In order to better understand what it takes for visitors to convert, let us now examine the specific challenges that ecommerce sites need to negotiate and solve in order to sell anything to their visitors.
Any visitor that reaches an ecommerce website and starts considering its offer needs to overcome the issue of whether they can trust what your website offers. This trust issue is the hardest one to overcome.
Unlike a brick and mortar store, web-based ecommerce stores cannot rely on the visitor’s physical experience with their products to make a sale.
According to a study conducted by professor Brent Coker, shoppers trust ecommerce stores 30% less than they trust brick and mortar stores.
Shoppers trust ecommerce stores 30% less than they trust brick and mortar stores.
When viewing an ecommerce site, a visitor depends exclusively on what a store chooses to show them as virtual representations of the product and offer. Visitors cannot feel or touch products to confirm that their visual impression is correct.
Furthermore, even if they assume that product images are representing actual products, how can they be sure that your business actually exists? Will the product they bought ever reach them, and whom can they complain to if it doesn’t arrive?
Since credibility represents such a basic obstacle to conversions on an ecommerce website, overcoming that obstacle can result in significantly improved conversions.
Extensive studies by Stanford professor B.J. Fogg resulted in 10 guidelines for credibility that ecommerce stores can use to improve their credibility.
Other research conducted by the Nielsen-Norman Group identified 4 factors of credibility, which we’ll discuss in detail below:
Comprehensive and current content
Connection to the rest of the web
Finally, a study on “What makes web sites credible,” by Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, identified seven design principles to follow in designing a website.
Surprisingly enough, website design emerged as the second most common indicator of trust.
Attractive, professionally designed websites tended to instill confidence and trust in shoppers. Due to shoppers’ tendency to form their opinion based on their first exposure to the website, web design is the area where no expense (within reason) should be spared to make your website look as professional as possible.
Using conversion optimization techniques and methods, it is possible to identify the areas of your site that affect credibility. First, using heuristic techniques, isolate design issues that make the website hard to navigate and prevent the visitor from achieving the results they want.
Qualitative customer research can indicate what parts of the website are creating friction with shoppers and why. Then, you can sort out responses, identify the issues most commonly mentioned, and fix them.
Quantitative research makes it possible to observe visitors’ behavior in the most important process of any ecommerce site: checkout.
By tracking how visitors travel through the conversion funnel and where they drop out, it is possible to pinpoint areas of friction.
Common tactics to increase website credibility and address specific factors of credibility include providing outside references to the website offer, such as social media posts or reviews by authoritative sites.
Furthermore, you may be able to increase trust through the use of security seals and marks of expertise (or quality), and by improving website content and copy.
By using qualitative research, you can narrow down the type of trust improvements to use. Most research has shown that well-known security marks (e.g. Norton, McAfee) score better in establishing credibility.
Of course, by using A/B testing, you can check the effect of any change.
Here are four categories of principles to follow while creating your website’s design and copy, and what they look like in practice:
Make sure navigation is easy to find and use
Improve site organization by making product categories more accessible
Use whitespace to help design elements stand out
Fix errors (both technical and in content, like misspellings and grammar errors)
Include professional-looking product images and multiple-angle photography
Provide all the relevant information on your products honestly and transparently
Include visible and easily verifiable contact information, trust and expertise marks
Eliminate gated content or other forms of information requests without giving some value in return
Make sure the content is clear, understandable, and encompasses all the information a visitor needs
Keep the site updated
For example, a visitor may want to find a product to buy on your website. If the product pages and categories are not intuitively designed to make it easy to find that particular product, a visitor may quit before they manage to find any product. Worst of all, you may not have any idea that this is happening or that this problem exists.
You might only notice that visitors do not convert, and that the products they buy are mainly those shown on the front page, or those they reached using search, recommendations, or referrals.
Using heuristic analysis and user testing, you can ask random users to actually find a specific product and put it in the cart. The results of this experiment conducted on users who have never before visited your site can be quite illuminating (and sometimes embarrassing).
If your website contains no outside references, backlinks, or other elements that link it to the world outside, customers will not perceive it as trustworthy and credible.
