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Basket or bounce: How can fashion retailers use content to avoid basket abandonment?

British consumers spend over £16.2bn annually online on clothing, accessories and footwear, making fashion and apparel one of the most lucrative ecommerce verticals. Growing rapidly, this vertical is predicted to make up 28.8% of total UK online spend by 2020 – yet despite this encouraging trajectory, basket abandonment remains a persistent issue for the sector.

A recent report by Barclaycard revealed that 41% of UK consumers abandon an online transaction at checkout – almost twice the proportion of in-store (24%) – whilst other studies suggest a global online basket abandonment rate of 76.9%. Considering the average abandoned basket is worth £30, the UK’s online retailers are losing £18m in potential sales each year. Yet, despite widespread acknowledgement of the issue and its sizeable monetary impact, research from Barclaycard shows that 59% of retailers are unaware of the average basket abandonment rate on their own websites.

Whilst some level of basket abandonment is to be expected – whether due simply to a customer changing their mind, using the basket as a wishlist to come back to at a later date, finding a product more cheaply elsewhere, or even being put off by delivery charges – a proportion of these failed transactions are avoidable and can be alleviated by intelligent use of content at the point of conversion.  

A notable consumer study by Nielsen Norman Group found that one in five customers who fail to make a purchase when shopping online blame incomplete product information. This indicates that, in some cases, despite having strong purchase intent, browsers are failing to make it all the way through the checkout process due to lingering concerns or questions about products that haven’t been satisfactorily answered by the product description copy.

Although often treated as an afterthought by ecommerce businesses, product descriptions are an absolutely crucial part of the process of moving browsers into buyers. But what information do consumers really value, and what does a high-performing product description really look like?

Accurate information on sizing and fit

At Quill, we conducted a study of 300 female, UK-based shoppers aged 16-30 to identify their preferences when it comes to fashion product content. One key finding was that nearly two-thirds (63%) said that they were more likely to purchase a clothing item if the product description provided specific details about the cut and fit of the garment. Considering the inevitable limitations of shopping for fashion online (notably, the fact that you can’t try garments on), product descriptions have to bridge the chasm between the in-store and online experience by helping the customer understand how the item will look and fit on their body.

Evocative description of fabric and feel

Our study also found that 70% of consumers are more likely to purchase a clothing item if the product description gives a sense of the texture and ‘feel’ of the garment. Clearly, when shopping for fashion, browsers miss the tactile action of handling the item – and product copy has a pivotal role to play in conveying that sensory experience.

Simply saying a product is made from cashmere isn’t enough, however: using evocative, sensory vocabulary like ‘blend’, ‘sumptuous’ and ‘cosy’ creates a far richer impression. But it’s a thin line between evocative language and pretentious-sounding fluff. Balancing abstract adjectives with a sentence construction that suggests certainty based on experience – “It’s crafted from… so it feels” – also gives a sense of authority and confidence, making customers more likely to purchase.

Comprehensive detail on specific features

Perhaps unsurprisingly, our research also found that consumers prefer product descriptions that contain specific, value-adding details. For example, 90% of respondents said they were more likely to buy an item if the description included exact dimensions and measurements. Thoroughly detailing the features of an item – the difference between saying ‘black leather shoulder bag’ and ‘black leather shoulder bag with two padded detachable straps and secure zipped inner pocket’, for example – could help to convince and persuade an ambivalent customer to purchase.

Inspiring narrative on product benefits

Lastly, it’s important to relate product features back to their practical, day-to-day benefits to the customer. 71% of our surveyed shoppers said that they actively prefer product descriptions that relay the benefits of a particular product – for example, a zipped inner pocket is ideal for keeping keys and valuables safe, while a detachable strap may enable the customer to wear a bag both cross-body and over-the-shoulder. Bring product features to life by wrapping them up in a relatable narrative.

The above best practices may sound obvious – yet many fashion retailers persist in using sparse, error-laden manufacturer copy or a couple of cursory bullet points when presenting their products online; a level of consumer experience that would never be permissible offline. In an increasingly competitive ecommerce landscape, improving the quality of the content that users see immediately prior to purchase is one of the critical drivers of improved online performance – specifically with respect to basket abandonment, product return and conversion rates.


Ed Bussey, CEO of ecommerce primary content specialists, Quill

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