Practical Ecommerce

Debunking Myths from the Top 10 Converting Websites

Editor’s Note: We welcome Charles Nicholls as our newest contributor. He’s a conversion and analytics expert, and the founder and chief strategy officer of SeeWhy, a conversion and cart-abandonment-recovery firm. He’s also the author of “Lessons Learned from the Top Ten Converting Websites,” a study of the top-converting ecommerce sites. In the piece below, Nicholls lists the top converting ecommerce sites, and debunks myths surrounding what’s required to have a high-converting site.

Ecommerce teams have an understandable fascination with the top ten converting websites. While most websites convert 2 or 3 percent of their visitors to a purchase in the same session, some sites are able to achieve much higher levels, up to a whopping 42 percent, according to a recent survey conducted by SeeWhy.

The Top Ten

Here’s the list of the Top 10 converting websites, showing their rank, company name, industry sector and average six-month conversion rate.

  1. Schwan’s, Food, 41.7 percent
  2. ProFlowers, Flowers and gifts, 26.5 percent
  3., Health and nutrition, 24.0 percent
  4. Woman Within, Catalog /clothing, 22.4 percent
  5. Blair, Catalog /clothing, 20.5 percent
  6. Lands’ End, Catalog /clothing, 19.5 percent
  7. Doctors Foster and Smith, Pet supplies, 18.6 percent
  8. Office Depot, Office, 18.4 percent
  9. Roaman’s, Catalog /clothing, 18.4 percent
  10. QVC, Jewelry +, 18.3 percent

Over the course of the next several months, I will provide a detailed analysis of the Top 10 converting websites–which on average convert 23 percent of their visitors in the same session–and how they approach everything from merchandising to remarketing to identifying more visitors. I’ll also share what these sites do differently and what the ecommerce sector can learn as a result.

Charles Nicholls

Charles Nicholls

My analysis is based on the SeeWhy study, which used the latest Nielsen data available, for the six months ending November 2009. In order to qualify, a website needs to achieve a minimum of five million unique visitors per month, and each website had to have featured in the top ten converting websites list a minimum of three times in the six month period. We specifically excluded December, seeking a continuous level of performance during “normal” months.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that these websites would be tuned to make purchases intuitive and simple, to speed the buyer through the process. But this is not it.

(Un)Conventional Conversion

Some of the websites are far from intuitive, lack clear calls to action, and have lengthy shopping cart processes that would deter all but the most determined. Moreover, 6 out of the top 10 converting websites force the first time visitor to create an account and register on the site before being able to make a purchase.

The difference is that all of the companies behind the top 10 converting websites are direct marketers at heart. Astonishingly 9 of the top 10 have a catalog. All make it exceptionally easy for returning customers to make purchases, and herein lies the difference.

It’s a different mindset: To these companies, it’s not about search engine optimization, or page views, and making a sale, but about the second, third, fourth sales to the same customer, driving profitability for their companies. And in the process, they get the highest conversion rates in the industry as their customers come back to buy again, and again, and again.

Charles Nicholls

Charles Nicholls

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  1. paperboy317 July 21, 2010 Reply

    This sounds like it could be a very interesting series.

  2. Rob Holzer July 22, 2010 Reply

    Good topic! I can relate to this- my company, S&S Worldwide (a cataloger), sees a VERY healthy conversion. While we do make it fairly easy for new visitors to convert, repeat buyers drive our conversion rate much higher- they already know who we are and what they want from us. If you have an analytics package (and you should), you can segment new vs return visitors and compare the conversion funnels for each.

  3. Juan E. Drault July 22, 2010 Reply

    Great point, all conversion rates should be devided among first time visitors and returning, otherwise the numbers lies. This top ten are companies very much related to people habits, they become as useful as home banking.

    Don´t have time?, want more choices? want a quick online service? then click on any of these top ten and you will do it again and again, because they give you what you need for your daily life, your home, your social life, and so on.

    But also, don´t miss the point. Great products photography. Click on any and you will delight. I believe that some big players like are not in this top ten list, and if you´re talking about great photography even with high quality image zoom, they are really big players.

    Thanks for the article and welcome.

  4. richard gilliland July 22, 2010 Reply

    can’t wait to see more…one of those companies is my competitor

  5. Stevie Black July 29, 2010 Reply

    Absolutely a great post – I couldn’t agree more on all accounts. Modeling the "horses" of ecommerce is certainly a good thing to do, but expecting the same results without the years of direct marketing experience and the depth and breadth of MarComm spending across various channels is foolish. Still, smaller players can and should adopt the most forward stance they can towards all their internet visitors, but especially returning customers. I know it works for me as a customer of some of these big sites.

  6. Dan August 30, 2010 Reply

    Looking forward to this series – when you intend to kick off with the first analysis? Cheers

    _Editor’s Note: The second installment of the series is here: ["Top 10 Converting Websites: The Similarities and Differences."](