Comforting the Terrified, or: How to Build Better Product Pages

Joel Klettke details what to include on a product page to alleviate consumer fears surrounding cost, delivery, product quality, and more.

Imagine for a moment that you’ve been asked to build an airplane.

You’ve been given a list of basic criteria: it must have wings, an engine, a nose, a tail, ailerons and landing gear… all the essentials for flight. Wasting no time, you get to work incorporating all the different pieces until you’ve built a little twin-seat Cessna.

The client comes back, infuriated. “I thought I told you we needed to build a plane!”

“But we have!” you reply – and you’re not wrong. Your plane has everything the client asked for – everything the experts said was necessary for flight.

“Yes, but we needed an airbus to carry 500 people across the ocean. Didn’t you get our list of components?”

And there’s the problem. You knew all the requirements, but had no framework for their use. You had no clear direction as to the type of plane to be built – or more importantly, who it was really for. While both planes can fly, one will accomplish what the client needed it to – and one won’t.

Imagination hats off. Back to reality.

I could sit here and type up an exhaustive list of essential elements for effective product pages. I could tell you that high-res images are always a good idea, product descriptions are essential and that your call to action should be prominent.

And then?

Well, you could rush off to build your product page, incorporate every component I mention – and still fail miserably.


Why? Because you lack a framework for their use. You know they’re important, but you may not know why, or how to best use them for your unique scenario. So while your product page accomplishes the base minimum of presenting your products to customers (aka: flying), that’s really just the beginning.

What I want to try to do today is present a framework that will help to guide where things are placed on the page, what content is written and which photos get used. A framework that anyone – regardless of the product being sold – can use to build a product page that accomplishes what their audience needs it to.

To do that, I’m going to play amateur psychologist for a bit.

Every transaction is a glass case of emotion

When you really peel back the curtain on what’s happening during the process of making a purchase, it’s an awful mess of emotions. The buyer goes through a bit of an emotional roller coaster before, during and after a purchase.

We might say we believe that to be true – but it’s hard to imagine a customer laughing, crying, or sighing with relief along their path to purchase. Emotions needn’t be overtly expressed to be present – they’re mostly an internal dialogue that the buyer themselves may not even be aware of.

In the words of Joanna Wiebe of CopyHackers (a top-notch copywriter, brilliant on the subject of convincing and converting customers), conversions happen when a customer has:

  1. Had an emotional response to the product (or more likely the benefits associated with it) and
  2. That emotional response has been justified by logic and reason.

Let’s tie that into another important idea: psychologist Dan Ariely asserts that:

“The better a site’s users feel about their transactions, the more likely there will be repeat visits and, more importantly, repeat spending,”

There’s just one, giant emotion that gets in the way of all that.

Fear is the greatest Enemy of Conversions.

Before we can elicit an emotional response positive enough to motivate a purchase, we have to cast out the underlying fears the customer has (remove a negative emotional response).

We tend to shrug off the idea of “fear” as an exaggeration.

Fear has cousins; they look a bit different, but they’re all related.

Fear creates worry. Worry is the underlying emotion behind the uneasiness felt by a customer as they evaluate a purchase decision. That uneasiness manifests itself in the form of questions. For example, here are questions that might emerge in a logical order as the buyer views your product page:

  • What are they selling?
  • How will it address my need/improve my life?
  • What makes it better than other options?
  • How does it work?
  • How do I know it will actually work?
  • Who else is using it? What do they think about it?
  • Can I afford it? Is it a good price?
  • How do I buy it?
  • When and how will it arrive?

Every element of a product page must be aligned to answer those questions and alleviate that fear. This is the key to understanding how to use the “essential elements of a product page” the right way. This is how you build the right plane.

From this, we can gather that the overall objectives of a product page should be to:

  1. Alleviate both pre-existing fears and those that emerge during research,
  2. Elicit a favourable emotional response, and
  3. Support that response with rationale that reinforces the purchase decision. 

Let’s take a look at how we can apply this framework to the essential page elements you’ve heard about before to build more effective product pages:

pricing, Shipping and returns 

  • Prices should be obvious. It should be immediately apparent how much a product costs within microseconds of viewing a product page. Hidden costs will always introduce questions the customer is uneasy to proceed without answers to.
  • Discounts should be MORE obvious. Leverage the psychological tendency known as anchoring. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, for good reason; we tend to judge value based on the first number we see/hear or on irrelevant factors. Show your customers a price they could be paying – and then show them the lower sale price they’ll actually pay. The internal dialogue shifts from “Can I afford this?” to “Can I afford not to buy this?” The deal becomes the focal point and the fear of paying too much is put to rest.


  • Comparisons change minds. When customers are unsure if they’re getting a good deal, they’ll leave your site to research competitor pricing. Eliminate that journey and allay the fear by putting comparisons front and centre.
  • Pricing information should be complete (Show shipping!) For the same reasons mentioned above, showing your customers the complete cost (shipping included) as early as possible dispels worries surrounding the total cost of a purchase. There’s also a staggering amount of support for the idea that free shipping eliminates one of the primary points of conflict for consumers – so consider it.
  • Show customers the next steps. Shipping methods and times should be clearly displayed. Not having this information introduces doubts as to whether or not products will arrive in time and intact.
  • Wipe out worry with a transparent returns policy. As noted in this excellent piece by Time Magazine, nothing can knock the wind out of your puffed-up brand image faster than a returns policy that doesn’t match your friendly face forward. Even juggernaut Zappos has a 25% return rate – but that needn’t be a drawback. In fact, it can be a chance to shine and earn repeat business. Make sure your return policy is easy to find, and easier to understand.

