5 Areas for Improving E-Commerce Conversion Rates
If you want to improve the profitability of your e-commerce website, there are really only four numbers that matter:
- How many people are coming to your website?
- What percentage of those visitors actually make a purchase?
- How much are customers purchasing?
- What are your margins per order?
Each of these four areas has a laundry list of strategies and tactics that can help improve performance. Let's focus on what percentage of your site visitors make a purchase — i.e., conversion. According to research from Monetate, sitewide conversion rates for new visitors to an e-commerce website averaged 2.11 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013. This seems to leave a lot of room for improvement for most e-commerce brands. Here are five areas and associated tactics that can help increase conversion:
1. Create strong calls to action (CTA). A CTA is what you're trying to get your customer to do on your website. In the case of e-commerce, it's almost always to get a visitor to purchase an item or add an item to their shopping cart. However, you'd be surprised at how many e-commerce websites don't make it super simple to find their "Buy Now" CTA. There are four primary things to keep in mind regarding your CTA:
- Size: You want the CTA button to be large enough to contrast against body type and other links. Your "Buy Now" button should be clearly visible to the user.
- Color: You'll certainly want to avoid any color that's unattractive, but it's fine to use a contrasting color from your brand's general palette. Many website designers will choose an "action" color and use it exclusively for CTAs.
- Location: Place your CTA button close to your product image, but also at the end of the "options flow," which includes all of the possible options visitors can choose when buying an item (e.g., size, quantity, color, etc.).
- Wording: Use language that clearly tells your visitor they're purchasing this item or adding it to their cart.
2. Build trust. Consumers need to have confidence when they arrive at your website and consider making a purchase. They want to know that they'll get exactly what they pay for. Therefore, you want to convey that your company can be trusted. Here are four tactics for conveying trust on an e-commerce website:
- Quality of design: A poorly designed website is a huge detriment to conversion. Major retailers invest millions of dollars per year on their websites, raising consumer expectations regarding their online shopping experience. Luckily, with e-commerce platforms such as Shopify and BigCommerce offering beautifully designed, affordable, pre-made themes, there's no reason your website can't compete design-wise with established e-commerce brands.
- Offer easy support: Adding accessible phone numbers, live chat, retail locations and anything else that can offer a human connection through your e-commerce website is a surefire way of building customer trust. These channels provide the security that if something goes wrong with an order, or if the customer had a question, your company is readily available. Tools such as Olark make adding live chat easy.
- Customer testimonials: Consumers become more confident in a product they know other people have purchased. By highlighting customer testimonials, reviews and product shares on social media, you add "social proof" that your product is something people trust. Tools such as Candid make adding customer photos from social media sites easy.
- Press coverage and awards: Similar to customer testimonials, highlighting media, awards and industry coverage provides a level of professional social proof that can often build added confidence in the mind of a potential customer.
3. Cater to mobile customers. According to a report issued by Custora, mobile e-commerce sales have risen from $2.2 billion in 2010 to $42.8 billion in 2013, and are set to hit $50 billion in 2014. In addition, Shopify recently reported that mobile accounts for 50.3 percent of overall traffic across all of its 120,000 online stores. It's clear that having a website that performs well on mobile devices — or is mobile responsive — is absolutely essential for competing in today's e-commerce market. When thinking about making your website mobile responsive, here are a few tactics to consider:
- Design for screens, not devices. Mobile device manufacturers seem to be releasing new models with new features on a monthly basis. Trying to accommodate on a device-by-device basis quickly becomes a nightmare for any web designer. Rather than using tools that are specific to devices (e.g., iPhone vs. Nexus vs. Galaxy, etc.), consider designing your website to change based on screen size or "viewpoints and breakpoints." Front-end development frameworks such as Bootstrap and Foundation make coding responsive websites easier.
- Take user context into consideration. The best way to approach designing a mobile experience is to put yourself in the context of a consumer visiting your website on a mobile device. Are they looking up your retail location from the train? Trying to renew a purchase they've made in the past when they noticed they ran out of your product? Looking to do some comparison shopping? Thinking through these different contexts can be a helpful way to craft your mobile-responsive design.
- Simplify your design. Building on the idea of user context, you want to provide a mobile experience that's as simple as possible. Mobile devices’ smaller screens and limited real estate convey less information about your product or company. Some of the fun things you can do on a desktop version of your website might not make sense on a mobile device. Don't be afraid to simplify the experience and focus on matching the context by which your visitor has arrived at your website.
4. Deliver a high-performance experience. According to KISSmetrics, a one-second delay in page response/load time can result in as much as a 7 percent reduction in conversions. Furthermore, 47 percent of consumers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less. This means there's an incredibly small window to get your website up and running. Here are a few tactics that can help your website performance and keep your e-commerce load speeds close to the two-second mark:
- Try using a content delivery network (CDN) for media. One of the easiest ways to address a slow-loading website is to use a CDN to host your media. A CDN is basically a large group of servers that can send signals from servers closer to your user's location as opposed to a single central server. Many e-commerce platforms such as Shopify have baked in CDN capabilities. Two very popular CDN services include CloudFlare and Amazon's CloudFront.
- Minimize expensive code. As mentioned above, when running a speed test, you'll see a breakdown of how long it takes each individual file to load. This breakdown will point out particularly slow-loading files. This is your opportunity to trim and remove "expensive' code." Some quick wins in cleaning up your code include compressing CSS/JS files, using GZIP compression for files and minimizing the number of images loaded.
5. Streamline checkout. When a visitor adds an item to their cart and approaches checkout, you want to make that experience as streamlined as possible. Although many e-commerce platforms will restrict developers from modifying the checkout process too much, there are a few tactics that can be used to help make purchasing as easy as possible for your customers:
- Add a mini cart. Some consumers want to poke around your site and throw a bunch of different items in their cart. One way to keep them engaged during their buying experience is by adding a "mini cart." A mini cart is basically an icon that tallies the total items in their cart and displays summarized information. Having a mini cart gives them both a reminder of what they've already added to their cart and quick access to checkout.
- Upsell at the shopping cart. When a visitor is ready to review their shopping cart and proceed to checkout, don't be afraid to make one final push for additional products. This moment is powerful as you know the consumer is ready to buy. A recommended product, accessory or other upsell could be an easy decision for them and quick extra cash for your company.
- Offer guest checkout. Not all customers want to go through the process of setting up an account when checking out. Getting them to sign up is certainly valuable for their future interaction with your website (e.g., order history, shipping information, etc.), but don't force customers to set up an account if they would rather have a speedier transaction.
All of these tactics have the potential to increase conversion on e-commerce websites. Prior to implementing these tactics, I'd recommend reviewing your analytics platform to ensure you're able to accurately track current conversions and potential conversion increases. Every online retailer should have Google Analytics with e-commerce integration configured, but it might be worth adding a more sophisticated conversion funnel analysis tool such as Mixpanel as well. In addition, consider using an A/B testing tool to granularly measure the impact these changes have on conversion rates. Two popular platforms include Visual Website Optimizer and Optimizely.
Finally, although we've spent this article discussing how to improve conversion, be careful not to read too much into your sitewide conversion rates without digging deeper into channel-specific and product-specific conversion.
Ross Beyeler is the founder and managing partner of Growth Spark, a provider of strategy, design and technology services.