5 reasons why your product page experience is becoming obsolete

  • Ecommerce
10 mins reading time
John Williams | April 14, 2021

It's no secret that the pandemic has changed the way we shop. Previously I discussed the experience gap that has formed as eCommerce supplants in-store shopping and how conventional methods of frictionless eCommerce no longer meet customer expectations.

The experience gap is more pronounced in omnichannel experiences where stores engaged the customer while the eCommerce channel focused on fast buying journeys. So far, software vendors, agencies and system integrators believe that more personalized, immersive and engaging experiences are the solution. But what does this mean, and where do you start?

I have been attracted to one eCommerce area that hasn't changed in decades - the Product Detail Page (aka 'PDP'). A PDP provides the details for a specific product and typically contains specifications, pricing, availability, product media, and enhanced product copy. Customer ratings, reviews and recommendations follow to add further depth. Ultimately PDPs are optimized to help customers decide on buying a specific product.

1. Assumptions are the mother of all screw-ups.

Most eCommerce sites make the same assumptions when it comes to PDPs. The customer:

  • is ready to make a purchasing decision

  • has already spent time researching the product

  • has passed through your eCommerce funnel.

These assumptions no longer hold. A customer now enters your site at any point in your customer journey. We have seen a massive increase in inbound traffic from user-generated social media linked directly to PDPs.

You literally have no control over where a customer enters your site. The commerce journey is no longer linear, and every page is potentially an entry-point. As a result, the role of PDP is fundamentally changing. Given this, it makes sense to revisit PDP and what experiences it should support.

2. The new PDP Experiences

It's easy to think of the PDP as the next landing page. However, the PDP serves a different function depending on where the customer is in the shopping journey.

The Landing Page

Start of the customer journey - exploring the product category.

The customer has entered directly into the PDP, for example, following a friends social media link. Maybe it's the first time they have been to the site and are interested in the product category but know very little about it. The PDP needs to present the product but also explain the product category:

  • what attributes essential to look out for

  • why select one product over another

  • highlight the values of the brands in the category

  • compare and contrast

  • promotions

The PDP provides a perfect opportunity to engage the customer and draw them into the rest of the site experience. This scenario is very similar to a landing or home page.

The Showroom

Start/middle of the customer journey - researching the product

The customer could have landed on the PDP from a variety of routes. Google paid search, social media or via your customer journey. The customer has researched the category and is looking for precisely the right product. Don't be fooled, as this is not just about giving them a comprehensive list of product specifications and features. The customer craves a more immersive experience, to be thrilled and have an emotional connection to the product. The PDP needs to be the showroom for the product. Immersing them in an experience filled with rich, entertaining content and product stories.

The Checkout

End of the customer journey - making a buying decision

This scenario is what we have been providing as part of the frictionless commerce so far today. The PDP provides the information a customer needs to buy the product without too much distraction - product information including sizing, options and pricing, shipping details and customer reviews.

The Information Centre

Returning customer - learning and guidance on product use

After buying and receiving the product, a customer may return to look for guidance. Such as finding out information on usage, setup, compatibility with other products or accessories and addons. Although the product's manufacturer site may provide product information such as manuals, the customer will have engaged with the PDP during their research. Providing an information centre is a perfect opportunity to re-engage with customers. However, customers will not return if the PDP is nothing more than a product specification and a few images.

3. Delivering the right experience is critical

Presenting the right experience to the customer at the right time for a specific product is where personalization can help. However, this does depend on having all the necessary content and experience elements. It's also critical that the content, data, and functionality is compatible with all digital channels and devices.

4. Product content is king

Previously, product content was limited to information and a sprinkle of so-called 'romance copy'. Images and video are associated with the product record as extended attributes for deeper customer engagement. The rest of a PDP would bake in eCommerce attributes such as price and availability and social proof through product rating and reviews. New PDP experiences have to go beyond telling you 'what' a product is and explain its whys. Examples of the additional types of content needed to fuel the new product experiences include:

  • Brand - stories about brand history, journey and values. Why buy a product from this particular brand? What are they known for, and how successful are they?

  • Product category - what are the defining features and attributes of the product in this category. Why are particular features important in specific circumstances?

  • Product type - are there types of products in the category that perform better or worse than others for specific tasks?

