How to write catalog copy that really sells

Catalog copy should just describe the goods, right? Wrong! Well written text can boost your sales right up. Here’s how…

Many people fail to realize that catalogs should be “written” at all. Often their objective in creating a catalog is to cram in as many products as they can with descriptive copy kept to a few mis-spelled words in tiny type squashed into a corner.  These people are the on-paper equivalent of the “stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap” species you encounter in retailing.

However in a retail environment, customers can usually pick up the products, have a good look at them, read the on-pack copy and find out all they need to know. So the fact that they’re in a no-frills environment doesn’t matter too much.  When a product is pictured in the small, two-dimensional environment of the printed page (or web page, for that matter) it’s not only no-frills but also very lonely, unless the product has the support of some well-chosen words to inform readers and encourage them to buy it.

Do you realize how important your catalog is to your business?

Considering that for many businesses and other organizations their catalog is their only shop window – or at least represents, potentially, a very significant revenue stream – you would think that everyone’s attention and skill would be focused on its written content as much as its other elements.  But no.  All too often catalog look as though the copy has been written by a spotty hooligan who has a promising future as a street sweeper.

Yes, of course some products that get sold via a catalog do not need a lot of description and the only words you need to include are choice of colors/sizes/quantities etc.  But what about the “how to order” messages?  I don’t know about you, but if I’m thinking of buying something from a catalog there’s nothing that puts me off faster than having to spend a lot of time figuring out how to fill out the form, how to pay and where to mail it, etc., in the days when that was the only way to buy. Even today when I can go online to buy stuff I’ve seen in a printed catalog, often it’s still very hard to find the URL and chances are when I get to the website the products are different, or not available at all.

It’s not rocket science: take it in steps

It’s not difficult to get the process right.  Simply work out the steps you want customers to take, write them down simply, rough out the order form itself, and then try it out on your mother, your brother, your neighbor, the milkman, or anyone else – provided they are not involved with your organization.  That’s a cheap and fast way of discovering any flaws in the system, especially small goofs that can get overlooked so easily if you’re too familiar with the whole thing.

And here’s another one.  How many times have you looked at a catalog only to find that crucial information customers should keep (like contact details for ordering, delivery information etc) is placed either on the order form itself or on the back of the page the order form is on?  The result is when you mail off your completed order form you’re obliged to mail that important information away with it.

Your catalog = your brand

There is no mystery about creating good catalogs – only common sense.  It’s perfectly okay in my view to keep your writing crisp and concise because it helps to use the space more efficiently.  But whatever you do, never lose sight of the fact that the way a catalog is written and designed says a lot more about your organization than you think.  If it is cluttered, unclear and illogical, customers will think your company is too. So remember:

  • No matter how short your text is, always include (or imply) a benefit to the customer
  • Always write to “you,” not to a third party
  • Work with the designer to make the catalog user friendly, and test it to make sure it is
  • When you’re double checking prices and sizes, etc., don’t forget to proof read the words, too

Retailers spend fortunes on the design, layout and flow of their instore displays. Supermarkets can increase or decrease their turnover by thousands, simply by moving the fresh produce from the back wall to the side wall or by putting the bakery beyond the delicatessen or by increasing the aisle width by a few centimetres.  Think of your catalog as a paper-based store or supermarket, and you’ll find it easier to give it the consideration and respect it deserves.  And just watch those sales perk up!

Power up your writing for catalogs and much more:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English




  1. […] How to write catalog copy that really sells […]

  2. says:

    How to write catalog copy that really sells…

    Catalog copy should just describe the goods, right? Wrong! Well written text can boost your sales right up. Here are some tips on how to make your words sell harder….