Testing product detail pages is a special case. The product detail page template is often the most detailed “single page” on an ecommerce site, and is the point in the customer journey that has the most impact on whether the visitor decides to add an item to cart. There’s a lot riding on your template!
And because product detail pages are so…detailed (check out our 24 tips for optimizing product page usability), it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole testing small elements one at a time, whilst missing the bigger picture.
This chapter outlines how to focus your product detail page tests on what’s most likely to move the conversion needle.
Focus on what really matters on product detail pages
Unless the customer seeks a repeat or low-consideration purchase, the product detail page makes the sale. Customers crave not only product images and descriptions, but customer reviews, Q&A and social metrics. While testing add to cart button color and placement can produce a lift (typically if your existing button isn’t already big and bold), the real gains come through optimizing your product page template as a whole.
The question to ask is does your template optimally support product evaluation so your customer can make a confident buying decision?
This means content (images, descriptions and customer reviews) is complete and easy to interact with across desktop, tablet and smartphone layouts.
Prioritizing product page elements
Focus on what influences purchase decision (persuasion) and ensure your template doesn’t make it difficult to configure and add a product to cart (function).
- Content visibility and hierarchy. Is important content visible “above the fold” on all devices? Are product descriptions and reviews hidden behind tabs or collapsed accordions? Are product recommendations placed above product descriptions and reviews? Does white space separate important blocks of content from one another?
- Content depth. Do you provide enough helpful content? Are you offering as many image views or as rich content as your competitors? Is your copy detailed enough or is it thin, stock from the manufacturer? Are you missing helpful features like size charts, fit ratings, product reviews, Q&A, or demo videos?
- Product configuration Can the customer easily make SKU attribute selections, or must she fiddle with drop-downs or inline scroll windows? Is the add to cart button juicy and conspicuous relative to surrounding design elements?
Testing variations of individual design elements within your existing template may give you a small lift, but can equally decrease your performance, and most likely provide insignificant results. And if you start off tweaking elements within your existing template, you’re making the assumption your existing layout is optimal and only requires a little bit of fine tuning. This is not optimization.
What about product recommendations?
Product recommendations are a double-edged sword. While they can guide a customer to a more appealing product (save a sale) or a complementary add-on (boost a sale), they can also hurt conversion by introducing distraction or indecision in the buyer’s mind.
Many top ecommerce sites (including Amazon) separate description and review content from product images with product recommendation carousels. This approach is akin to an in-store sales person demonstrating a product to a customer, and being interrupted mid-demo by another sales associate with different products.
Essentially, a positive engagement with a recommended product (click through) is a negative engagement with the product being viewed (click away), and this should be considered in your product page optimization strategy.
Heuristic quick fixes
A common conversion optimization myth is you must test every change you make to your site, otherwise you don’t know if it’s positively or negatively impacting conversion. Not only is this untrue, it’s a major reason why so many A/B tests provide negligible results.
Sure, you can make a number of minor tweaks to your product page and test them all against your “before” version, but you won’t be able to isolate which tweak was most responsible for the lift. You also incur the opportunity cost of not testing something more impactful.
To really move the needle and maximize your A/B testing efforts, focus on template redesigns that address the hierarchy and presentation of content, rather than a series of small adjustments.
Begin with a heuristic review of your existing template.
Ecommerce Illustrated’s 24 tips for optimizing product detail pages is a primer for this exercise, with a number of quick wins you can apply to your existing template without testing to prepare it for your first round of template testing.
You can also reference our chapter on optimizing mobile product pages for your mobile heuristic review.
The following are examples of quick-win design elements and page behavior that you typically don’t need to A/B test:
- Using alternate images and images in context
- Using hover effects instead of click-to-zoom in modal window (which requires extra click to exit)
- Opting for clickable buttons instead of dropdown menus for attribute configuration (size, color, quantity etc)
- Using a large, bold colored add-to-cart button, ideally a contrasting color to your site theme (if you’re not already)
- Making secondary calls to action like add to wishlist and social sharing icons less prominent than add to cart
- Showing clear error feedback when a product hasn’t been configured before adding to cart
- Avoiding pre-selecting a default attribute option (e.g. pre-selecting color or size)
- Including business value propositions (free shipping, guarantees, service ratings, etc)
- Making tabbed content very obvious, through unique shape or color – monitor click events on tabs
- If using expand / collapse accordions, exposing the product description by default
- Making product descriptions easy to scan (bullet points are your friend)
- Making it obvious that you have reviews (don’t bury them or hide them behind tabs, use colored stars)
If it’s a common sense change, or a small tweak that’s unlikely to harm conversion – go ahead and change it. Save your A/B tests for changes you’re not sure about and want to validate with data.
Develop your template redesign
When developing your template test, remember, the objective is to focus on what influences purchase decision (persuasion) and to ensure your template doesn’t make it difficult to configure and add a product to cart (function).
