8 Conversion Lessons from the Masters of Ecommerce
In Ecommerce, you’re either converting, or you’re losing – there’s really no middle ground. Every missed opportunity not only costs you a sale, it could cost you a lifetime customer. The stakes are high. Luckily, there’s no shortage of case studies, examples and advice out there from website who have found ways to keep customers coming back.
We’re going to look at a few of those pieces of advice and illustrate how real businesses have implemented them.
A little something to keep in mind…
As we launch into it, I want to remind readers that when it comes to conversion rate optimization (CRO), there are always exceptions. What I’m sharing are best practices, examples and actionable tips to implement – but I would encourage you not to take my word for it.
Yes, I know you’re sick of hearing it – but test everything.
What works for some – even most – may not work in the context of your site, even when there are statistics to back up the recommendation. With that stored away, let’s dive in and see what some of the best in the business are doing right:
Lesson #1: Close the “Abandoned Cart” Gap
More than half of those who begin shopping on your site won’t finish. In fact, calculated across 22 different studies, the average abandonment rate for a shopping cart is 67.5%.
Reasons for abandoning shopping carts vary, but the most common included (multiple responses were allowed) not being ready to purchase (57%), saving items for later (56%), excessive shipping costs (55%) and items not qualifying for free shipping (51%).
It’s not just shipping costs that matter - time factors in. In another study, 38% of those who abandoned carts did so when shipping time was in excess of 8 days and nearly 25% abandoned when no shipping time was shown.
Solution: Remarket to those not ready to buy.
To bring people back to complete their purchases, a remarketing strategy is key.
Example 1: Yankee Candle took count of over 41,000 visitors who had filled an online cart within the previous 60 days but not completed the purchase. To push them over the finish line, Yankee Candle remarketed to those potential customers with text and display ads offering discounts.
The result? A 600% increase in conversions at half their usual cost-per-conversion.
Example 2: Land of Nod (equity partner of Crate & Barrel) sells children’s furniture and décor. To combat abandoned carts, Land of Nod uses e-mail remarketing that is custom-tailored to the products and on-site behavior of the individual.
According to the company, they used a three-prong approach:
- An e-mail immediately after abandonment that reminds them of their cart and provides further information about the products inside
- Another e-mail 24 hours later providing insight as to how the customer could get in touch with customer service reps
- One week later, a message is sent offering free shipping.
Their recovery rate has been about 22% - which is significant, given the size of their purchases.
Solution: Alleviate Those Deterred by Shipping
Shipping costs are a big deal to consumers; both the time taken and the cost required.
- Ask yourself: If you could increase your conversions by a potential 55%, is it worth it to implement free shipping? If so, free shipping is clearly the way to go for online shopping.
- If you DO offer free shipping, advertise it front-and-centre throughout your site. This is one of the most common reasons people abandon carts and provides a good incentive to buy when available.
- Don’t hide your shipping costs until the very end. Consumers want to know as soon as possible and feel annoyed when their final cost differs from what’s initially shown in the cart.
Lesson #2: Learn the Art of Upselling
Your eyes may roll when I quote, “Do you want fries with that?” – but the fast food industry has perfected the art of the upsell, and you should too.
There’s an old “60x60” rule: 60% of customers will buy an additional product worth 60% of the one they just bought when offered an upsell. There are a lot of ways to go about upselling, from the intrusive to the incredibly subtle.
Common Upselling Approaches
- "You might also like/Other customers also bought" – We’ve all seen Amazon’s not-so-subtle reminders that there are other products out there we might enjoy. Amazon makes their recommendations more powerful by personalizing them to the user.
- "Free Shipping for Orders $___ & Up" – Nothing incentivizes a larger purchase like the prospect of free shipping, especially when the buyer is within striking range of the free shipping total. To make this more persuasive, display relevant purchases with prices that would bring the buyer within the total, as shared by Woon Cherk in his May YouMoz post.
- "Discount When you Order Two!" – For items commonly bought in multiples, offering a small discount for buying additional products can increase sales numbers.
- Reverse Rejection With Payment Plans – As noted by Neil Patel in this post, one way to recover a failed upsell is to offer the same, more expensive product again, but with a payment plan attached.
