Why You Should Optimize Your Instruction Manual

Pexels (Athena)
14Feb, 2022

The goal of every online seller, just like the goal of every brick-and-mortar seller, is to drive sales. This is why loads of marketing dollars are spent each day perfecting emails, copyediting social media posts, and optimizing listings. Sellers on Amazon and Walmart.com take an “omni-channel” approach to make sure their products look attractive anywhere they may be seen by potential customers. 

For some reason, this logic does not seem to extend to instruction manuals. Whereas foreign companies will hire native speakers to write and rewrite their Product Description Pages, they rarely devote budget resources to making sure their instruction manuals are easy to read. This is reasonable on the face of things: They already have the consumer’s money after all, so why should they care if the instruction manual is written in clear and comprehensible English?

Here’s why:

  1. Limiting returns

It is shocking that this even needs to be said, but you want your customer to be able to actually use your product. If you are already selling on Amazon or Walmart.com, you don’t need me to tell you the shocking number of buyers who end up returning a product. You also do not need me to tell you that this is bad for business. Every seller should have the goal of minimizing returns. 

What is the number one reason a buyer returns a product? Admittedly this is not great data available on this subject, but most surveys tend to agree the answer is something akin to the nebulous “buyer’s remorse.” At some point after ordering, buyers decide they don’t want the product after all. 

One reason they may end up making this decision is difficulty using the product for its intended purpose. For years it was a common sitcom trope that the father of the family would eschew instruction manuals, instead relying on stereotypical masculinity to “figure it out.” On TV, the father figure would inevitably fail and the mother would solve the problem by simply reading the instructions. 

You don’t see this bit too much anymore. My guess is that this is because viewers no longer believe instruction manuals sufficiently contain the information necessary to clearly convey how the product works. They are now typically a jumble of images, nonsensical labels, and even more nonsensical “step-by-step” breakdowns. If a consumer does look at an instruction manual or operation guide before setting up a new product, he or she is likely to come away as confused as ever. 

Don’t tempt customers to return your products by giving them an unpleasant user experience. As Marie Kondo puts it, your product should “spark joy.” Which leads us to reason #2. 

  1. Maximizing reviews

The lifeblood of success in the e-commerce business is the 5-star review. Even though many consumers will tell you that they do not believe the praise contained in the (presumably fake) customer reviews, they also are highly unlikely to make a purchase unless a product has those shiny gold stars next to its name. 

Even if customers do not return your product, do you think they are going to have positive things to say about it if they have trouble getting it to work? If you make it difficult for them, they are going to complain. And those complaints, even if directed at an otherwise perfectly fine item, are going to make other potential buyers hesitate. Having an intelligible instruction manual does not guarantee a 5-star review. Nobody is going to write that your product included the best instructions they ever read. But if the instructions help them understand how the product works, and if your product is actually good, this increases the likelihood they come away satisfied and thereby willing to recommend it to others both in-person and online. 

  1. Limiting liability

Instruction manuals typically include a “Warning” section telling users what not to do with the product in order to avoid danger. To be effective (let alone in compliance with any government regulations), this needs to be crystal clear to the user. We have a client who sent out an instruction manual that advises users: “Do not put charger in children.” Good advice perhaps, but not likely to curtain dangerous human behavior in any meaningful way. 

To avoid legal liability and running afoul of government standards, make sure your “Warning” section is written authoritatively and succinctly. You do not want anything bad to happen to your customers or their children. And you also do not want your business to be shut down.  

  1. Building trust

This circles back to reason #1. It is a truism that every online seller wants to grow its brand. That is why many pay influencers to shill for them on YouTube and Instagram. To build a lasting company, you don’t get customers to only buy one item from you. Instead, you get them to come back for more. You can even diversify your product offerings and count on sales based on your name alone. This is the key to Anker’s success

Even if your products are excellent and your influencer videos are first-rate, this process all falls apart if your instruction manuals paint you as a shoddy company that pays little attention to detail. If you act like an unserious company, consumers are going to treat you as an unserious company. Even the customers who do come away happy are likely to treat it as a flash in the pan and not necessarily look for your name when considering future purchases. 

Especially at a time when American skepticism of China is only increasing, it is of paramount importance that you give your buyers a reason to place their trust in you. If you are a foreign seller, you need to hire a company like Foxbat Media to write your instruction manuals and operation guides.