For some eCommerce websites, even a small increase in the percentage of visitors that buy something can mean doubling or even tripling their revenue. In this 4-part series I’ll be describing the different perspectives required to gain a holistic view on eCommerce Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO); and more importantly giving realistic advice that can help you get more sales.
It’s hard to talk about precise figures and statistics because conversion rates can vary a huge amount dependent on the market and the brand’s positioning within it. For example, websites selling luxury items (i.e. high-end adventure holiday packages) tend to convert a lower percentage of total traffic than a website that sells fast-moving consumer goods, or competitively priced ‘must-have’ items (i.e. stationery, car insurance, gift cards or groceries).
However, a conversion rate that I come across all the time (and the generally accepted industry standard) is around the 2–3% mark. With that said, a conversion rate of around 10% is achieved by some competitive websites. There are even a handful of websites out there that convert above 20% of their overall traffic!
Marketing Context & Brand
Aside from market differences as described above, the ‘quality’ of a website’s traffic and the ‘amount of selling’ that must be done are also important factors that have a huge impact on conversion rate.
If people KNOW they NEED your product and they TRUST that you will deliver that product COMPETITIVELY on price and service, they are very likely to buy it from you. That’s why Tesco online sells a lot of groceries. If there is any doubt at any of those steps you have more to prove before the lead converts. That’s why the eCommerce store for the local electronics retailer selling USB mug warmers probably isn’t converting traffic as well as Tesco online.
Hopefully your SEO is done properly so Google pre-qualifies your sales leads for you to some extent. So-called ‘long-tail’ search optimisation for eCommerce sites can be easily achievable with the right product page structure and content. But when it comes to ‘short-tail’ searches, even seemingly good phrases can sometimes deliver traffic looking for something a world away from your proposition. If you’re contemplating your conversion rate, none of these marketing issues can be ignored.
SEO is a complex field. Talk to us to find out more.
Pictures speak a thousand words. Yeah it’s cheesy, but it’s true.
No amount of sales copy written about a product can do what an image does: An image allows the customer to visualise the product instantly. They can envision holding it in their hand, or themselves wearing it, or someone else opening it as a gift, or looking at it in its intended position… all factors that will ultimately play a major role in the purchasing decision. Furthermore, if a like-for-like competitor has an image on their site but you don’t, who do you think the customer will trust? It’s a no-brainer really.
You should use as many pictures of the product from as many different angles as you can. Allow customers to zoom and/or explore the product in detail. Make the images prominent and, of course, only use the highest quality images possible without compromising the page’s load-speed. Big, clear, interactive images sell stuff… it’s as simple as that.
Good Sales Copy
Have you ever tried to sell anything over the phone? If you have you’ll know that 99% of interested customers ask you to ‘send something over via email’. OK so this can be a tactic employed by the customer to get you off the phone and regain control of the discussion, but most truly uninterested prospects will realistically have you off the phone long before that stage. The ones who ask to ‘see something’ are probably just about interested enough that they agree to humour you; and if they see something they like then they might be convinced to part with some cash at a later stage.
The moral here is that while a visual (or ‘tangible’) aspect to a sales pitch is most often the final clincher, you can go a long way towards priming a sale purely with words. More importantly, for the purposes of this article, it’s an undeniable given that better sales copy will sell more products!
Product descriptions are there to allow the reader to come to their own conclusions about whether that product is right for them. How much copy is needed will depend on the product, but more is usually better (not just for conversion but also for SEO). Most of the best converting websites offer a short version of the copy with an option to see the extended version.
The short version should entice and attract customers, engage them a little if possible and differentiate the product from other competitors on the market. In sales, this is called the ‘elevator pitch’: The 15- to 30-second pitch you practice every day so you can deliver it to CEO’s and Directors while they ride an elevator with you. You’ve only got their attention for a short time so make it concise and impactful.
The long version of the copy on the other hand should answer every single question a customer could possibly ask. This is like a full sales consultation. If yours is red, not blue, say so here. If yours is goes up to 11 rather than 10, say so here. If yours is bigger, cheaper, stronger, healthier, environmentally friendlier or better in any way whatsoever, say so here. Explain the benefits of those features. Say why you personally have always liked it. Say why your customers are always so impressed with it.
The trick is to convey the information while adding brand and personal touches. Write full prose descriptions and use bullet points where necessary; for example a summary at the end. Turn all features into benefits (another lesson learned from sales) and wherever possible include functionality for comparing similar products (i.e. tech specs). Customers compare things – we know this. Make it easy for them so they are more comfortable shopping on your website. At the very least it could stop them hopping onto another website; at best it could up-sell the customer to a bigger and/or more profitable sale.
Above all else, talk to the reader directly. Tell them why “we” think this product is so great and how “you” are going to love it. To take a small liberty and rehash another old telesales cliché… ‘People buy from people, not websites’!
Words are a mighty source of power for delivering ‘cerebral’ sales information; and images are the fastest way of delivering visual information. Video combines the two, although perhaps not as well as either individually. But as a third string to your bow, it adds a huge amount of value to your sales process.
Video will almost certainly be the future of eCommerce (and much of the wider web). At least that’s the consensus in the digital marketing industry. The only obstacles are loading speed, ugly video players and the currently awkward way of ‘snapping’ to relevant bits of video. It’s hard to imagine that people won’t flock to video in droves once those bugs are ironed out. [Interestingly, there have been big advances in all 3 of these areas throughout 2012 - by 2014 we predict video will be seen as must-have rather than a 'something extra'].
