UPGRADE Magazine

From Awareness to Purchase:
How to "Package" Your Product Online

By Valorie Cook Carpenter, Principal, Market Savvy Consulting

Is there an SPA member company which doesn't have a web site with information on its products or services? Yet, just how effective is it in converting site visitors to customers? Learning how to "package" your product effectively online is becoming critical to maximizing your sales through all of your channels of distribution.

From Awareness to Purchase -- Online

Let's start with the basic assumption that you have already found effective ways to create awareness of your web site and to drive traffic to it. If you haven't, the rest of this article is irrelevant, since no one will visit your site and be exposed to the product information you provide! So, at this point you've gotten a potential customer to visit your web site -- now what?

Package? What Package?

On the surface, it would seem that a retail package is an anachronism online. After all, of what use is a physical package in cyberspace? In fact, potential customers on the web still need the same sort of information that a good retail package provides. It is this information that moves your site visitor through the consideration process from awareness to a purchase decision.

Most e-commerce retailers -- or "etailers" -- display a representation of the physical packaging of the products they carry. For example, jumpmusic.com, which sells music performance products to amateur musicians via the web, displays the front cover of the sheet music and songbooks it sells -- right next to the title and price. It also shows the packages for the hardware and software products it sells, including Piano Discovery System 3.0 and Piano Discovery for Kids. You can maximize customer recognition of your products across all of your channels of distribution by including the front panels of your retail packages on your web site, whether you sell directly from it or not.

Green is Green is . . . Sickly Yellow?

However, be aware that the colors you so carefully selected for printing on your retail package may not translate well to the myriad of computer monitors on which your potential customers will view your web site. Also, note that your product name and logo design become much more important on the text-oriented web versus the retail shelf, where shelf impact is king and is often achieved through color and graphics rather than words and fonts. So make sure your package and logo design look good on the "worst case" computer monitor with just 256 colors, and that your product name is communicating what you want it to.

Downloading . . . Still Downloading???

Also, check out how long it takes to download your package front panel on your web site. Remember that a significant percentage of your site visitors may be using 14.4 or 28.8 modems. Patience for downloading complex graphics is virtually non-existent on the web. It's always a good idea on the web to give viewers the option of whether to download time-consuming graphics or not.

If your package doesn't perform well on either or both of these key factors of attractive colors and download time, consider modifying the image you use on the web to correct the problem. For an example of how to do it right, take a look at purple-moon.com, the 1998 Codie award winner for "Best Debut of a World Wide Web Site". The background color of this site is in fact bright purple (at least on my monitor!), with an engaging graphic which nonetheless downloads very quickly. Cute -- and the perfect image to appeal to its pre-teen girl target customer.

The "Back Panel" of Your Web Site

The product information you provide on your web site is equivalent to the back panel of your retail package, plus any in-store merchandising material, data sheets, etc. you provide to potential customers.

However, a crucial difference between physical and online delivery of product information is the amount of information that can be provided. Space is extremely limited on the back of a retail package and on in-store merchandising materials such as data sheets, flip books, etc. Not so on the web! There is virtually no limit to the amount of information that can be provided in cyberspace. So, is this the perfect opportunity to describe every product feature in exhaustive detail, thus warming the hearts of the entire development team? NO! Providing too MUCH information can actually reduce rather than enhance sales -- especially if it's poorly presented.

Consider this: In many ways, the web environment is no different from that of a retail computer store. Some customers know exactly what they want and go directly to where it is located. Other customers are browsing, looking for more information or simply something attractive to buy on impulse. Your retail package must serve both customers -- and so must your web site.

The Siren Song of Unlimited Space

There are several keys to not overwhelming your site visitors and thereby driving them off your site -- and the name of the game is to keep them at your site, not let them leave for some other site!

One is a well-thought-out directory structure, in which information is presented in manageable chunks, with greater and greater detail provided at the viewer's option as they -- not you -- choose to drill down on specific topics of interest. For example, Discovery.com, the 1998 Codie award winner for "Best World Wide Web Site", organizes its extensive product offering by category -- videos, CD-ROMs, books, telescopes, gifts and gadgets, and apparel. Even though they sell a diverse line of many products, they've made it easy to find what you want.

Another key is providing a robust search capability that will assist your site visitors in locating information on your web site in which they are interested quickly and easily. This is a critical component of your web site and will well repay any investment you must make to provide this service to your visitors. Keep in mind that the average amount of time a person spends on any particular web page is 15 seconds -- make sure your site keeps them involved!

Help Customers Find What They Want to Know Quickly

Using the front panel of your retail package will attract site visitors interested in that product to the appropriate section of your web site quickly. Once they get there, make sure your product information is easy to scan -- just as you would on your retail package or your data sheet. For textual information, use headlines, subheads, and bullets -- not paragraphs of copy that's hard to read, especially on a computer monitor.

Key Information

Here's a laundry list of the kinds of information to provide:

  • a why-to-buy statement that succinctly communicates why your target customer should buy your product, ideally in 4 to 7 words
  • its key benefits
  • a detailed feature list
  • system requirements
  • competitive comparisons
  • awards
  • quotes, reviews and articles
  • FAQs (i.e., frequently-asked questions and answers)
  • how to contact customer service
  • exactly how to buy your product
  • The bottom line? Provide all the information a potential customer needs to make the purchase decision, in the way that doesn't lose them along the way!

    Other Ways to Maximize Your Web Site

    If you offer volume licensing of your products, you may want to provide a means for potential customers to generate an interactive sales quote -- as FileMaker, Inc. (formerly Claris Corporation) does for its FileMaker Pro 4.0 relational database product, the 1998 Codie award winner for "Best Business Software", at filemaker.com. You can also use your web site to promote your products and/or company. For example, Intuit is currently running a "Women in Balance" contest for its Quickbooks product on its web site at quickbooks.com. Software companies selling enterprise products may promote their seminars, trade show schedule, etc. on their web sites.

    International Visitors Buy Products Too!

    Never forget that it's the World Wide Web -- a global resource. If your company sells its products only in the United States, your web site needs to say so. Otherwise, you need to provide information to non-U.S. residents on how to buy your products, including shipping and handling, import taxes, etc. If you're fortunate enough to have a presence in markets outside the U.S., consider putting up a local web site in the native language of each country in which you operate. In any case, be sensitive to the cultural perceptions of your company's and your product's name and packaging, including both colors and graphics.


    The advent of the World Wide Web is transforming the way business is done for all companies. Leverage your investment in your current marketing resources -- packaging, merchandising and selling materials, etc. -- by effectively translating them to your web site, and expand your total market reach.

    About the Author

    Valorie Cook Carpenter is a consumer retail marketing expert and a frequent contributor to Upgrade magazine. She is principal of Market Savvy Consulting in Los Altos, California, (www.MarketSavvyConsulting.com) and can be reached at (650) 941-0487 or vcarpenter@aol.com.

    This article is taken from the November 1998 issue of Upgrade Magazine.

    1998, Software Publishers Association. All Rights Reserved.