14 Words That LOSE Money

Written by  December 27, 2007

Dollar sign with up and down arrowsDuring the recent holiday shopping season I noticed many stores using terms that contradicted their intended purpose (to increase sales).

As I continued to come across these, it reminded me of a book I read years ago that said words are grouped words into two categories. Those which “Lose Money” and those words which “Make Money”.

Since that time, I have carried a “partial list” of words from each category with me and review them whenever I write. I attempt to make sure when I write and where appropriate, those words which are on the “lose money” list are not included in my copy, and at least some of those on the “make money” list are included.

In reviewing ecommerce sites this holiday shopping season, I noticed a number of words that fall on the “lose money” list being used without regard.

In some cases, it may seem unavoidable depending on the circumstance, I realize that. However, take note of the 14 “words that lose money” which I have listed below and the examples I show of how they may be rephrased to become “money words”.

If you are using any of these words in your store, you may be jeopardizing potential sales before you even have a shot at your real goal of making money. In effect, you are asking your customers to “purchase your product” by using contradictory words that actually lose money.

Here’s the list

  1. Price
    This may be one of those “unavoidable terms” and in fact is one that seems to be expected in ecommerce sites, however, it might be worth testing different terms, or leaving it out completely (instead of saying “Price: $xxx” consider just listing the price as “$xxx”). Again, this depends on the site.
  2. Cost
    Again, possibly another unavoidable term on an ecommerce site, but one that is worth testing.
  3. Sign
    Do you ask your customers to “Sign In”? If so, you could be scaring them away before they ever complete a sale. If you must speak in terms like that, consider phrases such as “Log in”, “For your convenience, enter your details below”, “For faster checkout, enter your information below”.
    (“Sign in”)
  4. Buy
    Do you have buttons on your site that say “Buy Now”? Consider altering those to something more friendly such as “Add to Cart”, “Add to Bag”, “Put in My Cart”. I’ve even heard conversion tests show that a phrase such as “Proceed to checkout” works (but have not tested it personally).
  5. Expensive
  6. Deal
    Instead of saying “weekly deals” “monthly deals” etc… consider rephrasing to use the word “Sales” or “Specials” instead. The word “deals” could imply the products on the site might be considered “cheap”. On the contrary, listing some products as deals could cause other consumers to think the rest of the products must be “overpriced” ordinarily. The ultimate perception is in the eye of the consumer.
  7. Sold
    Do you list products as “Sold Out”? If so, consider rewording to say “Out of Stock”, “Not Available”, or removing the product from your catalog totally until it becomes available again.
  8. Charge
    Do you say things like “Charge Information”, “Charge Card”, “Charge Your Account”, etc…? If so, consider rewording to something more user friendly such as “Billing Information”, “Credit Card”, etc…
  9. Try
    When cross selling products, do you say things like “Try these other products you may like”? If so, consider rewording to something like “Other items of similar interest”, “Other products you may also like” etc…
  10. Bad
    Examples of usage you want to avoid are “Bad Login” and “Bad Credit Card Number”. Reword to read “Incorrect Login” or “Invalid Credit Card Number”.
  11. Lose
    Under the right circumstances, saying “You cannot lose” or “You have nothing to Lose” might mean you have already lost. Rephrase to state a bullet list of customer benefits from the product instead.
  12. Complicated
    Instead of describing a product as “not complicated” say it’s “easy to use”
  13. Risk
  14. Obligation
    Watch out for the double whammy “Risk Free No Obligation” statements.

The above is only a partial listing of words to look out for. They are the terms I most frequently see mis-used on ecommerce sites.

The results you get will vary based on your target market, user demographic, product offering, and more. The key is test different variations against each other to determine which works best for your market. Use your imagination to find terms that more appropriately speak from the customers perspective and fit your needs, but don’t get too creative. That too can have an opposite effect.

Finally, remember what works in one market may not work in another.

Updated 2/10/08
I wrote another post recently to go along with this called 200 Words That Make Money.

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21 Responses to “14 Words That LOSE Money”

  1. SEO Canada on December 28th, 2007 3:49 pm

    Nice posting. I’m definitely going to make a note of those tips. Cheers.

