Practical Ecommerce

Top 10 Converting Websites: The Similarities and Differences

We continue our analysis of the top 10 converting websites by looking at the key similarities and differences between them. This follows from “Debunking Myths from the Top 10 Converting Websites,” our introductory piece on the top 10 converting sites.

Across the ten different sites, below, and using Amazon for comparison, some clear patterns emerge. What stands out most is that all 10 are direct marketers. The categories of goods sold may differ, but all are companies grounded in marketing directly to customers. Only two companies, Office Depot and Lands’ End, also have physical stores. All the others are using distance selling where you can only purchase online or by phone.

  • Amazon, Multi-category, 16.5 percent

The top 10 converting sites:

  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

Some key summary statistics:

  • 9 have a catalog;
  • 9 do not offer free shipping;
  • 8 offer a simple sign up on their home page;
  • 4 out of the top 5 force a full registration before a first purchase;
  • 9 out of 10 offer a 1-800 number on their home page.

Critically, 10 out of 10 use remarketing.

One other striking thing is that traditional wisdom of what you need to do to maximize your conversion rate seems to be of much lower priority to these companies. You would expect them all to rank highly with the search engines, have short and slick check out processes, capturing only the minimum of information. But this is not so.

The table below demonstrates the range of how these sites score.

Table comparing top 10 converting sites to Amazon.

Table comparing top 10 converting sites to Amazon.

Three of the top 10 converting websites have a Google PageRank of only four, indicating they have made little or no effort to optimize their sites for search. Clearly their traffic is coming directly, perhaps based on direct mailed catalogs.

The table above also shows a wide range of difference in the length of the checkout process. Conventional wisdom would suggest that ecommerce teams should minimize the number of checkout pages. This is the approach that Lands’ End has followed, with only two pages and a total of 13 fields or options before credit card entry. While Lands’ End is a great model of how to shorten your checkout process, some of the other sites are at the other end of the scale.

A first time purchaser at ProFlowers is presented with six different pages as part of the checkout process, and a total of 36 different options and fields to enter. It clearly hasn’t harmed ProFlowers, number two in the top 10, with an average of 26.5 percent conversion rate over the six-month study period.

In fact, we’d suggest studying ProFlowers checkout process carefully, since this is a great example of how to do checkout processes well. The large numbers of steps involved are, in part, due to the nature of its business (i.e. the ability to send flowers and gifts to others rather than yourself). The options of up-sells and cross-sells during the checkout process are well done. While you’re checking out their process, note how the items in the cart are shown on the right hand side throughout the process, but without displaying the price. This reminds purchasers about the gift, with focusing on the cost (shown below).

ProFlowers checkout page showing shopping cart contents ("Your Order Details") on the right.

ProFlowers checkout page showing shopping cart contents (“Your Order Details”) on the right.

Charles Nicholls

Charles Nicholls

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  1. visitor August 19, 2010 Reply


    …4 out of the top 5 force a full registration before a first purchase

    ProFlowers, Woman Within and Blair offer guest checkout, so above statement is not correct.

  2. Elizabeth Ball August 19, 2010 Reply

    I read this report with huge interest. If 9 of the top 10 websites use direct marketing with catalogs, then they’ve probably been around long enough to have begun with catalogs and added a website as it proved its worth as another sales channel.
    Their huge customer base and longevity alone helps them attract enormous online sales.

  3. erkatpat43 August 20, 2010 Reply

    Are the conversion rates based on Visitor-to-Sale conversions or Funnel conversions?

  4. visitor August 20, 2010 Reply

    Even with brand traffic, Schwan’s 40+ percent conversion rate is crazy business :)

    Missing critical information here is the distribution rate of brand and nonbrand traffic for these organization. Aggressive nonbrand campaigns/acquisition will naturally drive down conversion rate.