Of course, upselling works best when it’s customized to the user’s previous behavior, preferences and tastes, making “Because You Bought” another powerful upsell message.
Lesson #3: A Big, Quality Picture Says a Thousand Words
Although it will make SEOs squirm, a picture can often tell a better story than reams of text. Clean, clear imagery is essential for products like clothing, furniture, décor or anything with a heavy stylistic component.
Size of imagery matters too. In a study by econsultancy, they found that increasing image size (whether product, button or background) increased conversions in all three tests conducted.
Above: Online retailer ASOS uses enormous zoomed images, with multiple angles to view from.
That’s not cause to go out enlarging every photo you have or implementing 360 visuals, but it does present some interesting grounds for testing.
Above: Nixon uses huge product imagery that dominates their product pages, also providing multiple angles for customers to choose from.
No Stock Photography – EVER!
Of course, quality matters. In a study by the Nielsen Norman Group, stock photography was largely ignored, while descriptive, detail-orientated, “information carrying” photos were viewed heavily.
The trouble is that stock photos rarely convey any meaning. Visitors see them as meaningless placeholders instead of conveyors of trust, enthusiasm or credibility. In fact, they can have the opposite effect.
There are more excellent reasons not to use stock photography (and how to get around it) here.
But, back to images.
Why are images so powerful?
Images fill in the details and answer unspoken questions – Customers tend to shop with their eyes. The ability to zoom in on an image to get the fine-grained details will explain a product in ways no paragraph ever could.
As an example, chocolatier Godiva uses larger-than-life images to show customers just how delicious their chocolates really are and answer unspoken questions about what might be inside the shells.
Customers also want to see more than one image and multiple angles. For example, DueMaternity was able to increase conversions by 27% by adding in 360 degree image functionality. The more detailed the photo, the happier the buyer.
Images can create context – Words can only describe how a product might be used, but images can show it in action. Series of images can also provide context around how that product would be used, sort of like a visual instruction manual.
In the case of Nordstrom, they’ve used images to show context surrounding their jewelry to create context around style, fashion and fit.
Images provide comparisons – For customers evaluating multiple products – or even the same product in different colors or with differing options, images allow a lightning-fast comparison without reading gobs of text.
In one study, the Simply Group discovered that adding color options to the sales pages of products with multiple available colors increased sales threefold.
In the case of major shoe retailer Converse, every shoe in their inventory can be viewed in all available colors. It eliminates buyer questions surrounding color and gives a much-appreciated chance to preview the product.
·Images can direct attention
If you need customers to look at a form or eye-up a call to action, images can play a role in making that happen. Directional indicators like arrows create an irresistible pull for the eye, while images of people looking at items causes viewers to follow their gaze, as seen in a study by Think Eye Tracking.
Lesson #4: Color is Great… But Don’t Forget Contrast
We’ve all heard stories about how changing the color of a button resulted in a 1,000% higher conversion rate. We’ve also read the color studies related to emotion – red is supposed to create urgency, blue creates trust, green feels fresh and so on.
And while the science behind color is certainly compelling, it’s not the most aggressive gorilla in the ring. When it comes to driving conversions, contrast can be more important.
Customers are actively seeking the most critical information. Show it to them using contrast to draw the eye. It’s one of those super simple concepts that even big brands can miss.
Above: Victoria’s Secret uses a bright pink contrast to draw attention to an ongoing sale.
Above: Lowe’s uses contrasting colors to not only highlight sales, but also to draw attention to the search bar and make finding products a smoother, less ambiguous process for visitors.
Above: ThinkGeek uses contrast to draw the viewer’s eyes to the call-to-action and eliminate any confusion as to how one might go about buying.
Contrast can also be used to keep a visitor engaged as they shuffle through the information on your pages.
Contrast needn’t always be contrasting colors, either. Contrasting shapes and images can also serve as a means to make important information stand out.
Here, H&M leaves nothing on the table by using an enormous, bright red square that demands immediate attention.
Lesson #5: Take Only What You Need
Customers are protective of their privacy, and asking for too much information or information that customers feel is irrelevant can cost you the sale.