  • Educational - when a customer starts at a PDP and no longer has access to in-store assistants, educational content becomes essential.

  • Guides - provide rich content that helps customers understand how to use and set up the product. This content may be delivered as video or even embedded social media.

  • Campaign / promotional - promotional content can be very effective in PDP landing page scenarios. As customers are already interested in a specific area, it's a perfect opportunity to draw the customer into the rest of your site experience.

Although a lot of this content is embedded into an eCommerce site, very little is surfaced in a PDP. A customer may never see this content if the PDP is the only page they visit.

5. Why is the PDP lost in time?

PDPs seem to have been solidified in concrete. The reasons that the PDP experience hasn't changed for so long are due to:

  • Focus on frictionless commerce.

  • Limitations of content management technology used in eCommerce that hinders the reused of content in PDP locations.

  • The complexity of making changes to the monolithic eCommerce systems templates.

  • The inflexible workflows for product content management.

  • The predefined boundaries and responsibilities of backend systems such as PIM, Ecommerce and DAM.

The technology behind the PDP

A PDP is, in some ways, a nicely formatted data record from a database. An eCommerce platform template renders the PDP in most instances. But it often relies on a DAM and PIM to bring together the final experience. DAM systems provide images and video to represent the product's visual characteristics. The PIM contains the detailed specifications and attributes of the product. Product description Copy is added to the PIM or eCommerce catalogue to make it appropriate for the web.

Each of these systems has its own detailed workflows to contribute to the product definition. However, the management and orchestration of the PDP experience are usually centred in one place. For most frictionless commerce implementations, the experience is managed in the eCommerce platform. A site with heavily specified products, such as B2B sites, may be centred around the PIM. Sites selling digital products may gravitate towards the DAM.

The demand for richer content and personalized experiences makes the old methods for producing a PDP experience obsolete. We are seeing Amplience being used to augment the PDP content and bring together the entire experience.

What part can Headless CMS play in product experience?

Obviously, a CMS is an excellent choice for managing pages with complex content and sophisticated experience requirements. But what makes a MACH based CMS like Amplience uniquely qualified?

Composable: All eCommerce experiences are made up of components from many other systems. The PDP may depend on more systems than any other page. Different PDP experiences can be produced by combining various system components. MACH architectures give you the flexibility you need to dynamically compose the PDP experiences that a customer is expecting.

Object-based:  Having content as building blocks assembled dynamically for a given product and customer journey is crucial. MACH/headless CMS use content types to define content building blocks. Business users can create and build content from content types. Also, these blocks can be dynamically assembled systematically for a specific customer context.

Channel Neutral: Despite discussing the PDP in website terms, the PDP experience must be delivered to any channel or device. Since lockdown, our traffic stats showed an increase in native App and a rebalancing between desktop and mobile. Providing experiences to customers is not about optimizing for a specific channel but optimizing for your channel mix. This is impossible to do with outdated PDP template technology and requires a headless MACH approach.

Business Control: Even though the older approach used a template to deliver a PDP, it often ended up so customized that the only way to ever change it was through a developer. If you don't think carefully about how you want to manage the PDP experience, the same could be true in the MACH Architecture. MACH CMS, like Amplience, can model the experience elements in the same way it models content. Meaning business users can build and control the PDP experiences. The content's modularity also means that Business users can employ a content strategy that frees the content building blocks to be used anywhere in the customer experience.

Agility: For a very long time, businesses have managed the PDP content and experience with one hand tied behind their back. Changes take long dev, test and release cycles. Adding new types of content is fraught with difficulty due to complex and linear product content workflows. While changes seem to become harder and take longer, the need for change is becoming more urgent. By decoupling the experience away from the server and moving more code into content, changes can be made far more rapidly.

In conclusion...

The way we are shopping has dramatically changed due to social distancing. Even when things settle to a new normal, our habits and expectations have already changed.

Online is the primary channel, and as such, the frictional commerce experiences of the past are not so relevant. The PDP is a relic from past technologies. It needs a complete rethink to make it fit for today's multichannel experiences.

A move away from monolithic development and towards composable commerce is a step in the right direction. But unless you think carefully about how you want to manage and continually evolve the PDP experiences using a MACH CMS like Amplience, you could end up in a similar place.