Practical Ecommerce

7 (simple, free) things to boost conversions

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle

Make it a 2014 strategic goal of your company to increase your web store’s conversion rate. Even a small increase in the rate can make a meaningful difference to sales and profitability, and there are easy and inexpensive ways to make even an incremental improvement with very modest effort.

How valuable can a little focus in this area be? Consider a situation where a hypothetical web store gets 10,000 visitors per month, has an average sale of $100, and a 3 percent conversion rate. In such a situation, those 10,000 visits nets 300 orders and $30,000 in sales.

Improving the conversion rate to just 3.5 percent would yield an additional 50 orders on the same number of visits, and an additional $5,000 per month in sales. To get the same sales impact without a change in the rate of conversion would otherwise require that the site owner get an additional 1,665 visitors to visit their store every month.

The moral of the story is that, like compound interest, even a small change in the rate of conversion over time can have lasting and dramatic results. And it is relatively easy to score even a small improvement on conversion rate, compared to trying to increase your visitor rates organically. So it is worth focusing on it.

Here are seven easy and inexpensive things to consider.

Enhance Your Product Photos and Detail Descriptions

In a recent Bizrate study, cart abandonment was linked to buyer indecisiveness, which is often caused in turn by a lack of available information about a product’s appearance, quality, and size.

At Stardust Memorials, one thing that sets us apart from a number of our competitors is our focus on providing secondary “detail” photos on our product pages. We do whatever we can to offer shoppers more than one view of a product, and in particular we want shoppers to be able to view detail photographs of aspects of the product that they might have the most concern about.

Likewise, it’s easy to put together short product videos to accompany your still photography, and those videos might appeal to a class of buyers that would not purchase on the basis of pictures alone.

This doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. For example, we’ve put together short videos that are really nothing more than slide shows of images of products using Apple’s iMovie. In just a few minutes, using the standard tools provided in iMovie, you could put together a very nice short video that highlights aspects of your products that you wish to showcase.

Uploading a video to YouTube is a snap, and it is easy to embed the video on your site. In fact, most ecommerce platforms have a way to add videos from YouTube to product pages almost effortlessly. This year set the goal of making a few product videos and then sees what impact that has on your shopper’s level of interest and on conversion rate. You might be surprised.

If you’re going to focus on photography and videography this year, I have two more suggestions. The first is to seriously consider doing your photography against a background that is easy to identify and remove in favor of just a field of white. One reason for doing this is that a time may come that you want to list products on Amazon as part of its selling program and uploaded photos must conform to their requirement of having a simple white background. You don’t want to have to reshoot everything.

The second suggestion has to do with YouTube. It’s tempting to use background music in your videos but you can risk copyright problems doing that. YouTube offers a nice royalty-free library of downloadable music that can be used in producing YouTube videos. It’s easy to add music that will keep you out of legal trouble.

Be Clearer About What You Want Your Customers to Do

This is a simple design issue. We were able to realize a small but meaningful increase in site conversion from simply changing the color, size, and associated type style of the action buttons on our product pages, view cart, and checkout pages.

Our original design had a number of virtues, but it was sometimes hard for customers to immediately see what action we wanted them to take. By making buttons like “Add to Cart” and “Checkout” more distinctive, we were able to better keep our site visitors on the path we wanted them to travel.

This might seem like such a small and forgettable thing as to hardly worth concerning yourself about, though last year at the Internet Retailer web design conference in Florida it was a theme we heard about from a number of speakers and consultants.

On every page, ask yourself, “What do I want my shopper to do next? Is that path clear? If not, look at it as a design problem. What can you do to make the path clearer?”

Provide Contact Information

Your visitors are looking for evidence that your web store is legitimate. One way to do this is by presenting them with your physical address, phone number, and customer service email address in the checkout process.

Any confusion or doubt that surfaces on the checkout screen can be a cause for cart abandonment. Not every sale can be saved, but over the course of the year, providing customers a phone number to call during checkout to get a last-minute question answered or concern addressed can save a statistically meaningful number of sales.

We use a U.S.-based call center that has been trained extensively to cover our customer service needs on weekends, evenings, and holidays. It’s a premium service, expensive, and it took a long time to get the personnel there completely up to speed. But adding that service has been the best strategic decision we’ve made in terms of capturing more sales. Frequently callers really don’t need our staff to take an order so much as they are looking to get a question answered. Don’t underestimate the value of adding even that much support to your business.

