Summary: Customers shopping online rely on product pages to decide what to buy. Help them by answering questions, enabling comparison, providing reviews, and facilitating the purchase process .
In ecommerce, product pages are critical to the success of a site. Customers need to have enough information to make an informed purchase decision. The product page, or product-detail page, is where users decide whether and what to buy. The page must include complete product information, educating and informing the user about the product in a straightforward way.
In most cases, customers don’t want to invest much time into the buying process, so the product page needs to help them get their information as fast as possible. It’s in the store’s best interest to make sure that users’ questions are answered and that the product is accurately represented.
Poor product pages have two main results, both of which harm the customers’ relationship to the site:
- Shoppers cannot decide if the product meets their qualifications and so abandon the purchase. (Better safe than sorry.)
- Shoppers buy the wrong product, based on inaccurate assumptions, which results in unhappy customers or returned purchases. (The more people have been burned this way, the more they’ll be skeptical and react according to scenario #1 when encountering weak product pages.)
After analyzing hundreds of examples the latest research across 49 ecommerce sites, Nielsen Norman Group (UI and UX consulting firm) derived guidelines for how to design effective product-detail pages. This article presents a brief overview of their findings and recommendations.
What to Include on Product Pages
The product page is a workhorse with a lot of responsibility and jobs-to-be-done, answering customers’ questions and getting shoppers ready to buy. So, it’s critical that sites and apps get it right.
Well-designed product pages have the following characteristics, categorized as must-have, nice-to-have, and fancy features. (Don’t be fooled by the name “fancy” features — these elements can be distracting and disappointing if they aren’t truly necessary or well-executed).
At an absolute minimum, product pages must have these core components.
- Descriptive product name
- Recognizable image(s)
- Enlarged view of image(s)
- Price, including any additional product-specific charges
- Clear product options, such as color and size, and a way to select them
- Product availability
- Clear way to add an item to the cart, and clear feedback when it has been added
- Concise and informative product description
Nice to Have
Shoppers generally expect and appreciate these elements on product pages, but not all sites and apps need each of these.
- Customer or expert ratings or reviews, sortable or filterable by rating
- Additional product images (rotated or detailed views, animated images of product in use)
- Product videos
- Zoom or pan functionality on product images
- Related product recommendations
- Wishlist or registry tools
These may be worthwhile for some products, but only if they are flawlessly executed with high usability and utility for the user.
- Virtual try-on (for example, via photo upload or augmented reality)
- Photo or video reviews from customers
- Metadata and advanced filtering in reviews
- Recurring- or subscription-purchase options
- Product customization tools
- 360° photos
- Step-by-step how-to videos or animations
Anticipate and Answer Product Questions
Shoppers are looking to the product page to answer all their product questions. In the study, the only participants who paid little attention to the product page were those who already knew the exact product they wanted. Even those product-focused shoppers needed the product page to confirm that they had found the correct item.
Many sites offered insufficient product information, which left users with unanswered questions and not enough information to make purchase decisions. While it is impossible to know every question someone may have about a product, some sites neglected to offer even basic product information.
One common concern about shopping online was having to return the item. When sites fully described products, users were likely to buy the correct item and were confident in their purchases. They didn’t worry about potential returns. Effective product pages should describe products with text and images:
- Be complete, but not wordy or fluffy. Users are not looking for marketing fluff, but for a solid description of the product, how it can be used, what it looks like, and what it does. Users typically skim text when reading online, reading more at the beginning of a description than at the end, and more at the start of a line than the end of a line. Don’t waste the first few lines of product descriptions — get right to the gist. Descriptions should also explain any terms that users aren’t likely to know.
- Use images and/or videos to answer questions. Product images set users’ expectations about the products they are selecting and buying. Images and videos should work together with the description to give a complete understanding of the product. One product view is rarely adequate to answer users’ questions. Users appreciated sites offering multiple or animated views, including rotated images, details, enlarged pictures and images of the product in use or in context.
Shoppers on eBags.com relied heavily on detailed images of totes and briefcases to determine which bags were best for their needs.
Help Users Compare Products
Users frequently compared items on a site and wanted to see the same information about each item they were considering. Consistent information about comparable products was key. The display of information affected how easy it was to compare items as well. Some sites varied the page design or information available for products, forcing users to hunt for the information they needed.
Shoppers need information to be reliable on three different levels:
- Product variant. Shoppers considering options for an item, such as size, color, or flavor, expect the same information to be available for all variations.