The easiest way to achieve connectedness is to use social media and establish a presence there. Using social media to find information on the products they want to buy is what many of the customers do prior to purchase, as the study done by a team from University of California shows.
Of course, it is not enough that your visitor simply trusts your website. Once they trust and engage with the website, it is critical to maintain that engagement. This is the role of content and various micro-conversion opportunities.
You can achieve customer engagement in multiple ways.
Content marketing in the form of blogs, videos, email campaigns, etc. is commonly used to garner and maintain visitors’ interest.
You can also foster engagement with social media posts or by inviting customers to share stories of how they use a product.
Another way to increase engagement is by introducing wish lists so your customers can bookmark products they like. You can than reengage them with emails or other custom content, or benefits such as discounts, to increase the likelihood that they’ll buy.
When you engage visitors, they will be more likely to return to your store — and returning customers are more likely to buy more and spend more. So there is no doubt that engagement is necessary.
Tracking visitors’ behavior as they use the website is often the best way to measure their engagement. This way you can identify the content that visitors enjoy the most and track how they interact with it.
How long do they watch a product video?
How many times did they download that PDF file or share a product page on social networks?
Furthermore, using data from traffic analysis, it is possible to identify which content and in what sequence leads to the most conversions. Or, by using segmentation to identify what exactly distinct groups of customers find attractive in your content, you can personalize the experience and make it more engaging to particular groups.
Qualitative research can help you identify your customers’ needs and what they want to hear or get.
When you provide content your customers want, your website will foster even more engagement and trust.
Surveys may help to engage your visitors further, while at the same time giving you valuable insight into what they need, what issues they have, and how you can create a more personalized experience.
Ecommerce is a very competitive business, and companies are always striving to gain an advantage over their rivals. In this environment, customer loyalty is tricky to maintain, as rival websites can easily snatch your customer away.
While competing on price is an option, it’s self-destructive and eats into your profit margin. The only way to stay competitive in the long term is to stay abreast of the latest trends in your industry, and to expend constant effort in increasing customer satisfaction.
Differentiating yourself from your competition and creating an enjoyable experience for your customers is the best way to increase your competitive advantage.
Competitive analysis is an integral part of every conversion optimization program. While it is impossible to get a direct view of how your rivals’ customers behave, it is possible to use heuristic methods to analyze your competitors’ sites and compare them to yours. You can also user-test their sites yourself by going through their conversion funnel.
You can also gain valuable information by reading reviews of competing sites and seeing what customers think of them. Following their social networking activity can yield the same insights.
Additionally, there are industry benchmarks and sites (such as SimilarWeb) that provide market intelligence.
Finally, you can always ask your customers about competitors by posing survey questions like “What other alternatives did you consider prior to purchasing with us?”
Fortunately, most CRO activities work directly or indirectly to increase your competitive edge. By improving the design of your website, improving your content, and personalizing the site for visitors, you naturally differentiate yourself.
We have mentioned personalization multiple times already, and now it’s time to elaborate on what it means and why it is important.
Studies have shown that personalization results in a high payoff. A survey of 19,000 consumers worldwide, conducted by WorldPay, reached the conclusion that 36% of responders would spend more if the offer were customized.
This is the best illustration of importance of personalization for ecommerce. Over a third of customers would spend more if the website was personalized!
Over a third of customers would spend more if the website was personalized.
Another example: the top 20% of the merchants in this study reported a 4.5% or higher conversion rate on average, and they all used personalization techniques.
An example of non-personalized page
As you can see in the above example, there is nothing that appears to taking into account specific customer. Customer sees every type of camera the site offers, from point and shoot to DSLR cameras. Chances are that most visitors will not identify with all of these simultaneously.
This website identifies the visitor as someone who owns Apple device and immediately displays options for it on the homepage itself. This can be achieved by tracking visitor habits and devices they use to access the website.
One of the main maxims on the Nielsen list is “Recognition over recall,” meaning that it’s better to show users site elements or products they recognize in order to facilitate usability.
Following this practice to its logical conclusion will lead you straight to personalization.
By personalizing your website, you go a long way toward ensuring that a customer is given the exact content that they want and expect to see. It’s possible to adjust the layout of your entire interface so that your website is displayed to the customer in the same way you observe them as using it.
