8 mins | 07 Aug, 2023

Manufacturers should consider what problems their products solve

When it comes to making a purchase decision, we humans are quite basic. There are only really a handful of drivers that cause us to spend money:

  • To create time
  • To create wealth
  • To satisfy a human need (Food, Shelter, Sex)

Nearly every purchase decision ever made can be traced back to satisfying one of those triggers. If we’re not hungry or cold, we’re trying to improve our status and surroundings in order to gain an advantage over our fellows and improve our quality of life.

Following those triggers, the purchase decisions we consider are really all about problem-solving. To nudge us towards a purchase, we need to decide will buying this thing help me solve a problem I have. The problems we look to solve are generally split into 2 camps:

  • Outward facing - Solving lifes practical problems as they arise
  • Inward facing - Solving our own insecurity problems.

The most significant areas of online sales

If we look at the data for the most significant areas of online sales we can see how those basic needs are split (and where we as a society place the highest value on satisfying our needs).

The estimated annual spend (B2C) in the top 8 categories for 2022 was:

  • Fashion: $871.2 billion
  • Consumer electronics: $765.7 billion
  • Toys, hobby & DIY: $601.7 billion
  • Furniture: $387.7 billion
  • Personal & household care: $368.2 billion
  • Food: $244 billion
  • Beverages: $207.9 billion
  • Physical media (books, CDs, video games etc.): $143.8 billion

Source: https://www.statista.com/topic...

eCommerce sales by sector graph

It’s interesting to note that even though we literally need food and drink to survive, we spend much more on making ourselves appear more attractive and improving our surroundings.

Fashion is by far the biggest area we spend on and is all about solving inward-facing problems. We spend money on the clothes that we think will make us look good, which is ultimately about making us feel better about ourselves.

Consumer electronic spending is more about solving practical problems. We typically purchase electronic goods to help us be more efficient in getting things done around the home.

Problems sell products

There’s an old cliched saying in sales that goes - ‘nobody needs a drill, what they need is a hole’. This way of thinking is true for just about everything.

  • You don’t need a new shirt, what you need is to look good for an upcoming job interview
  • You don’t need a new car, what you need is to fulfil your craving to impress the neighbour who just upgraded theirs last month.

Life is full of problems. Every day we’re trying to find solutions to all sorts of issues, some are very small, some are huge. The manufacturing industry exists to help us solve those problems. Think about that for a second… Every product you’ve ever bought was to help you achieve a goal of some kind, either more efficiently, or to a higher standard.

If we look at the top sales categories listed above, we can start to understand the thinking behind what problems we’re looking to solve by purchasing in each of those categories.

Top eCommerce sales categories (and the problems they help us solve)

Top eCommerce sales categories (and the problems they help us solve)

Some of these purchases are to satisfy immediate needs (hunger and thirst) and some are to solve life’s practical problems (washing clothes regularly). However, when you think carefully about where people spend the majority of their money, it's often about satisfying inward needs (improving your image and feeling good about yourself). There are deep routed desires at play here. We want to feel good about ourselves, we want to look good, we want to improve our surroundings and increase other people's opinions of us, and there's always a product available to help us do that.

To sell more, align your product proposition with problem-solving

We know now that consumers are doing more research than ever before ahead of purchasing a product. It’s much easier to do of course. When you search cross platform you can check out different reviews, watch videos and get all sorts of product information to help you make decisions.

The amount of research done depends on the value of the purchase. Assuming it's not a throwaway product, it's not uncommon for users to search several sites and look in some depth into the extended information available. They may not (almost certainly won't) read through all of it, but they will skim headers and zoom in on the important aspects of their particular case.

Remembering then, that the reason someone is viewing your product is to solve a particular problem they have in their life, what do you think is going to stand out when they’re skimming over a page? It’s the information that confirms they’ve found a solution of course. Ideally, the best possible solution to their problem!

There are 2 great ways to do this:

  • Create a problem-solving product proposition
  • Talk about benefits, not features

As people search for solutions to their issues, they go through a mental tick-box exercise in their heads when reviewing products that may help them. The more you can align your solution to their needs, the more likely you will stand out and be considered as a real purchase contender.

Problem-solving product propositions

A problem-solving product proposition is where your entire value proposition is framed around solving a particular problem. Some of the most successful eCommerce companies in the world focus on solving the most common of life problems. A way to really stand out is to focus on a niche problem area and double down on that. Clever marketers will look to own a particular problem and become the go-to solution provider for that space.