- Product category. Customers shopping for a type of product expect the site to show similar types of details across brands and models. For example, a shopper looking at washing machines wants to be able to compare information about capacity, space it would take up, and the type of wash cycles (such as delicate, eco, and quick cycles) that were available. For data-heavy specifications, comparison tables may be the best way to present this kind of information.
- Site-wide product page. Generally, as people move page to page within a site, they expect pages to look and feel consistent. With product pages, customers expect that the product page for a vacuum will look similar to the page for a pair of home speakers. It’s fine for the amount and type of information on each page to vary by type of product, but the look and feel, access to site-wide navigation, and search should all be consistent.
- Competitors’ product page. It’s worthwhile to make an effort to understand what information users might see on your competitors’ sites and offer that same information on your product pages. For instance, a customer compared mattresses at TuftAndNeedle.com and Casper.com, but only Casper’s site highlighted free shipping on the product page. He explained, “Casper has 100 nights, free return or pickup, with free shipping. So the price difference between Tuft & Needle and this could come down to the shipping.” Then he switched to his browser tab where Tuft & Needle’s site was open: “I’d have to go further into the purchase process on Tuft & Needle to see if their shipping wasn’t free. Ok, so I select the Queen, add to cart, and oh, shipping is free.” Casper’s page mentioned free shipping on the product page. Users noticed the free shipping and took it into account when evaluating the mattress price. In contrast to Casper’s site, Tuft & Needle’s site required that users add a mattress to their cart to find out that shipping was free.
Lastly, product pages were helpful to shoppers when they showed recommendations for related or associated products. These suggestions helped users discover product alternatives they may not have thought to look for otherwise. Even a single category of highly relevant recommendations, such as You may also like or socially informed recommendations such as Customers who bought this item also bought were appreciated. Use caution and offer only highly relevant recommendations, because showing too many suggestions on a product page can distract from or obscure important product information.
Show Customer Experiences — Even the Bad Ones
Even the most complete product description will still leave some users’ questions unanswered. Product reviews from other customers or from experts will bring in another voice to the site, adding further insight into the product.
Users often used product reviews to gather more information about potential purchases. In many cases, those reviews answered the exact questions that users had, which were often related to use of the product. Product descriptions can describe product characteristics, but product reviews can provide insight into product use .
Shoppers have come to expect robust reviews that include positive and negative comments and that are quick to skim through. The study consistently observe users that wanted to skip to the negative reviews first, in order to see “what’s the worst this product might be.” Below are some top guidelines for a successful customer-reviews section on a product page:
- Clearly differentiate between positive and negative reviews. Simply providing reviews is not enough. Users wanted and needed to see summaries of the reviews, to get a sense of the overall quality of the product. Users needed to be able to quickly locate both favorable and negative reviews, to see the best and worst other customers had to say. Tools to sort or filter reviews were used frequently.
- Provide relevant details about the reviewer. It was also helpful to users to know a little information about the people posting the reviews — for example, the reviewer’s age, size, use for the product, or other relevant details. Users didn’t need to see an entire user profile, but baseline information came in handy when determining if the review was relevant and applicable to the user’s situation.
Because some shoppers doubt whether reviewers are honest, sites can help establish trust by indicating when reviews have been verified by the site.
Start the Purchase Process
The product page is the key area where users decide to purchase a product and move the item to the shopping cart. To do so, users must know what their product options are and how to select them.
To help users begin the purchase processes, product pages must:
- Explain each product variation. Users must understand what each option means — whether it is color, size, amount of memory, or any other product characteristic. The selection of options must be simple, as well, so users can easily select the exact item they want.
- Communicate product availability. This is particularly important if availability differs for various colors or sizes of the product. Users should know when items aren’t available, without having to add an item to the cart only to find out it is backordered or sold out.
- Provide clear feedback after adding an item to cart. The final step in moving a user to the purchase process is putting the item in the cart. It’s surprising how many times shoppers run into problems because they don’t not know whether an item had been placed in the cart.
Inadequate feedback causes many problems. Some users think they have added items when they have not. In other cases, users do not realize they have added items, so they add them again and again, ending up with multiple items in the shopping cart. Worse, some users go to the cart thinking it is full of products they want, only to find out it is empty, has duplicate items in it, or contains only some of the desired products.
What works better is to either display a conspicuous persistent window or layer notifying the user that the item has been added or take users to a different screen which confirms that the item was added successfully.
Product pages are where shoppers go to determine whether a product suits their needs. To be successful, ecommerce sites must first conduct research to determine the kinds of questions customers have about their products. Designers should use descriptions and images to answer user questions, help them compare products, and enable people to begin the purchase process as quickly and easily as possible.
PS. The larger the photos of the product the better.