Product page evaluation framework
Review the key product page elements that influence conversion rate:
- Images (style, size, placement, alternate views, video)
- Product information (length, presentation, styling, placement; specs, size charts, fit information, etc)
- Product configuration (how SKU attributes are selected, error call-outs)
- Calls-to-action (prioritization, styling, placement)
- Reviews (placement, features, pagination)
- Product recommendations (placement, population, presentation)
Testing tip: template comparison exercise
When evaluating your template and what alternative layouts you may want to test, take one of your best performing products or categories and compare product page templates from other online retailers that sell this item or category. This allows you to compare purchase context and identify any obvious experience gaps.
Designing for you “best product first” ensures you’re crafting an experience that best fits your own business. For example, if you make the most profit from footwear, but also sell handbags and sunglasses, you want to primarily craft your template to support the footwear decision if your ecommerce solution doesn’t support custom templates by product category.
While you can certainly review live pages in your browser, I like to capture full-page screen shots with Paparazzi! for Mac. This allows me to compare each template side-by-side later, and create a folder of documents to share with my designer.
Let’s walk through a hypothetical test case, Lady Foot Locker.
Using our product page evaluation framework, we note the following:
Images – Uses only a single image view, and a relatively small product photo
Product information – Appears “below the fold” on desktop, additional information is hidden behind tabs
Product configuration – Uses clickable buttons versus drop-down menus, but applies an inline scroll window for color attributes, which obscures the full set of colors
Call to action – Placed on a gray field in right rail, with wishlist styled as secondary call to action. Bright green button, but lower contrast upon gray field
Reviews – Green star summary appears under product title, review content hidden behind tabs
Recommendations – Small merchandising zone left of product description. Only three items, thumbnails small, populates similar products and a gift card, appears below fold
A template redesign should focus on testing alternative ways to present this content to better support customers’ product evaluation.
After analyzing several other running shoe product detail page templates, I’ve selected the following two examples provide inspiration for redesign / test versions.
While Finish Line’s template also places the product description and reviews below the fold, its two-column layout provides plenty of space for color swatches and maintains the clickable size buttons. Its call-to-action is colorful and bold, and doesn’t compete with a gray field. Product recommendations display six items within the product recommendations section, and displays prices and product titles with the recommendations.
Inspired by Finish Line, Lady Footlocker could explore a two-column layout, boosting product image size and displaying all color options in the right column without a scrolling window. A bold Add to Cart button without a gray field should be used, but I suggest placing it to the right, rather than the left of the Wishlist. And Lady Footlocker should keep its star rating below the product title, and place the product description to the right of product recommendations, with larger thumbnails for related products.
Hudson’s Bay brings the product description high above the fold, and product recommendations span horizontally below the more important content, with reviews below recommendations.
The hypothesis here is “placing product description content above the fold” will increase add to cart and conversion rates, despite product configuration moving lower down the page.
My designer can now use these product pages as inspiration, along with my contextual commentary, to create wireframes for an A/B/C test.
I prefer to test two versions against my control at the same time, as it will ultimately provide me faster results than a serial A/B test, and I can get the cleanest comparison between the three versions (reducing seasonal bias, etc).
Key metrics to track
Depending on your test hypothesis and which product detail page elements you are testing, you may track any of the following success metrics:
- Add to Cart rate
- Conversion rate
- Revenue per visitor
- Average order value
- Exit rate (leaving your site)
- Product recommendation click-through (secondary metric)
- Product recommendation attachment rates (secondary metric)
- Social sharing engagement (tertiary metric)
Remember that “add to cart” is the true conversion goal for your product page. If the customer adds to cart, the product page has done its job to persuade, and hasn’t hindered this action. Make sure you are tracking this event in your analytics and testing tools.
This doesn’t mean sale conversion and revenue metrics don’t matter, they’re just influenced by more than the product page itself. Keep in mind that one product page test version may “win” on one metric, while another test version beats it on a different metric. For example, revenue per visitor may be higher with a template that doesn’t distract with product recommendations, but average order values lower when cross-sells appear less prominently. Evaluate your metrics in context with each other.
Don’t forget to segment your data by device (as your template most likely is very different on a smaller screen, even if you’re using responsive design) and by category.
Understanding how your global template performs within categories can give you insight into which pieces of content are most important to the buying decision for different product types. For example, pushing the product description further down the page may not impact accessories like hats and scarves, but might greatly impact hiking boots and helmets for which specifications are important.
Avoid testing during sale events and end-of-season, as stock availability impacts product page conversion far more than design elements. You can’t sell what you don’t have! If your testing tool supports excluding Clearance and Sale categories from your product page tests, this will give you more reliable data.
Need help with your ecommerce A/B testing strategy? Drop me a line.
Ecommerce Illustrated is a project of Edgacent, an ecommerce advisory group.