Ramp Up Your Conversion Rates

Website conversion rates can spark controversy over their definition and accuracy as indicators of success, but the concept seems here to stay.

Website traffic graphs

Your conversion rate is the figure that determines the bottom line of your e-commerce business. In fact, the actual rate may be less important than the fact that it trends upward.

The conversion rate metric is defined as the percentage of website visitors who actually complete an action that you want. By measuring a percentage of traffic, you can gauge how well your site is doing regardless of traffic levels. But rates vary from site to site and there aren't any standardized measurement techniques.

For a retail website, the conversion rate is usually the percentage of visitors who actually make a purchase from the site.

The rates vary according to industry, target market, site quality and other factors, but generally range from 0.5 percent to 8 percent, and even more than 10 percent for the lucky few.

So, given that this metric appears here to stay and is used as a benchmark by many, what can you do to boost your conversion rate? Several things, according to a study titled Merchant Secrets for Driving Conversion, conducted by Chicago-based consultancy the e-retailing group and based on interviews with 30 merchants.

While many factors that drive conversion rates upward are situational, the study shows that several appear to work for everyone, including:

  • Right Products. It doesn't really matter if you have a brick store or an online site, or both. Shopping is about products. Having the right product is the number one tactic for driving conversion. So regardless of the season or the category of your product, have winning goods on your site. If you don't, your competitors will.
  • Right Price. You have to match the right price to the right product. Whether you are aware of what the competition is charging or you use web crawling technology to determine your competitors' pricing, you need to keep what you charge on a competitive level.
  • Freebies. Most people like to get something for nothing, so major drivers of conversion are enticements such as deep discounts, a free service with the product or the old standby, "buy one get one free." And free shipping can go a long way toward boosting your conversion rate. There is anecdotal evidence that offering free shipping drives sales better than a 30 percent discount and that conversion rates bump up a few percentage points whenever free or minimal-cost shipping is offered.
  • Search. You must have a search tool that works quickly and accurately and it must offer items relevant to a shopper's keyword. Search results also help cinch sales if they bring up special offers, top sellers, cross-sellers and up-sells.
  • Streamlined checkout. A customer may have a cart full but if that consumer is confronted with complicated and time consuming steps before the transaction is completed, you run the risk of losing the sale. Optimize your shopping carts by keeping everything in the upper half of the page and letting shoppers know where they are in the purchasing process. Of course abandoned carts aren't always a major issue and that metric needs further study. Some shoppers return and complete their order within 30 days and use the cart as a placeholder.
  • Navigation. Speed and ease highlight a site's performance and it is imperative that navigation is easy, logical and intuitive. Ease of shopping encourages conversion and more purchases. Good navigation includes quick access to key categories, customer service, cross-channel capabilities, as well as information that supports the company as a whole. A number of merchants mentioned the value of easy access to such subcategories as Men's, Women's, New, Gift Ideas, Top Sellers and Promotions.
  • Product page. Where the shopper lands on your site is often a product page, which in essence becomes your home page. That, then, needs to be complete and full of information that can answer every question or concern. Product descriptions should allow for a quick overview and provide in-depth information. If a single feature is missed, you risk losing the sale. Merchant guarantees can help boost conversion rates, as can product ratings, zoom photos, and color change technology.

When selecting the location and nature of the items on the product page, consider:

  • The category and what works best.
  • The number of items you wish to promote (three or at most, four).
  • The most relevant tactics, such as cross-selling items, up-selling items or similar products.
  • Supporting messages so shoppers quickly scan recommendations, for example customer favorites or top sellers.

Entry and Exit: While you're at it, take a close look at where your online shoppers land on your site and where they leave. Exit pages could indicate a place where you need to add some encouragement to stay or to buy. And if you compare conversion rates based on where customers landed, you may find that some of those landing sites need improvement.

The Basic Tenets

Conversion is essentially driven by sound selling practices specific to a merchant's business model. The Merchant Secrets for Driving Conversion study by the e-tailing group in Chicago lists these ten basic tenets that successful online retailers follow:

  1. Designing a well-branded site/store/catalog.
  2. Stocking desired merchandise at a fair price.
  3. Offering consistent policies and convenience tools across all channels.
  4. Providing intuitive navigation throughout the site.
  5. Presenting key pages with well thought-out design and functionality.
  6. Deploying merchandising features that meet the needs of your primary shopper types.
  7. Testing suggestive selling strategies to increase the average order size.
  8. Maintaining a keen awareness of the competitive landscape and category benchmarks.
  9. Striving to deliver more personalized shopping experiences.
  10. Prioritizing responsiveness to customer actions and communication.

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