Practical Ecommerce

Top 10 Converting Websites: The 3 Common Strategies

This is the third article in my analysis of the top 10 converting ecommerce sites. The first installment, “Debunking Myths from the Top 10 Converting Websites,” discussed seemingly unconventional conversion tactics that these sites use. The second installment, “Top 10 Converting Websites: The Similarities and Differences,” compared the top sites against each other and against Amazon.com.

To review, 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. Vitacost.com, 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

In this installment, below, I’ll analyze what these top converting sites have in common, focusing on three key strategies that every merchant should consider.

1. A Customer Is for Life

All of the top 10 sites have one thing in common. The sites are optimized, not for a first purchase, but for repeat purchases. By making it easy for the returning visitor to purchase, and by driving visitors’ numbers through traditional direct marketing (email and catalog), these sites are getting outstanding conversion rates. We shouldn’t be surprised that some don’t focus as much on search engine optimization, because search traffic is far less qualified than customers coming to the site having already received and browsed through a catalog or an email.

What these sites know is that existing customers are significantly more profitable than new ones. The cost of acquisition can be amortized over many purchases, not a single session. Loyalty economics are well understood by these companies, and their websites have been optimized accordingly. Notably Amazon invented (and patented) one-click shopping. But even without one-click turned on, it only takes six clicks in total to make a second purchase at Amazon.

Crucially, this has to be backed up by delivering on the promise through quality products, efficient logistics, and solid warranty and returns policies (with returns logistics to match). These are just as essential to the long-term relationship as convenience.

2. Superior Site Search, and Selection

A core strength of all of these websites is merchandising. While some are better than others, all provide an experience where it is easy to browse. In fact, you could conclude that some are focused on making the shopping experience as pleasurable as possible. These companies understand that the majority of individual items purchased were unplanned, and have invested significantly in merchandising.

They also have invested in technologies to make it easy to find products that you are already familiar with, offering new suggestions based on best sellers lists, reviews or analytics, and some make it easy to choose colors and combinations of products that are going to work best. Notably, Amazon has built its own proprietary A9 search technology.

3. Lifetime Remarketing

All of these companies use remarketing, which is, in itself, very significant. Only 16 percent of The e-Tailing Group’s etail 500 remarket to their customers, for example, yet all of the top 10 sites do. (The e-Tailing Group is an ecommerce consulting firm.) Amazon, the gorilla in the space, is one of the biggest remarketers of all. In fact, Amazon emails are a steady drip of subtle suggestions and reminders to purchase.

Because remarketing, when done well, is perceived as good service, customers accept and value remarketing approaches.

Recommendations, suggestions and relevant content, when delivered through email, get very high open rates, and low unsubscribe rates. When delivered via physical mail, a catalog provides and enhances the choosing experience, and interrupts the daily routine as it hits the doormat. Both these channels drive highly qualified visitors back to the websites with products in mind to purchase. It’s no surprise that their website conversion rates are so much higher.

Conclusions

When we set out to study the top 10 converting websites, we expected to find the likely conventional wisdom: short shopping cart processes, guest checkouts and highly tuned websites, focused around getting the sale.

In fact, we found little conventional wisdom. While a few have focused in this area, it’s clear that all these companies are focused on lifetime customer value. They are seeking to thrill shoppers with a superior experience, and make it incredibly easy to purchase again. By linking catalogs with online purchasing, 9 of the top 10 have made it easy to choose offline, and purchase online, resulting in dramatic conversion rates.

It’s also clear that the top 10 are willing to sacrifice a small proportion of initial sales lost as a result of their desire to capture user data. Once captured, these details are used very effectively to remarket to website visitors, driving highly qualified buyers with intent to their sites.

I welcome your insights on conversion best practices. Please feel to share these in the comments section below.

Charles Nicholls

Charles Nicholls

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  1. RoR_fan October 7, 2010 Reply

    Can you clarify the statement, "It’s also clear that the top 10 are willing to sacrifice a small proportion of initial sales lost as a result of their desire to capture user data." ?

  2. Elizabeth Ball October 7, 2010 Reply

    I think Charles means that by requiring the visitor to enter their data – which will scare off the casual browser – it gains the sales of those who intend to shop.
    It’s quite amazing that only 16% of the top 500 etailers remarket to customers!

  3. GreatUnknown December 21, 2011 Reply

    Interesting series. Too bad it seems to have stalled. My partner and I have either designed or influenced 3 of those top 10 converting sites, along with dozens of other highly performing sites, and though Charles makes every salient points an all accounts, he hasn’t hit paydirt yet. (IMHO) I’ll wait for other installments of this series lest I steal Charles’ thunder. After all, he IS on the right track.