Trial videos for certain products on your site. Maybe start with featured products. See if your sales go up, look at engagement patterns and get tactical with it!
Everybody enjoys personalising things. Just go look at some social media profiles. Look at your colleague’s workspace. Look at your friend’s living room. Look at your child’s pencil case. Your Dad’s got a pint glass with his name on? Mine too. Look at your iPhone’s home-screen. Look at your next-door neighbour’s Corsa or Clio with a drainpipe hanging out its bottom and a picnic bench glued onto the boot.
They all scream: “This is me – this is mine – this is part of brand ‘I Am’ and it is an expression of myself – an extension of myself”.
Now think about last time you personalised something. With every scribble, colour change, avatar or accessory added, you probably got a little bit more attached to it. It ceased being a generic product and started being unique and meaningful. Well that’s precisely the feeling you want to tap into with your customers: Allow a customer to personalise a product and they are much more likely to feel an attachment to it and therefore make the purchase.
Car salesmen know it (CD players, metallic paint, upholstery options and air-con), Dell know it (different coloured lids on laptops), Gemvara know it (user-designed jewellery) and MoonPig know it (one of the biggest success stories in UK eCommerce). You should be aware of it too and give your customers the option to customise wherever you can.
People like free things. Also, they don’t like ‘hidden’ charges. They like to find a product that they see as valuable and then think that they are paying as little as possible to get that value. Obvious, right?
Half of all online retailers offer free shipping: Some on all orders and others on orders over a minimum value (or orders that meet other special conditions). People simply expect it now so you can’t be slack about it.
E-Tailing Group – a large eCommerce research group – performed a study on consumer attitudes toward eCommerce shipping costs. An offer of free shipping was considered ‘critical’ by 73% of respondents. Further to this, 93% were persuaded to spend more on websites that offered free delivery on orders over a certain value.
To compound this, the study revealed that the number one reason for people still preferring to use real-world shops was… drum-roll, please… shipping fees! Clearly people don’t want reminding that shipping charges are the price paid for the ease and comfort of eCommerce. Deep down everyone must know it, but asking people to acknowledge it is a bad idea!
How effective can a free shipping strategy be? The research shows that offering conditional free shipping on all orders over a ‘suitable value’ (keep reading to find out how much that is) can increase the average order value on a site by as much as 30%.
It can be tempting to look for a compromise on this. Don’t do it. It’s suicide. There are only 2 strategies that can work:
1. Offer free shipping on everything – If you’re established you should be getting great deals from your vendors/suppliers. Pass this saving on to your customers rather than squeezing your products for extra margin and you could see an increase in sales that swallows up that profit gap and delivers more besides.
2. Offer conditional free shipping – It’s not always feasible to offer free shipping on small products. Firstly, small orders can become an admin nightmare for very little reward. Secondly, from the customer’s perspective, the postage can be more than the product itself! Trust me though, the customer is aware of this so with a gentle nudge in the right direction they should be happy to oblige; placing a few other items in the basket in order to get free shipping so they feel they are kind of getting something for free. If they don’t buy more, at least you’ve offered a solution so they don’t feel hard done-by. As a rule of thumb, add 10% to your average order value and offer free shipping on any orders over that total value. You can reiterate that process every few months until you reach an optimum level.
Here’s the main thing though… the absolute rule of rules… the one convention you cannot break: If you’re going to charge shipping, don’t try to hide it or sideline it. Say it loud and proud. On average, 47% of eCommerce users abandon their shopping cart if shipping is suddenly added to the total cost once the checkout process has begun. They feel mislead and are not stupid enough to be taken for a mug, so they split and never come back. Just be honest and up-front and you should be able to convince most people to pay above the minimum order for free delivery.
On top of this, wherever shipping is added, it’s always best to charge simple flat rates. By all means have different rates for bigger or smaller packages, have courier options etc, but make sure that the customer knows what they will be paying for before they even start browsing products. If you deliver that info as early as possible, there can be no nasty surprises.
Special Offers Section
The very same E-Tailing Group study from 2011 reported that 47% of eCommerce customers are only looking for special offers (unless there is some unusual circumstance). In total, 62% of eCommerce customers are always actively seeking a ‘special offers’ section every time they visit an eCommerce website.
It shouldn’t be so shocking if you think about it. With the advent of daily voucher sites and the recession, people have become more and more bargain-driven. You should make it very clear on your site where people can find those bargains. If your market or business plan isn’t right for a discounts section, try a section just for seasonal ranges or promotions instead.
This is a trick missed by many. You can display products on your site that are not technically ‘in stock’ currently and still take payments for them… just as long as you make it very clear from the get-go that dispatch will be delayed and you’ll let the customer know when it goes out.
Not everyone will be comfortable buying things for delivery a long way into the future. In some markets, customers want it now or never. But even then, you’d be surprised how many will request to be notified when a product comes back in stock. Give your customers a way to request that notification. Obviously these will be less likely to convert than your average customer, but extra sales all add up and this is a good resource for that. At the very least it stops the customer taking away negative thoughts about your website and brand because you’ve helped them overcome a problem and have been proactive on their behalf.
We’ve covered quite a few important considerations for eCommerce conversion rate optimisation here; mostly related to the presentation of your product offerings. This only scratches the surface though. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be telling you more about the following topics:
Part 2: Branding & Optimising your eCommerce Store
Value Propositions & Brand Ideals
The Augmented Product
Search & Filters
Up-Sell & Cross-Sell
Part 3: Optimising the Customer Journey
Shopping Cart Abandonment
Forms & Data Capture
User Testing & Mobile
Part 4: Different Conversion Rates to Track