Stock Information

  • Introduce fear with scarcity. It sounds a bit evil to “introduce fear”, but statements of scarcity related to how much product is in stock introduce a sense of urgency rooted in fear: the fear of missing out. Use stock information to introduce the risk of the customer not getting what they want. We are, as a species, generally risk-averse.

Images & Videos

  • High-res images are powerful  not because there’s some magic in a specific resolution or pixel count, but because they allow users to see the small details of a product and zoom in on the ones that they’re most concerned with. There’s a fear inherent in online shopping because consumers can’t hold the product in their hands and inspect it closely. Le Chateau does a great job of this; you can zoom in on their products right down to the last stitch:


  • Include multiple angles. For the same reason outlined above, showing multiple sides of a product (or a 360 view) eases the uneasiness of not knowing exactly what you’re getting.
  • Multiple angles aren’t enough. – if you really want to alleviate underlying fears, choose images that show the products being used in a context your customer can relate to. Putting new concepts in familiar contexts eliminates questions surrounding how a product is used and who it is for.
  • Show every significant variation. If your product can be customized or comes in multiple colours, etc., have pictures for each. What seems like a small variation to you may introduce significant worries for the customer (e.g. is that the right shade of green?). Converse does a killer job of this, showing every available color and option for a style with a single click:


Product descriptions

  • Focus your key message/pitch on those features and benefits most directly tied to the underlying fears created by the customer’s specific need.  Too often, product descriptions are long-winded as writers struggle to stretch them out to a predetermined word count or to fit a template. For example, someone buying an office chair likely cares more about comfort and design than the fact that the chair was manufactured in Canada – and a $5,000 watch needs a different selling approach than a $25 Timex.
  • The depth of the content required isn’t arbitrary. While SEO considerations will play a factor, you can gauge the amount of copy you’ll need by assessing the severity of the risk for the customer (or, for our sake, the depth of their fear). If the consequences of a poor outcome are severe (e.g. Customer is buying a new software to be used company-wide) or the need to be filled is dire (e.g. Customer is buying a home security system), anticipate the need to build an extensive case surrounding purchase. If the outcome is more trivial (e.g. Customer is buying a new t-shirt), associated fears are less intense. Get out of their way and let them buy.
  • Create context surrounding both the product’s benefits and the user. For example, telling a customer a chair is “ergonomically designed” does little to tell them why that feature is worth caring about. so it does little to alleviate the underlying concern of whether or not a product solves a problem. When a benefit is put in context, the same feature is more compelling: “Ergonomic design means you won’t suffer poor circulation or back pain, even after hours of sitting.”
  • Include specifics appropriate for the context. Small details can be a big deal – like the dimensions of a couch, or the sizing chart for a pair of shoes. Just like a high-res photo allows customers to zero in on the details they’re concerned about, including product details critical to the customer’s enjoyment of the product (Will this fit in my house? Will it fit on my feet?) arms customers with fear-destroying information.

Social Proof

  • Place pull-quotes & testimonials near areas of anxiety. There are places on a product page where anxiety is introduced – the price chief among them. Intercept fears before they have a chance to strike by placing a logical justification (“Hey, I tried this and loved it, you will too!) near an emotional epicentre (“It costs HOW much?”)
  • Select testimonials deliberately. Instead of sharing every testimonial you have, choose those that affirm the value of the key features or benefits you’ve made central to your product pitch. Empathy is key – far more convincing than a glowing review is a glowing review from someone just like us, who solved the same problem we have thanks to the benefits you’re touting throughout the copy.
  • Don’t just show reviews, compare & contrast them. The concerned shopper wants to hear both sides of the story. If you only show top positive reviews, you leave a gap in information that may drive them to seek out a second opinion – which could mean leaving your site.
  • Give feedback a face. Social proof can be made more compelling by adding a title/position (ie: John Smith, CEO of FakeCompany) – but if you really want to earn the trust of a lead, show the face of the person giving the feedback. Faces are harder to hide behind than disassociated names.


Above: Modcloth uses several trust signals, from customer photos to body measurements, to prove that the people reviewing are real, live human beings.

Upsells and Cross-Sells

  • Tie upsells into a clear benefit to the customer. Similar to using scarcity to drive a purchase, you can leverage customer worries and fears to sell them more – or better – products. For example, introducing free shipping once the customer has reached a purchase limit is one way to upsell (the focus shifts to earning the “free” shipping, even if it takes more money). Other appeals include jealousy/inferiority (“Others also bought…”) Slippery Slope (“Own all 3 editions in this collector’s series!”) and the more friendly appeal of completeness (“These products compliment your purchase/are necessary for your purchase to function.”)

Amazon are masters of this kind of mental manipulation, going so far as to combine pricing and grouping frequently purchased items together:


Trust & Quality Signals

The implication here is obvious; verifications of quality, security and legitimacy all play to the customer’s fears of getting ripped off or compromising their valuable information. As with testimonials and pull-quotes, the question is not whether you should use them – but where to place them. The answer is near areas of anxiety, just like the price/payment methods.

Fear First. Love Later.

Before getting all kooky with product pages and throwing in heavy doses of “branding” and “personality,” set your mind to obliterating the frictions caused by fear. When those elements are not only present but carefully positioned, you have a solid foundation for building in the elements of branding and personality that delight your customers. Without the shadow of fear hanging overhead, their emotional responses will have infallible logic to fall back on – and that’s the way you win the purchase.

responses to “Comforting the Terrified, or: How to Build Better Product Pages”

  1. ATAgnello says:

    This was a great read, Joel! I’m glad to see ecommerce getting some love on the blog!

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