  2. geekiegirl29 on January 20th, 2008 12:45 am

    “Cost is only an issue in the absence of value” Unknown

  3. Tyler on January 20th, 2008 8:49 pm

    Interesting post with unique content.

    Thanks for the post.


  4. Rob on January 27th, 2008 10:24 pm

    Good post… the basic idea is to limit the use of negative words, even if one is trying to state something positive.
    I have to disagree with “Log in” in favor of “Sign in” however, because for those who don’t live and breathe computer systems every day, “signing in” is a much more familiar action to take than “logging in”. The basic idea with that point is to avoid using technical terms when speaking to non-technical customers.

  5. Megan on March 7th, 2008 5:35 am

    Great Article. There is so many negative words people use in closings that will have them lose the client. However there are times when agreeing with the customer about a negative comment. People don’t always want a overhyped statement. Sometimes the truth will work to build respect and have them signing up by creating the trust factor.

    Megan Vaillancourt

  6. Chester on July 7th, 2008 4:19 am

    this post makes me think. =) Let’s see if there’s any increase in sales by using the right words u suggest.

  7. Eric Leuenberger on July 7th, 2008 10:20 pm


    The following post may help with that.
    200 Words that Make Money

    However, keep in mind that just using those words alone (with no other factors taken into consideration) on an ecommerce site will not increase sales. However, as you may know from reading my blog, they are one element that plays into the entire customer experience.

    If used in conjunction with the a number of other factors, I can tell you they absolutely do increase sales conversion. This includes on ecommerce sites, proposals, landing pages, and just about anything else you can imagine.

    Would you rather “buy new tires”, or “invest in your safety”? Although the both refer to the same product, you’ll see in testing that the majority of users will respond to “investing in their safety” before they react to “buying tires.” That’s human psychology for you. 🙂

  8. Justin Brooke on February 11th, 2009 5:23 am

    Interesting to note that these are the words that allow for the internet marketer lose money. Thanks for the information and this is duly noted.

  9. myinternetbusiness on March 9th, 2009 4:32 pm

    Great post, I agree with most of your list and it’s very important as you say to not lose your customer.

  10. Jay McCormack on August 10th, 2009 10:05 pm

    Nice article and good advice. Don’t suppose you recall the name of the book you got this from?

  11. Eric on August 11th, 2009 8:39 am

    I don’t recall the exact book name unfortunately! I’ve got these printed out on a piece of paper (notes from the book). It’s been a while. If I turn up the name here I’ll certainly post it. I tried to search the Internet for it here and couldn’t find anything that reminded me of it.

    Will look some more.

  12. Michael on September 2nd, 2009 3:20 pm

    Thanks for putting them all in a handy list.

  13. Jonas on October 9th, 2009 9:49 pm

    Please, for the love of god, give me a plain language “Buy” button instead of having to jump thru 97 linguistic hoops.

    Before tweaking language how about MAKING THE SITE EASIER TO NAVIGATE.

  14. Nathan J. Brauer on November 12th, 2009 9:30 pm

    As a former sales manager, I can tell you everything on this page is right on. One thing to take into account though is the word “expensive”. This can be a selling point but it takes skill to use it properly (and usually only in direct face-to-face sales). For example, if selling something like Snap-on Tools the representative could say “Mr. Jones, what I have to show you today is not cheap. It’s actually very expensive stuff. Which I’m sure you’re very glad to hear, right? ‘Cause good/quality products don’t come cheap and cheap products are never good/quality.” As you progress, you continue to show how expensive it is without saying the price. The ultimate goal is to get them to think that it will cost them more than 4 times the price than it really is. That way, when you do tell them the price, they breathe a sigh of relief. I’ve even had clients jump for joy (almost literally) when I told them the price at the end because they were so glad it wasn’t the price they thought it was.

  15. 113Tidbits on December 16th, 2009 3:01 am

    I’ll definitely be keeping these in mind when i write my next article for my clients/ Great post, bookmarked ya for more.

  16. George on June 19th, 2011 3:59 pm

    Especially word “buy” scars of potential customers. That’s why most internet marketers use words like “discover”.

