How Much Detail Do Product Detail Pages Need?

Can an ecommerce store’s product detail pages bog a visitor down in too much detail? Can you provide the wrong information and leave people with unanswered questions?

My friend and occasional client Michael runs Greek For Me, an apparel store for Greek fraternities and sororities. He recently asked me for usability consulting to help him increase his conversion rate. I thought I’d share this mini-usability review to help Mike and other store owners who may be struggling with these issues.

Let’s check out Greek For Me’s Alpha Xi Delta Hoody detail page.


(Click to enlarge)

The page gets the general info down fine. It obviously matches the keywords likely to deliver visitors, and like the rest of the site, there’s shopping cart info in the top right and breadcrumb navigation to orient visitors.

Where this product detail page drops the ball is with the drop-down menus used to select size and colors. These overwhelm visitors and make them anxious.

Suppose you’re curious to see the sweatshirt in other colors than gray. If you pick any color, the product picture doesn’t update to reflect your choice. And you can’t click some secondary pictures of the item for different views, because there’s only the one picture.

The same problem repeats with the dropdown boxes for the foreground color and border color. You can’t tell what they will look like on the sweatshirt, much less what they will look like in combination with each other.

And this is compounded by using jargon color names, like vegas gold, old gold and light gold. What if I just want gold? Besides, who goes shopping, thinking “I want a sweatshirt with vegas gold lettering!”

Similarly, if you pick a size, you might have a general idea what that entails, but it’s by no means certain. For example, SEOmoz gave me a tshirt last year that was a size medium. I thought it would fit as I’m about a medium build, but it turned out that I needed a large, so I reluctantly gave the shirt to the girl I was dating at the time. Which might explain why we broke up and I still don’t have a girlfriend. But I digress…

To reiterate, product detail page dropdown menus make visitors anxious. They create a fear of getting the wrong size product with the wrong colors. We as humans fear loss more than we seek gains. So these fears of wasting money on the wrong product reduce purchase momentum (kudos to the Bryan Eisenberg for the momentum metaphor.)

Possible solutions to test:

  • By far the easiest solution is to offer no alternative colors. By making the color question a simple yes-or-no decision, momentum is a lot easier to maintain.
  • A better solution is to offer a very limited range of popular colors. You could probably copy The Gap and go with blue, pink, gray, red and black. This avoids leaving money on the table in the case of people thinking, “No, I don’t like the default color.”
  • Use only one foreground-border pairing for each background color. If you get the blue background sweatshirt, your lettering is white-and-gray, period.
  • Add pictures of the product in the alternative available colors.
  • Have some sorority girls model the product, and explain what size they’re wearing. Tests typically show that actual-use pictures convert better.
  • Create a customization tool that dynamically alters the product image as people select different options. This is probably the most expensive solution, and would likely need to have its own section on the site.

In fairness to Mike, I should point out that he has a clickable link to see the colors involved, but these just show a chart with various swatches of color. And while that might be enough for some people, I only barely noticed it after already writing most of this article.

So it’s skimpy information, presented in a muted part of the page.

Shipping questions for detail pages

Two common questions visitors have are:

  • When will the product arrive? (Sometimes phrased as, “When will it ship”)
  • What will the price of shipping be.

The product arrival date info is automatically estimated, which is a great piece of functionality. Unfortunately, this too is hidden in the discreet “Additional Information” box below the product image.

As to the price of shipping, this is nowhere to be found on this detail page or any others.

The site tries to solve the problem with a shipping price calculator that appears on the next page, below the cart information, when you click add to cart.


(Click to enlarge.)

The catch is that the visual design of the page emphasizes the checkout buttons. They strongly contrast with the rest of the page by their shape and color (see more on buttons and layout in my friend Sandra Niehaus’ great article on button balance and contrast).

Normally this emphasis on the checkout is good, but in this case it will create a lot of scenarios like this:

  • Add to cart
  • Check cart info
  • Continue to checkout
  • [Miss the shipping calculator.]

Then when people move on to the billing page, the ‘Standard’ and ‘Rush’ shipping options don’t provide any more info on price.

So what?

So the net effect of this lack of information on shipping times and rates creates anxiety. Again, this slows momentum towards conversion.

Possible solutions

  • Embed a simpler calculator in a reasonably prominent part of the product detail page. For example, some of the whitespace on the right hand side could be used without affecting how clean the page looks. Of course, that’s just a hunch – you’d have to test that to know for sure.
  • Since most products have a standard weight and size, Mike could use USPS’ “If it fits, it ships” product and just automatically list shipping rates on his product detail page according to product type.

The fundamental role of a product detail page is to decrease anxiety by spelling out clearly what the product offer is. It should offer enough information to answer visitors’ questions, without overwhelming them and making them bounce.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Content | Search & Usability


About The Author: also writes his own SEO blog where he discusses advanced SEO tactics and ideas. He loves offering SEO consulting to entrepreneurs.

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  • Michael Martin


    You don’t NEED a girlfriend when you live in Montreal :)

    See you at PubCon.

    ,Michael Martin

  • Gab Goldenberg

    Lol Michael. We can’t all be as successful as you ;P haha.

    Would love to be at Pubcon but I’m sitting it out for school. I’m sure it’ll be a great show though!


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