Problem solving company - Purflo

One company that has done that well is Purflo (the baby sleep experts). They recognised that many babies struggle with sleeping and this is a particular problem for parents (some of whom are desperate to find a solution).


Purflo Home page
Purflo Home page

When you visit their website, it’s clear their entire reason for being in business is to help parents with their baby’s sleeping needs. They don’t just list the products they have for sale online, they offer additional advice and support for parents looking for help in this area:

  • The Science of Sleep podcast provides evidence-based reasoning behind sleep problems
  • The Sleep Hub offers practical advice from sleep experts
  • Testing & Safety information provides additional peace of mind for readers
  • Proof of expertise is shown via its social media community & reviews
  • Secondary problems are also addressed by offering free delivery and payment plans

All this together shows Purflo are not just a manufacturer of baby sleep products, but a company that care’s deeply about solving this problem for parents and works hard to ensure they are able to offer truly expert advice.

Problem solving company - James Robertshaw

James Robertshaw is another company with a specialist problem-solving proposition. They have been manufacturing blinds and awnings for over 160 years and have become the UK’s leading experts in premium solar shading products.


James Robertshaw product page
James Robertshaw product page

The primary problem they solve is unwanted weather conditions, either stopping too much light and heat from entering a building or providing cover from the wind and rain. Their solutions help people reduce their energy consumption and extend their ability to use outdoor spaces. They provide evidence of that in the following ways:

  • Product pages talk about primary benefits such as controlling the weather and creating more usable exterior space
  • Sustainability is a key message throughout with content that highlights how users can be more energy efficient
  • A lot of evidence-based research is offered for further reading
  • Additional content is provided around the design and manufacturing process
  • Lots of case studies show the success of their work

This all helps frame James Robertshaw as not just expert blind makers but also thought leaders in their space who are helping to drive forward sustainability concerns.

Read more about James Robertshaw's website design.

Reframing features as benefits

If you’re not able to frame your entire product proposition around problem-solving, you can still provide solutions to your user's problems by reframing features as benefits.

Most people don't actually care about features, at least not in the same way a manufacturer does. Many manufacturers make the mistake of providing overly complex feature specifics. In some cases, this can be beneficial and something the user is looking out for (most prevalent in high-end consumer electronics). Mostly though, users are looking at features and trying to figure out the benefit this will provide. So, the more you can help with that the better.

Some examples of how you might reframe a feature as a benefit:

  • Washing machine feature ‘Rapid wash cycle’, reframed as a benefit ‘Wash clothes 3x faster’.
  • Central heating feature ‘Energy efficient controls’, reframed as a benefit ‘Save money on heating bills'.
  • Sofa feature ‘Reclining back position’, reframed as a benefit ‘Relax and unwind’.

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting removing feature information altogether, features still play an important role in product discovery. The key however is to find ways to emphasise the benefits your products deliver, extending your product data and creating content that users feel comfortable with when considering the issues they’re looking to overcome.

Presenting solutions will improve UX and lead to more sales

So how does all this help sell more products? Well, when it comes to eCommerce design, there are 2 distinct benefits to providing this kind of content.

Firstly, Improving the customer experience will drive more traffic to your online store. In recent years, search engines have become much more focused on providing results to people's search queries that will offer a better experience. User experience effects your SEO in lots of ways, and Google in particular has become very good at judging your website's UX. This is not just about load times and aesthetics, but also the content you have on offer. In short, the more useful content you provide, the longer someone will hang around and appreciate that content, which Google will then rank you higher for. So, providing solution-based content as part of your proposition, will almost certainly improve your organic SEO and bring more potential customers to your website.

Secondly, when people are viewing your products online, you’re giving them more reason to convert into paying customers. eCommerce is typically a faceless transaction, so you have to work harder to build trust that you’re the best place to buy from (another option could be found in just a few seconds). By creating content that speaks directly to user needs and wrapping this around your basic product information, you grab attention quicker and are more likely to hold it as people go through a mental exercise of figuring out if their problems can be solved here (or do they need to try somewhere else).

Final thoughts

In a world where you can look up anything in seconds, you have to provide more if you want to attract the attention of buyers. It's not enough to just post product listings and talk about features. Modern eCommerce is about identifying your customer's needs and providing the solution that best fits them. The smartest retailers know how to craft a narrative around their product propositions that lead to the end goal their prospects have in mind.

Most users are searching for simple solutions to get things done as easily as possible. If you can paint a picture of how your product fits into that story, you’re halfway towards a new sale.

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