An example of this would be adjusting the sequence of product categories to match a customer’s frequently viewed items.
Unlike customization, which relies on customer input, personalization is automatic and is based on customer data.
Using CRO methods, especially qualitative research, you can establish “personas,” or representations of your ideal customers. By identifying the preferences of these different groups, you can provide them with content, offers, benefits, and calls to action that best match those preferences.
This is the best way to instill trust and allow the customer to identify with your site.
Getting to know your customers by having them provide data is the easiest way to start or improve your website personalization, as it allows you to directly respond to what they want to see.
For example, you can use qualitative research techniques like surveys to ask your visitors and customers various questions — whose answers provide you with direct insight into your prospects’’ actual wants and needs.
Sadly, it requires some degree of trust to be able to get all the information you may want to increase personalization. Using quantitative research techniques, you can personalize your website to take into account the information your visitors spontaneously provide you.
Here are some personalization techniques you can apply immediately, using just the data from a user’s visit to your website.
Geolocation personalization allows you to provide different content depending on where a visitor is located. This is done automatically by matching the visitor’s IP address with their country.
This information can be used to accomplish simple things, such as displaying your site in the appropriate language.
It can also help with more complex personalization, such as displaying products in which a visitor might be interested — by using, for example, weather data. So, if a visitor is from a city that’s forecasting rain that day and you happen to sell raincoats, you can immediately show them a selection of raincoats.
This type of personalization is also self-explanatory. Male and female visitors often have different preferences. If you retail clothes, for example, then showing female-identified visitors women’s clothes will shorten their navigation.
You can combine this with geolocation, too, so you can offer summer clothes and bathing suits at the right time.
Most analytics packages rely on the demographic data collected by big data companies such as Google to identify interests of individual visitors. By using your this data you can observe how people who share the same interests navigate your ecommerce site.
When you find common elements and display these prominently to all the people that share the same interest you will achieve a level of personalization automatically.
For example, if you site sells mobile phones, you may notice that people who are into amateur photography prefer phones with better cameras. You can then use this information to display items with the best cameras, and prominently display those items’ features to this specific audience.
Identifying patterns in how different age groups interact with your site also enables you to increase personalization. If you notice that different age groups enjoy different content on your website, or buy different products, you can personalize the website to display the appropriate products or content.
By taking into account whether a customer is using a mobile or desktop device, you can provide a more personalized experience.
For example, mobile users need a simplified interface, and need to be able to achieve their goals faster. According to recent studies, such as the one done by WorldPay, mobile payments in the U.S. are projected to grow sixfold, reaching $117 billion USD annually in 2017.
Online ecommerce retail sales are estimated at nearly $2 trillion in 2016. Tablet and mobile purchases amounted to approximately $170 billion, or 10% of that total.
According to projections, mobile purchases are expected to rise to nearly $700 billion by 2019, and by 2020 they are expected to equal purchases on desktop.
As you can probably see, optimizing for mobile and personalizing the user experience on mobile is not an optional strategy.
Cart abandonment remains the single largest money leak in ecommerce. A Business Insider Intelligence study estimates the loss in revenue at $4.5 trillion — but they also suggest that 60% of that loss can be recovered by timely remarketing efforts.
While shopping cart abandonment ties into other issues on the website, particularly credibility and trust and cost of items or shipping, the checkout design, information availability, and placement of that information all have significant effects, too.
For example, in the study linked above, unexpected costs that appeared prior to payment and which were not communicated to the consumer earlier caused 37% of would-be customers to abandon the shopping process before completion.
Another 28% of customers refrained from buying due to a registration requirement. 25% abandoned their carts because their preferred payment option wasn’t available.
These types of issues can be rectified directly in the conversion funnel, resulting in the ability to recoup at least a quarter of lost revenue.
Reducing cart abandonment and re-engaging wayward customers is one of the low-hanging fruits of conversion optimization.
Through a detailed analysis of the conversion funnel using quantitative analysis, you can identify the steps that cause major leaks. Then, by applying your heuristic research and customer research, you can improve both your funnel design and the informative content you supply during checkout — alleviating issues and resulting in more conversions.