  5. Mark Rice August 24, 2010 Reply

    This is a very interesting article but surely all these businesses are long standing and have scaled up into web retail. If 90% of them distribute catalogues they already have a strong customer base. So naturally their focus isnt going to be on Page Rank, SEO and getting on page 1 of google – why? because they don’t need to.

  6. Brandon Eley August 24, 2010 Reply

    Two key factors can’t really be considered here…

    How much these brands spend on PPC and offline advertising to drive these conversions.


    Their brand equity. All 10 of the top-10 have well known, recognizable, and trusted brands.

    Those two factors make all 10 of those companies a good bit different from any "small" e-commerce retailer (less than $50M). It’s like comparing apples to oranges.

  7. Lee_Roberts August 24, 2010 Reply

    Are you averaging Amazon’s 9.8% yearly average and the 25.6% Christmas season average to get your 16.9% conversion rate?

    Since when does PageRank have anything to do with optimizing for search? Even Matt Cutts says PR isn’t counted in the algorithm and honestly it never has been. PR was only a representation of a perceived reputation value based upon the number of links and the PR’s of the linking pages.

    Why are you making assumptions like "Clearly their traffic is coming directly, perhaps based on direct mailed catalogs"? An ethical report shouldn’t make assumptions and should base all information upon sound, proven facts.

    Making the assumption that the checkout process with all the hoops and hurdles those companies put their shoppers through likely wouldn’t work for other businesses.

    Schwan’s, if you don’t know who they are, provides home delivery of frozen meats, deserts, and other products. It’s easier for their clients to go online and schedule a delivery than to call a phone number and get something mis-shipped.

    ProFlowers conversion rate varies from 48+% to the low 30’s depending upon the season and holiday. Again, a company with a very specific customer type.

    What’s important to understand about each of these businesses and Amazon, Overstock and other larger businesses is they spend money testing and evaluating to increase sales. Small business owners often don’t know the process and don’t want to spend a lot of money.

    You can learn things from other people’s examples, but like a doctor friend of mine says, "Two people may have the same ailment and still receive two different prescriptions." That’s because each has their own unique circumstances.

    Each business is different. Please keep your readers in mind and avoid grand ascertains.

  8. Harekrishna Patel August 25, 2010 Reply

    I agree with Brandon. Brands works more than 50% building trust, credibility, and thus improving conversion rates.

    For ProFlowers, forced registration process is not an issue because once user is committed to place an order she will do. Consider an example, "downloading Yahoo! messenger" – so much laddering Yes…Yes…, even 15-20 min waits to install but users do.

    I noticed two major factors for shopping 1. brand & other is personalization. Product page asks every single details for personalization.

  9. Charles Nicholls August 26, 2010 Reply

    Visitor (the #1 comment): You’re right, that more of the top ten now offer a guest checkout. When the primary research was conducted a few months ago, this was correct. I’ll update the research report – thanks for pointing this out. I think that everyone agrees that a guest checkout is best practice, but the interesting point in the research was that you don’t have to have a guest checkout in order to get a high conversion rate: there are many other factors at play.

  10. Charles Nicholls August 26, 2010 Reply

    erkatpat43 & Lee_Roberts

    The conversion rates here are based on Visitor-to-Sale conversion rates. If you download the report itself, there’s a section on methodology. It’s based on Nielsen panel data, and specifically excludes the Christmas period.

  11. Charles Nicholls August 26, 2010 Reply

    Lee-Roberts & Mark
    You both make very good points. The research features top converting websites which are naturally bigger, recognized brands. Remember that the methodology selected only those companies with a minimum of five million unique visitors per month (as calculated by Nielsen), so to some extent it is not surprising that bigger brands feature.

    This doesn’t mean that some of the lessons learned are not applicable to smaller websites – there’s always value in understanding what works for other ecommerce sites. But this was not meant to be a prescriptive formula either. Different approaches will work for different companies and different markets. I encourage ecommerce teams to read, digest and take whatever seems relevant to them. If the reader gets only one good idea, or some insight that has so far eluded them, then I have succeeded.