Internet shopping is super convenient, but it's not without its drawbacks. Since online shoppers aren't able to see and feel items for themselves, they often rely upon a well-crafted product page to describe what's being sold. The problem, however, is that several merchants' product pages — including those from some significant nationwide chains — can be inconsistent, false, or devoid of information, which isn't helpful for consumers.
Like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, online retailers are expected to accurately represent the products they sell. Failure to do this is not only detrimental to the consumer, but also to the retailer: online merchants may not only lose a potential sale, but also develop a poor reputation. Of course, shoppers can be proactive and do their own research, which is a good habit to develop regardless of how reliable a merchant's product page is. But, ideally, that consumer research should be a supplement to, rather than the basis of, a sale.
So how can e-commerce sites maintain a high level of service and convenience for customers? Below are three practices by which online retailers should abide, as well as some advice for consumers who find themselves at a loss for vital product information.
Don't Keep the Consumer Guessing
Nothing makes our writers' and editors' heads spin more than a nearly-blank product page, void of any relevant information save for a headline, price, and (maybe) a photograph. This is especially frustrating for items that are chock-full of important specs, such as laptops, televisions, digital cameras, and other electronic devices. Many of us are fans of Fry's Electronics and the stellar deals they provide, but we'll sometimes have to do a little extra research due to a lack of information presented on its product pages.
Target, too, can be counted upon to provide the basics (like dimensions and materials), but is also prone to omitting additional and relevant details. (We will admit, however, that Target has largely improved in this area recently.) Meanwhile, Amazon is generally on-point with providing necessary specs for an item, but when it comes to third-party sellers, the experience can either be hit-or-miss.
Viewing a product page without so much as one sentence of specifications or an accurate photo is comparable to walking in to a brick-and-mortar store blindfolded and in the dark. A well-detailed (and organized) product page is crucial for supplying consumers with the best representation of an item outside of standing directly in front of it.
Check Your Facts (Then Double-Check Them)
Nobody's perfect, so fact-checking is essential. A product page may offer a plethora of specs, and that's wonderful, but be sure to check that all the information is accurate.
We've found that electronics giant Best Buy is one such store that's prone to misinformation. Overall, the Yellow Tag is adept at organizing and presenting pertinent information; however, we have noticed incorrect specifications regarding processor speeds, HDMI inputs, and other necessary details. (Again, when it comes to purchasing big ticket electronic items, it's essential that consumers know exactly what they're buying.) And while we have already given Target kudos for beefing up their product pages, we recently caught a daily deal for a bird feeder showing specs for ... an eBook reader.
It's deflating to stumble upon a sub-$350 16" Intel Ivy Bridge-equipped laptop, only to realize that the retailer meant to note that the machine boasts a previous-generation Sandy Bridge CPU. Misinformation like this can ultimately boost or tarnish the value of a deal, which is why it's absolutely necessary for retailers to get their facts straight.
Don't Treat Every Product Write-up as an Audition for SNL
We like humor. We even try to inject a joke in to our deal write-ups every now and then. But when the humor gets in the way of essential details, then no one is laughing.
A key characteristic of a number of daily deal sites is the product du jour's funny "backstory." Humor is an important element for sites like Woot and Groupon, which take pride in providing "info-tainment" in addition to deep discounts. Sometimes, we'll get a genuine laugh from these funny descriptions. Most times — usually in the case of lesser-known Woot-wannabes — we'll scroll right to the bottom of the page, hoping to find some salvation in the form of a specifications section.
In lieu of a salesperson being present to make a customer feel at ease, some websites try to present a laid-back and fun narrative, which is absolutely fine. (Online shopping can be a little lonely!) But when you've read five paragraphs about the potato that went to the beauty salon for a perm, and are wondering at what point said potato describes the new 23" 1080p LED monitor it just purchased, it's not unusual to want to take your business elsewhere.
How the Consumer Can Counteract Poor Product Page Descriptions
It's always beneficial for the consumer to do a little supplementary research, even when shopping from a site that has a great reputation for accurately portraying its products. Visiting the manufacturer's specifications page for a particular product is highly recommended (although for products from smaller, lesser-known companies, such information may not always be readily available.) For consumer electronics, product reviews from CNET, Engadget, and other tech-savvy sites can provide integral details in addition to expert perspectives on products. Amazon Customer Reviews have also become a trusted source for most anything sold on the web, but even that is prone to some funny business.
Still, such supplementary information may not always be readily available. Thus, it's the responsibility of online retailers to treat its product pages as a possible lone source of relevant information for a particular product. (Our staff have found that to be the case on select occasions.)
Online shopping is wonderful, but like its traditional counterpart it's not without its challenges. While we wish that all online retailers consistently followed the rules above, it's also up to the consumer to perform their due diligence.
Have you ever experienced any of the above scenarios? What else do you think a good product page should provide? Sound off in the comments below.