Code errors or browser/device compatibility can be the biggest silent conversion killers in your funnel.
Plus, by surveying customers using exit-intent surveys, you can find out why they’re quitting the checkout process, and what you need to do to persuade them to complete it.
That’s not to mention that technical issues like code errors or browser/device compatibility can be the biggest silent conversion killers in your funnel. Solving these issues always results in an instant increase in conversion rates.
By adding a product to the cart, your visitor takes the first step into the conversion funnel. Not all potential customers who enter the funnel will necessarily complete it. As we have seen, cart abandonment is an important issue that specifically relates to funnel issues and incomplete purchases.
A store’s conversion funnel as depicted by their BigCommerce Ecommerce Analytics.
Common issues that affect the customer’s journey through the funnel are usually tied to lack of clear information, technical and design issues, or pricing issues.
Important design issues usually center around how to acquire information from the customer for item delivery and payment. These usually involve forms, which is why form design is an important part of optimizing customer experience.
Forms that are too long, or require data that has no relation to what the customer is trying to accomplish, will cause unnecessary friction — on top of the friction inherent to every transaction — and may cause potential customers to drop out.
Handling errors in form-filling can be another common obstacle. If you require a certain format for entered data (with phone numbers or dates, for example), use a predetermined format or drop-down menus to make it easier for users to enter data. If you need to report an error, give users clear instructions on how to avoid that error.
By making your forms as easy as possible, and requiring only the minimum amount of information, you’ll aid your customers in completing their purchases and see higher conversion rates.
An important part of CRO research is going through your funnel and fixing or minimizing any leaks. To do this, you must analyze each step of the way and determine the potential reasons your visitors are dropping out.
Analyze your funnel just like you set it up: based on multiple types of data and customer research.
Quantitative analysis of the funnel consists of identifying the steps that have the largest dropout rate, and using this to inform other research efforts, from technical to heuristic.
Technical examination of your funnel steps should ensure there are no tech issues that prevent potential customers from completing a purchase.
Heuristic analysis consists of user-testing the funnel, and examining the results to determine where the user experience is the worst. Next, try to improve UX by improving your interface. For example, many shop owners discover issues with their forms and how they handle user input by examining their user testing results.
Unless there are serious heuristic or technical issues in the funnel, qualitative research is likely to uncover the most data that will enable you to improve your funnel conversion rate (this is the rate of customers who complete the funnel in relation to the total number that start the journey).
Use surveys to identify why customers dropped out of the funnel and neutralize or minimize those issues. Knowing why customers dropped out makes it possible to form the most accurate hypothesis to explain and solve their problem(s).
If your process of selling to customers stops at the “thank you” or “order received” page, you are doing it wrong.
In fact, once a customer buys a product from your site, they have confirmed that they no longer have any issues with trust and credibility; that the information they find is sufficient; and that the offer the site makes is attractive to them.
Therefore, the thank-you page is a perfect opportunity to cross-sell or upsell. By offering products relevant or related to the product the customer has just purchased, you increase the chance they will purchase more products immediately. And even if they don’t, you have planted an idea that may drive them to come back.
The thank-you page is a perfect opportunity to cross-sell or upsell.
Inviting customers to fill in a short survey at this moment (or a few days later via email) is also a great opportunity to collect valuable information about what made the customer buy your product, what alternatives they considered, or what almost made them not buy.
Another thing you can do is send an invitation to the customer to review the product after some time. The length of time should not be too short in order to allow the product to reach your customer and for the customer to have actual experience to share, nor too long so the customer experience is fresh and they recall the main facts with accuracy.
This will remind the customer of your website and also provide you with valuable social proof.
Finally, your thank you page is a type of landing page –– and should be treated as such. In the next chapter, we’ll walk through how to master each type of ecommerce landing page to increase conversion.
Edin Šabanović is a senior CRO consultant working for Objeqt. He helps e-commerce stores improve their conversion rates through analytics, scientific research, and A/B testing. Edin is passionate about analytics and conversion rate optimization, but for fun, he likes reading history books. He can help you grow your ecommerce business using Objeqt’s tailored, data-driven CRO methodology. Get in touch if you want someone to take care of your CRO efforts.