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The Rorschach Principle of Online Miscommunication

When a customer is confused about a product in a store it's easy to find a member of the staff. If a customer is unsure about a product on a website, there is no one physically there to speak to. Sure, there may be a "Contact Us" page, or even a toll-free number, but it's just as easy to click off the website and go find another one with better product information.

A common cause of confusion over a product is sloppy wording. A block of text may read one way to one person, but have an entirely different slant to another. Misplaced punctuation, spelling errors, grammatical mishaps or even a person's mood can factor into how text is perceived.

Online click-happy consumerism has left no room for ambiguity in product descriptions, advertising or instructions on a website.

This form of misinterpretation by online shoppers can be explained by "The Rorschach Principle of Online Miscommunication".

What is the Rorschach Principle of Online Miscommunication?

For those not aware, the "Rorschach Test" is an old psychiatry tool.

The "Rorschach Test" involves showning a card, with an ink splodge image on it, to a patient. The patient is asked to look at the card and say what the ink splodge represents.

The answers given can then be interpreted by the psychiatrist by comparing the answers the patient gave to a standardized set of measures, thus determining the patient's state of mind.

The test has long been out of favour in the mental health profession, but the idea of differing interpretations of the same image is very relevant to the problems faced by online retailers.

What is meant is not always clear

Online shoppers are expert browsers and skim readers

Internet consumerism has no patience for flowery product descriptions. An online product listing should be precise and to the point. Clarity often suffers when a business dismisses brevity in a product description.

Online customers will scan text for facts and details and a list of key features will be easily absorbed. Product features hidden within a long block of text, with unnecessary wording, are not as easy to pick out and may be missed.

The person writing the product title and description may think they both explicitly describe the product. However, text lacks vocal tonality and a message can easily be misconstrued, especially when non-descriptive language is used.

Titles should only include the product name and essential information. A description needs to highlight relevant data, such as: volume, size, power, accessories, etc.

Excess information, irrelevant to product functionality, only serves to confuse.

When words don't mean what they say

Here are some common description-related issues where simple mistakes lead to missed sales:


Problem: A product is titled or tagged incorrectly and ends up in the wrong category on an online store (e.g. Amazon or eBay).

Result: Customers with a need for the product never find it.


Problem: There is a product and description mismatch. The image shows one product but the title and description are for a separate product.

Result: Customers distrust the listing and are not clear if the image or description is the correct product. People looking to buy either product shown in the listing are unlikely to purchase from this retailer.


Problem: The product titles and description contradict one another (this could also occur just within the description itself). For example, a computer hard drive could state it is 5900 rpm in the title, but 7900 rpm in the description. 

Result: People will not buy a product when the details are unclear. Errors like this can make a seller look amateur or fake and business reputation suffers.

​Problems faced by bewildered consumers

There are 3 main issues caused by careless phrasing: 

1 Assumption

Customers think the product can do something it is not designed for. This will lead to product returns from unhappy buyers.

2 Confusion

Is the product for this? Can it do that? It's just not clear what the product does. If a description is unclear, customers will usually err on the side of caution and look elsewhere.

3 Exclusion

The product description is inaccurate and potential customers dismiss the product as a non-contender, even though it would be perfect for what they require.

Be clear or be left behind

A customer has already invested time and effort visiting a store and is therefore reluctant to just up and leave over a trivial matter. Online shopping doesn't involve any travel and the next store is seconds away. Calling or emailing customer service will take more time than locating an alternative source.

The fact that online stores operate 24/7 is also a big draw for consumers.

Many customers will place online orders outside of normal business opening hours. When there is no one available to call, the likelihood of losing customers through bad wording increases.

With an ever increasing number of consumers shopping online, and investigating products online before travelling to a store to make a purchase, it's never been more important to ensure product descriptions and related information are accurate and unambiguous. 

Make Shipping Easy on Yourself with the Help of Fulfillment Bridge

Once you have your site optimized, from guests checkout options and pricing to images and user generated content, your sales will start to climb. Prepare to keep your customers happy and yourself sane by taking advantage of the full suite of Fulfillment Bridge Ecommerce solutions.

When you are ready to take your ecommerce shipping and fulfillment to the next level, contact Fulfillment Bridge

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