Badges, Testimonials, Returns Policies, and Guarantees

I’ve talked about this elsewhere, but it stands repeating: Getting your shoppers to a place where they feel at least some level of trust that you’re going to deliver on your promises is the single biggest problem you have to overcome as a web store owner.

We’ve all become used to seeing certain trustmarks on the websites of the largest retailers. We’re looking for evidence that the sites and data are secure, that independent authorities have vetted the company, that we can make a purchase knowing that we can return it if we’re unsatisfied, and that others have been happy with their purchases under similar circumstances.

Outside of SSL badges, I’m most impressed with membership in the Better Business Bureau, being a Google Trusted Store, gaining the Stella Service mark, and earning membership in the Bizrate Circle of Excellence. But there are lots of programs out there that can be valuable in communicating your commitment to service.

I think that Austin Canoe and Kayak does a nice job in this whole area. Browse the site. Over and over again it communicates in many ways the degree to which it has been recognized for excellence in the area of service, and that commitment to communicating that idea starts on the home page and runs all the way through to the checkout.

I have a Google Trusted Store. Earning that designation is very difficult and time-consuming, but it is the gold standard in trustmarks.

Take a trip through your own website and see where your trustmarks are presented. Have you done a good job of getting the message out that you’ve done well by your customers? Are there areas where you can make improvements? And, lastly, if you’re not a Google Trusted Store, take a look at the requirements. Are you ready this year to undertake the process of earning that certification? If so, make that commitment to the goal and get to work on it today.

Don’t Hide Shipping and Taxes

This might seem like an easy one, but it is actually more than just a matter of what happens on your checkout page. If you’re like many retailers, you probably offer free shipping and you don’t charge sales tax, at least outside of your home state.

Is that fact clear throughout your site? Is mention made of this in places where customers are likely to see it throughout the shopping experience? Is it made clear on product pages, for example, or on your “view cart” page?

And when it comes to checkout, is there continuity between what you’re saying on the home page, product pages, and pay-per-click ads and what then actually happens on your checkout page? A leading cause of shopping cart abandonment is the surprise of discovering a mismatch between the customer’s expectations of what is going to happen and what, in fact, happens. It’s an easy thing to at least review this process throughout the site and to see if you’re communicating a consistent message from section to section.

Offer Alternative Payment Options

Both PayPal and Amazon Payments should be seriously considered. In a separate Practical Ecommerce post on conversion improvement, columnist Richard Stubbings makes the point that PayPal can provide a surprising boost to your conversion rate.

He’s absolutely right. There are whole swaths of consumers that prefer to use an alternative checkout method to your merchant account. In the case of PayPal the reasons for this include the mere fact that they have money in their account. eBay sellers, for example, often find themselves with money in their PayPal account and they want to make purchases with it, rather than transfer the funds to a bank account. By offering PayPal, you’re opening up the possibility that they can spend that money with you.

In the case of Amazon Payments, it’s more a matter of convenience and security, as shoppers know that the checkout process will be quick, clear, and familiar. If you advertise on Amazon this can be doubly-important as shoppers on Amazon will often have Amazon accounts, and that will make the appeal of Amazon Payments that much more compelling.

If you don’t currently offer PayPal and Amazon Payments on your web store, just adding those as checkout options would likely raise the conversion rate on your site as much as doing any other single thing. And in both cases it’s an easy thing that you can do today.

Email Retargeting on Abandoned Carts

If you’re not retargeting abandoned carts with time-sensitive discount offers via an automatically generated email campaign, then you should at least give that strategy serious consideration.

Imagine you’re that hypothetical storeowner with the 10,000 monthly visits, the $100 average sale, and the 3 percent conversion rate. Imagine that you would like to add $5,000 to your monthly sales starting today. Let’s add some more detail to that picture.

We know that if your conversion rate does not change, you’re going to need to achieve an additional 1,665 visits throughout the month to make your goal happen. Without an alternative strategy, that might mean being forced to resort to additional pay-per-click spending. If your average cost of advertising were $1.25 per click, then the added marketing cost to generate the additional 50 needed sales, or $5,000, would be $2,081.25 in pay-per-click ads, in total, or a little over $41 per order.