In a study by the Baynard Institute, 61% of businesses asked for “unnecessary information” during the checkout process. What do customers find “unnecessary”? It depends on the transaction:
- Multiple contact points (phone, e-mail, address)
- Personal information (demographics, age, etc.)
Nobody wants to be spammed or feel like they’ve given up more info than they should have.
How can you get around this?
Remove fields for information that is not absolutely required, make these fields “optional”, or explain WHY you need the information.
Customers are more likely to surrender personal info if you truthfully explain its use. For example, pointing out that you only need their phone number in case you need to contact them about their order is a reasonable request and alleviates concerns.
Above: Target is transparent about why they ask for customer phone numbers.
Customers are stingy about registrations, too. In another study, 30% of customers abandoned their carts when asked to register before purchase – and when probed further, that’s because 40% of those customers expected to be spammed.
Many of those same customers said they likely would have signed up for an account from a site they bought from regularly if presented with the option after purchase. Don’t get greedy with customer information.
Above: Volcom gets it right by offering buyers the chance to purchase without registration.
Lesson #6: Keep Pathways Clear
Paths to purchase and conversion should be absolutely free of hurdles, confusion and distraction. The masters are experts at keeping their buying process streamlined. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind:
1) Don’t Get Cute With Navigation; Remove Ambiguity
When it comes to finding your products, category names are of crucial importance. This is not the time to be “clever”, customers need to find what they’re looking for, and quickly.
Brands like Philips have taken one extra step in removing ambiguity by adding images to their navigation menus. That visual cue reaffirms to customers which section it is they’d like to visit.
2) Allow Filtering… But Be Careful.
Filters can cut down on shopping time by answering the questions your customers are already asking:
- Which one is cheapest?
- Which is most eco-friendly?
- Which ones are in stock?
- Which ones come in my size?
- Which products are most highly rated?
…And so on. To discover the appropriate filters, you’ll need to dig through feedback from customers to find the most frequently asked questions.
Here again, we can see the Philips has created filters that allow customers to drill down to the products they’re most interested in:
But there’s a HUGE caveat to this. Filters that are presented in an overwhelming way may actually hurt your conversion numbers. Such was the case with UK Tool Centre, who found that removing their overwhelming product filter actually increased engagement on their product pages by 27%.
Above: UK Tool Centre actually increased conversions by removing this overwhelming filter from their pages.
The moral? Keep filters simple, intuitive and non-obtrusive. Filters likely work best when customers have a clear sense of what they want; too many options will paralyze.
3) Use Breadcrumbs to Help Customers Navigate
Not only is the breadcrumb format better for SEO, it’s also better for customers. Customers will frequently want to browse multiple items within a category – don’t make it hard on them to go backward and see more products.
And while it’s a bit aged, this 2009 piece from Smashing Magazine recalls how breadcrumbs, though small and unobtrusive, can reduce bounce rates and improve the usability your website.
4) Make Checkouts Brainless
When it comes time to check out, don’t convolute the process. While most ecommerce companies understand that showing trust signals are important and that they should offer multiple payment options, other nuances of the shopping cart experience aren’t always as well understood.
- Keep calls-to-action front and centre, and make sure they stand out at every stage. Do not obfuscate your calls-to-action with other buttons or ambiguous wording.
For example, a “Continue shopping” option belongs nowhere near another button intended to drive them down further in the checkout process.
Above: Society6 keeps checking out a brainless process by using clear wording and placing buttons far from all potential distractions/obfuscations.
- Don’t make them register. A Toluna study showed 25.6% of customers would abandon a purchase if forced to register first. Registration pushes customers away from the task at hand: buying.
- Eliminate unnecessary navigation or links – and please, PLEASE don’t throw pop-ups for surveys or other such nonsense at them during the checkout phase. Wait until they’re done buying.
- Use numbered stages or a progress indicator to show customers how close they are to completion and alleviate worries that their time will be wasted.
- Be sure that a customer can see what’s in their cart at every stage of the transaction. The cart must always be visible. Enable a customer to make quick, easy changes to the cart as well to avoid them migrating back to the rest of the website.
