise use to make kitty toys (for instance) are marketed as being for babies of another species

I always assumed Baby Yarn was, like, a specific thing.

In which case labeling it Baby Yarn will impart specific technical information to people who do fiber crafts.

On the other hand, editorializing about how this yarn will feel so soft on your baby's skin is a bit too far, since as fraula says, people use Baby Yarn for all kinds of projects that aren't garments for babies to wear next to their skin.

You've said your site is not a yarn-selling site, but I think that's an important distinction for a lot of types of products. Like, is this marketing copy, or is this telling me an important fact about the product? Unless you've done testing and find that your customers want marketing copy, I would err on the side of sticking to the facts.
posted by Sara C. at 12:03 PM on May 28, 2013

I personally like A with added info about machine washing. I have stopped shopping at sites that don't provide what I think of as basic consumer info, like washability, fabric content, allergen content (for food and cosmetics).

I will add that if you are literally talking about selling yarn, then I change my opinion to B. As a knitter, I need to know how a yarn feels before I will buy it, so the description better do a good job conveying that.
posted by Brody's chum at 3:44 PM on May 28, 2013

« Older Känn ingen sorg för oss Stockholm   |   This Is Why I Should Do Things In Writing Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.