Practical Ecommerce

Ask an Expert: How to Increase Conversion Rates?

”Ask an Expert” is an occasional feature where we ask ecommerce experts questions from online merchants. For this installment, we address a question about converting online shoppers into paying customers.

The question comes from Patricia Brown, owner of LordsArt, an Ozone Park, N.Y.-based retailer of Christian art and gifts.

For the answer, we turn to Charles Nicholls. He is founder and chief technical officer of SeeWhy, a cart-abandonment recovery firm and conversion analytics provider. Nicholls is also a contributor to Practical eCommerce.

Patricia Brown

Patricia Brown

Patricia Brown: “How do I increase the conversion rate on my site? I seem to get a lot of ‘window shoppers’ that don’t purchase items. How do I convert these visitors into paying customers?”


Charles Nicholls

Charles Nicholls

Charles Nicholls: “I think that your home page can work a lot harder for you. So you should think about optimizing the layout. Start by viewing your site on a monitor that reflects what the majority of your visitors see. Looking at your site,, on my 1028×768 monitor, 65 percent of the selling area above the fold is taken up by a combination of Flash-oriented scrolling images, and your mission statement.

“Since you have a good reputation and the site is pretty self-explanatory about what you do, I think you can probably afford to lose these and focus on displaying more products and key items in top product categories. I’d also suggest losing the Flash platform; showing multiple static images often works better.

“I’m sure that you already know that products featured on your home page will sell the best, in part because they get found. So I’d focus on increasing the number of featured products and categories that are shown above the fold.

“Consider these possible directions:

  • Move to displaying five columns of products.
  • Feature top selling product categories, and show the best-selling item in each category.
  • Feature your best-selling individual products on your home page to make navigation easy.

“Ideally, run an A/B test using Google’s free Website Optimizer (or similar) so that you can see whether this approach works.

“The second area you should think about is your email strategy. Since you have a strong niche focus, your email opt-in list should be one of your most valuable assets. There are very strong links between email and driving conversions. So I’d suggest that you consider ways to increase your subscriber list. For example, look at, a woman’s plus-size clothing retailer and see how the site proactively seeks to capture email addresses using incentives such as first time buyer discounts when you subscribe. The goal here is to drive up the percentage of visitors to your site that are identified. Email marketing is very effective in building brand trust and getting hesitant buyers to make that purchase.

“You should experiment with emailing your subscriber base more frequently. Then, focus on best sellers and best sellers within categories to help your subscribers find what others are buying on your site. If you are concerned about over-mailing, monitor your unsubscribe rate carefully or, better yet, create a split test where you increase the frequency for half of your base and monitor the effects on sales and unsubscribe rates. Make sure the content of your emails is really good. Great content is the best antidote to ‘unsubscribes.’

“If you have time for an additional experiment, you might also consider a printed catalog. In your market this might work very well. The challenge here is the upfront cost of producing the catalog. However, there is lots of evidence to show that catalogs mailed to customers and registered users can increase sales substantially. You might check out some research, which I’ve written about on my own blog, titled “How Old-School Catalogs Help Drive Up Online Sales.” It suggests that online shoppers that received a catalog in the mail spent on average 163 percent more than those that didn’t.

“Digital print is now of sufficient quality that you may be able to experiment with a small run catalog to test the principle.

“Good luck, and let me know how it goes.”

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

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  1. mollygriffin February 10, 2011 Reply

    Great article! One thing to keep in mind is that you want to make sure the emails you are sending to your customers are relevant and loaded with useful content to ensure that you are able to engage them.

    Thanks for sharing these tips!

    Molly Griffin

  2. Kevin McCaffrey February 15, 2011 Reply

    Patricia, the information Charles has given is excellent.

    Here are a few more things you could do to find out what’s happening.

    You can ask your customers what they thought of your Website, if they had any problems and how they think it could be improved.

    You can do this in a few ways.
    1. Just pick up the phone. Quite often people will be happy to hear from you. Especially in a niche like this where you share a common interest (or faith in this case)

    2. Send an email survey using to ask your customers what they think of your Website and how it can be improved.

    3. Include a feedback tool on your Website. 2 great ones are and There are free versions of each. You just need to add a little bit of code to your Website. They will allow people to tell you if they have problems on your Website.

    Hope this helps.

    Kevin McCaffrey – Conversion Rate Services.