Above: ThinkGeek not only shows users all available options, but allows them to make changes from directly within the cart. You’ll also see they’ve provided shipping charges early within the process, another smart move.
- While the checkout area should be self-contained to avoid distractions, design should match that of your website. A new design is jarring and erodes trust.
- Avoid form failure by clearly marking mandatory fields, keeping forms limited to only crucial information (as already discussed) and using dropdowns/radio buttons to simplify and expedite the process.
Also, as noted by CrazyEgg, keep the labels for the fields close to the fields themselves to reduce ambiguity that might slow a customer down.
Lesson # 7: Personalize Your Follow-Up
Much ado is made about personalization throughout the buying process. We see personalized up-sells, welcome messages, shopping carts and so on. However, there’s far less being said about what happens after you’ve already made the sale. As it turns out, personalization here is just as important as anywhere else.
First pointed out to me by Gregory Ciotti, a study from the Journal for Applied Psychology tested whether or not waiters were able to increase their tips using different levels of personalization post-meal – in the form of mints.
The study found that when waiters delivered a few mints with the bill and returned a few moments later announcing that they brought a more mints, tips increased by 23%. This was a 20% increase over the tip percentages seen when a single mint was brought with the check, with no mention of the mint.
As noted by Ciotti, “People enjoyed the follow up much more so than the mints they received: the fact that the waiter came back to see if anyone needed more mints left a positive impression after a critical marketing moment, the initial time after the sale.”
So, how does this apply to Ecommerce?
The more creative Ecommerce businesses have found ways to surprise and delight customers after the sale.
As a fun example, online video game merchandiser Fangamer includes a custom, hand-drawn packing slip with each and every one of their orders.
The response has been enormous; the slips are shared on twitter, in blogs and across forums, with several customers treasuring these packing slips like collectibles.
Other ways to delight the customer post-sale:
- Follow-up e-mails, both non-promotional or congratulatory or with special offers
- Surprise freebies in shipped packages
- A personal phone call asking for feedback on the product/service level
- Unexpected callouts on social media
Lesson #8: Social Proof is Powerful for Trust
In a much-cited stat from the Nielsen Trust in Advertising report, 92% of consumers said they trust reviews from people they know – but a startling 70% trust consumer opinions online. Most importantly, perhaps, is that 63% of consumers saying they are more likely to buy from a website that displays reviews.
As an online retailer, displaying reviews, testimonials and ratings on-page stands to benefit you in an enormous way. In another study published by the Washington Post, it was discovered that social proof was actually a greater motivator than the chance to save money.
As noted by TechCrunch, there are five kinds of social proof:
- Expert Social Proof – Approval coming from someone considered a credible expert.
- Celebrity Social Proof – Approval from someone famous.
- User Social Proof – Success stories, testimonials, ratings and reviews from those who have used a product or service.
- Wisdom of the Crowds Social Proof – Highlighting popularity or trustworthiness by citing large user statistics.
- Wisdom of Your Friends Social Proof – The influence of your peer group on your purchase decisions and opinions about products and services
While many brands now share reviews and ratings, some Ecommerce retailers have taken it a few steps further. Modcloth, for example, displays photos of their customers wearing their clothing, serving as unedited, unfiltered feedback for those considering a purchase as to how their clothing might fit them.
Modcloth has also created a user-driven “Style Gallery”, where customers can put together looks and share them with the rest of the community.
In a similar way, Zappos uses reviews to not only call out the quality of products, but also invite customers to share important information like the form and fit of the shoe. They make no attempts to hide negative reviews, which in turn instills trust in the viewer and presents a more even-keeled look at the product.
No matter how you go about it, the goal is to clearly and succinctly show potential buyers feedback from people just like them (or those they look up to) that can help positively inform their purchase decision there in the moment.
Still More to Learn
We’ve covered just a few of the literally hundreds of conversion factors out there. Landing pages, calls-to-action, wording, mobile design… the list of things to consider stretches ever-onward. That said, what’s been presented here should arm you with a few new perspectives and ideas to take back to your own Ecommerce websites.
And once again before I sign off, I want to remind you: Test everything. As we saw with UK Tool Centre, even conventional wisdom can lead you astray when left untested.