E-Comm Fiddly Bits: Managing copywriting problems

Simple illustration of a person puzzling over two objects that look the same.

I feel like I’m saying this a lot, but writing copy for e-commerce is a lot of refining things to hone in on what works best for you and your customers. In my time writing product copy and producing e-commerce content, I have noticed the two biggest hurdles to clean and clear copy (other than problematic legacy copy) are tone and overly similar products. But these copywriting problems aren’t insurmountable.

Simple illustration of a person shaking hands with a smiley-faced being labelled "customer"

Treat your customers like people

I think of this line from Cat’s Cradle often “It’s a revealing thing, an author’s index of his own work,” and honestly it’s the same with product copy. If you tend towards pedantry or if you think your customers are stupid, it’s pretty clear.

I’ve encountered product descriptions that were legitimately awful, like cringe-inducing terrible, or used some pretty questionable language regarding bodies and gender. The only reason the products were being purchased was that not everyone reads descriptions, the photos were good, or the product was unique enough customers couldn’t get it elsewhere.


Why are you even doing this

If you’re an employee writing descriptions for someone else’s product, I feel you and you can just skip to the next section.

The rest of you, though. For real, if you find yourself despising your customers, there’s a larger problem there that is your own journey to fix.

If it’s just that the bloom is gone and you are despairing and in a bad place, try to stick to the facts and limit your romance copy to a tweet length. Come back to it when you aren’t looking at the folks browsing your site as cretins you want to capture the dollars of.

It’s true, sometimes folks are going to ask a question that seems dumb to you. And it can be frustrating! Try to use that as a chance to not condescend, but educate. Can you use this to make your product description more clear? If yes, then try. If no, then deal with the issue individually if needed and move on.


If you hate the product

Friend, I have been there. There are some products that are the emotional equivalent of when you rub a cat’s fur the wrong way. But when it’s your job to write about products, even if you do not like them, it can be hard to summon the muse of “getting it done.” Here’s what’s worked for me:


Think of something very mean or funny

Absolutely do not type it into your CMS or company programs. It’s not worth forgetting you wrote beautifully salty copy and didn’t erase it before uploading. But, the process of using your fabulous skill to weave a dunce hat for a stupid product can cheer you up and sometimes even have a kernel of nice copy to start from.


Take it as a challenge

You’re a badass. A dumb product that shouldn’t have wasted resources is no match for your superior descriptive skills. It’s a battle and you will win


Who is this product for?

If you are utterly baffled by a product it can be hard to think of how to make it sound good. Remember, not everything is for you. So, who is this product for? Sometimes taking a step back and trying to realign how you see something is all you need.

Simple illustration of a person puzzling over two objects that look the same.

Similar, but different products: the struggle

This can be less of a problem if you’re the one deciding what products your making or carrying. But that doesn’t mean you’re immune to the weirdest sort of writer’s block: how to describe two products that are only nominally different.

Good copywriting means you don’t have the same copy for different products. It also messes up your SEO to have the same copy on different product pages. Even if all the product details are the same, you need to figure out how to tweak the romance copy to make it clear for folks browsing how things differ.


Spot the differences

For an example, let’s say that there are two sizes of our imaginary Four Thieves bath bomb. Our short description of the original one was this:

Our dramatically oversized Four Thieves bath bomb is just what the doctor ordered to steal away your stress with a cleansing blend of essential oils!

Let’s pretend that Aesoap’s Bath now has a smaller version of this bath bomb. Same ingredients, but half the size. Okay, so we know we need to drop the “dramatically oversized” bit. How about this?

Our Four Thieves bath bomb is just what the doctor ordered to steal away your stress with a cleansing blend of essential oils!

Oh, that’s not that great. Sort of loses the momentum from the start. So, what are some notable things about this new product?

  • Better for small tubs
  • Half size of original
  • Cheaper
  • New version of a popular item

Things like price and newness should be indicated on the page already and it’s best to not add “this is new” copy unless you know you’ll go back and updated it when it’s no longer new. So that leaves us with “half size” and “better for small tubs.”

Tiny tub, big stress? Our Mini Four Thieves bath bomb has all impact of the original, sneaking its cleansing blend of essential oils into half the size!

Not bad! This is just the short copy, but now we’ve got the angle to take for the long description.


Check the packaging

If you’re handling things you don’t make yourself, then plop your similar products in front of you in a row and eyeball the packaging. Pulling the wrong item for an order is what distribution centres try to avoid, so there should be some indication in the text on the package of the individual differences. If it’s just that one wrapper is blue and one is green, I’m sorry, they are monsters.

Hopefully, there will be something you can use. Here are some things that are my go-tos to check:

  • Fibre/ingredients
  • Fit/size
  • New version of old thing?
  • New process of production?
  • Maybe something about the product name can help you generate something?

Even nominal differences can be spun into a sentence that helps folks see why Item A is totally not the same as Item B. Remind yourself, you just need that one sentence.


See what the supplier does

If the products are from another supplier, look at their site or catalogues and see how they try to justify the similarities. Basically, this is the same process as looking at the packaging, but going deeper into their promotional materials.

I’ve encountered overly-samey products mostly in technical or specialised things and, luckily, suppliers LOVE touting technical achievements. Use this to your advantage and see if you can scrape a couple good facts to clarify the differences between the products.

Remind yourself, they had to have some reason to have made two things that are basically the same.


There are sometimes unexpected hurdles in copywriting. The obvious stuff you can look up, a lot of the time, all the technical terms and current trends. The rest of it though, it just gets easier with practice and being honest to your customer and yourself.


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