We’ve all been there – you buy something online and don’t quite read the description and, the next thing you know, 5 kilos of apples turns up instead of the 5 apples you thought you were ordering. Oops!

Most of us react to these mistakes with good humour although it’s remarkable how long we remember them. Years ago now, I thought I’d found a perfect laundry basket and it was a real bargain too; no wonder, as the basket that turned up was of course absolutely tiny! I hadn’t read the sizing information carefully, and in my excitement had filled in the gaps in my mind. It happens, we’re all busy and it’s easy to click buy before reading the entire description and buying information.

These stories make for funny anecdotes, but confusion about products can be real a nightmare for online retailers when it causes disappointment to customers. How do you turn the experience around for them if what they imagined they were buying doesn’t exist, or is very different in reality?

Buying something online is easy – but making the buying experience clear and easy is not always easy at all! Mistakes are most commonly made in relation to the size or quantity of products, and any additional features. If you’re selling unframed prints and your photos show them framed, it’s easy to see why some buyers may be disappointed when the frame isn’t included after all.

Often, the smaller your items are, the harder it is to judge their actual size on screen too. Back when I had an online fashion jewellery shop, some of the most disappointed customers I encountered had imagined the earrings or pendant they were buying would be smaller or larger than they were. Thorough item descriptions are often not enough because most people either don’t read them, or even if they do, our imagination is so powerful it fills in any potential gaps and builds a picture of something different. Descriptions and technical details are also sometimes not enough. Unless you regularly deal with such measurements, most of us also struggle to easily picture what a 5mm or 12mm earring really looks like or how much perfume comes in a 10ml bottle.

So, what can you do to prevent any disappointment?

As the old adage says, a picture’s worth a thousand words. One of the best ways to prevent buying mistakes in the first place is to have really clear product photos. The ideal product listing has a main photo that shows exactly what you’re selling. No extras, no fancy setting, just the item, clear at a glance for anyone eager to click buy before going through all the other details you’ve no doubt spent a lot time writing up.

In addition, it’s often really helpful to add a photo that shows something else for scale. This should be an everyday item, something we all see and touch often enough to know exactly how big it is. With small items, I often opted to include a photo of it on my hand.

Be mindful of using too many photos that show a larger quantity of items than you’re selling. Beautiful compositions, flatlays and group shots are perfect on social media but can cause real confusion in your shop. If your photo shows 20 cookies but the pack actually includes 5, it’s easy for customers to miss this and imagine they’re getting many more than they actually do. (And who wants to receive a disappointingly small delivery of cookies?!)

Clear photos set in context are also really helpful if anything you sell is more unusual – it may be obvious to you after you’ve sold it for a year, but not so obvious for a first time customer. You know the giant cookies you sell are a certain size, or that your best selling mini plant pot is really, really mini. Your customer views it from their own perspective and might imagine something quite different.

I once had a tutor who made us really think about well-known theoretical concepts by asking us to describe them to her as if she was alien who had just arrived on Earth. Sometimes it’s really helpful to go back to basics with your online shop too – how would you best show someone what this product is like if they’d never seen one before?