But let’s just say that, on average, you get six nearly-completed abandoned carts every day. In each case the cart is far enough along to get the email address of the potential customer.

What if you added a limited-time offer of a 15 percent off coupon in a retargeting email to your existing nearly-converted shopper base instead? If that strategy were effective one-third of the time in recovering the sale, that would yield two successful recoveries per day, or approximately 60 added sales per month on just 180 abandoned carts. That’s a projected value, after discounts, of an additional $5,100 in monthly sales.

It’s true of course that a 15 percent discount on $100 purchase is a $15 per order give-a-way. In the case that we’re considering of $6,000 worth of sales, that means that you would be giving away $900 in discounts to capture a fraction of those abandoned carts. But when compared to what it would cost to get the same outcome via additional marketing spending, it is a huge value as it would have cost you more than twice that much to “buy” enough visitors to get the same outcome in terms of sales.

This scenario is oversimplified. In a more realistic situation there are a number of other factors and strategies to consider. But the general way of thinking about the question of retargeting remains the same. Sit down with a calculator and the facts and see if retargeting with a sale offer makes sense to you. With a little extra work you can probably determine how much of an offer you’re willing and able to make.

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Comments ( 7 )

  1. Elizabeth Ball January 30, 2014 Reply

    Hi Jordan,
    Great suggestions!
    I’m just starting to organise product videos after all these years but would personally shy away from background music as many customers order products at work and may not want their boss to know they’re shopping online.
    It’s also an interesting point you make about providing a discount which would offset the cost of getting those extra customers via Adwords or other means. While I have a cart abandonment email program in place, I have found the best conversion to date from an abandoned cart is from simply calling them up and conducting/completing the sale over the phone.

  2. Wendi Makuch January 30, 2014 Reply

    Terrific list of ideas! I’d also add product recommendations to the list too. Helping shoppers find what they’re looking for is a terrific way to boost conversion too.

    Good starting point is to use your platform’s “related products” (=free) but better is to use a tool that creates them based on your shoppers’ behaviors. High end options abound via Certona, Rich Relevance, but also affordable and effective options exist for smaller retailers such as 4-Tell. (Note: I work for 4-Tell.)

  3. Jordan Lindberg January 30, 2014 Reply

    Great feedback, Elizabeth! We’ve done some phone call followups, too, when the customer gets far enough down the checkout to give us their phone number. Generally, it has been a welcome phone call … it’s interesting how many abandoned carts are really not completed because of things like product or checkout confusion, rather than lack of interest in the product. And those can be addressed in the call. Nice point!

  4. Jordan Lindberg January 30, 2014 Reply

    Thanks, Wendi! Yes, I think that power of the related products feature can really be improved when the customer’s own behavior is a driver to what is getting promoted. We want to do more in the area of upselling in the future ourselves — getting the average basket value up through promotion of related items of interest to our customers.

  5. Elizabeth Ball January 30, 2014 Reply

    Hi Jordan, Not sure if you can re-organise your cart, but I did away with the login and password for customers to buy and the first thing I ask for is their name, email and phone number so if they don’t complete an order, I already have their contact details.

  6. Mike Darnell January 30, 2014 Reply

    Hi Jordan,

    I’ll start with disclosure and share that I work closely with the team at Treepodia.com – They’re the leading provider of automated video solutions for ecommerce (Clients include Walmart, Cnet, Lenovo, etc.)

    I couldn’t agree more with your points regarding the value of increasing conversion rates, and the impact that good images and video bring to the table. The boost videos can provide CVR varies by vertical, but for perspective for Jewelry and other luxury providers the impact can be well over 100% (see: http://blog.treepodia.com/tag/ecommerce-case-study)

    Thanks for sharing. I’ll be looking out for more from you : )

    Mike Darnell

  7. Jordan Lindberg January 31, 2014 Reply

    Thanks, Mike! Great points – I know that, all other things being equal, videos are an especially powerful tool for more expensive products where the consumer’s expectations for what they need to know before the purchase are very high. I’m not surprised to hear about the fact that jewelry, in particular, is an area where video can be a powerful converter. Thanks for the info!

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