  17. Samuel on June 23rd, 2011 3:56 pm

    I never thought about these words like this before. You’re absolutely right. Cost, Deal, Sold. They seem to be very rough words. Thanks for sharing. I had written them down even before I started writing this comment.

  18. Charleen Larson on July 6th, 2011 10:26 am

    Thanks for the timely reminder about negatively weighted words.

    I wouldn’t go off the rails making up euphemisms, though; that could get very amusing in a corporate-speak kind of way.

    “buy earrings” turns into “investing in lobe enhancements” 🙂

  19. Mike Blingin on October 29th, 2011 6:52 pm

    Deals direct might disagree with you on the word deals…

    I think some of these words may apply more to a sales person doing his speal and would be words not to use to scare of the customer rather than an ecommerce website where I’d think words like Price and Buy are what people are looking in a shopping website and have no sense of being pressured in to buying.

    I could be wrong, and would love to see some stats.

  20. Eric Leuenberger on October 31st, 2011 12:29 pm

    Good points Mike.

    Here’s more thought for you that might make you reconsider:

    The “Add to Cart” button:
    – suggests that the ‘checkout process’ does not start by clicking it, rather, the ‘buying process’ starts. The result can mean increased avg. order values using Add to Cart thus resulting in more sales.

    – It is not imperative (or urgent)

    – It creates the subliminal idea of a cart (you don’t use a shopping cart to buy one product typically … rather you add multiple items then move toward a checkout.)

    The “Buy Now” button:

    – Is very strong and imperative (creates urgency). It’s ‘in your face’ selling.

    – It suggests that once you click on it you will start the checkout process (not continue shopping and adding more items to your cart.)

    – It suggests somehow an emergency (again, urgency). Buy it now or it may be gone.

    As a result, use of the Buy Now button tends to result in lower average order values and thus less sales.

    I find the “Buy Now” button works for sites like Yugster.com, Woot.com etc… where the ‘deals’ (yes, that word fits for those types of sites as well) are not only limited, but are ‘must act now’ type of offers.

    Buy now implies you ‘act immediately’, get your one item, and move toward checkout. Hurry or you might ‘miss it.’

    Another thing to look at are the major retailer sites. You’ll find very few if any ‘Buy Now” buttons on major retailers that are in the top ranks of ecommerce. Yes there are those that use it (and if you notice, you’ll feel like when they do use it they move you toward the checkout rather than push ‘more shopping’) but when you look at majorities, the overwhelming majority choose Add to Cart over Buy Now.

    Major retailers continually test what works and what doesn’t. If Buy Now was more effective than Add to Cart they would all have that in place instead.

    I have the benefit of working with a number of retailers (both international and small one person operations) and in my testing I continually find Add to Cart out performing the Buy Now (in the instances we speak of here.) So from my experience, it holds true.

    As far as words like “Price” go, they have a place as well (at the right time.) If you are the type of site like QVC.com is where you offer three different prices (retail price, their price, our price, concept) then the use of the word ‘price’ tends to work.) If however you offer only one price (outside of the occasional sale price) then the better thing to do (I’ve found this to be true through testing as well) is to leave the word ‘price’ completely out of the equation (opting to only list the actual dollar amount alone.)

    ‘Price’ implies ‘cost’ / ‘parting with money’ / ‘something that is ‘pricey’ or ‘expensive’.

    None of these sit well with human buying thoughts. Nobody want to part with their money. If they could hold on to it for ever and still receive the goods they would.

    So rather tahn put a negative thought in their head using the term, leave it out so they stay ‘positive’.

    Once again, watch what some of the major retailers do. In cases as I speak of here many opt to leave the term out. Its negative connotation just isn’t worth it.

    What comes to your mind first when you here the word ‘Price’? What comes to mind when you hear ‘Free’? the feeling each conveys is quite different.

    The best you thing can do is test your own site. Try a buy now button for a good sample size and then alter it to an Add to Cart button. Measure the difference and decide for yourself. What works for one business does not always work for others so it benefits to always test.

    Thanks for the dialog!


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