During the last 12 months, eCommerce has experienced growth like never before. The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted businesses exponentially, and data from the Office Of National Statistics shows that total retail sales volumes fell by 1.9% in 2020 versus 2019 – the largest annual decrease since records began.
But whilst in-store purchases fell, online sales rose to a “record high” of 33.9% (as a share of all retail spending). A recent report from Retail Economics and Natwest highlighted that, since the start of the pandemic back in 2020, 46% of UK consumers have made a purchase online for a product they’d usually only ever purchased in store. I know I have.
So it’s clear that if you’re an eCommerce business in 2021, you need a website that helps (not hinders) your customers in converting. It needs to be successful at converting users from visitors to customers.
You might think that to be successful as an eCommerce business, you simply need to have the best possible products on the market. Whilst having a good quality product is an important factor in determining the success of your business, have you ever considered what role your website might play in acquiring your customers and getting them to convert?
You could sell the finest, highest quality, most sustainably-sourced products in the world but if your website isn’t optimised to its full potential, then you could be missing out on a big percentage of extra revenue.
As an eCommerce business, your website is the first point of call for most of your customers. Unless they’re already following you on social media or have made a purchase before, your customers are likely to have landed on your website from a paid ad or a quick Google search. They click onto your site with high hopes and even higher expectations, fully prepared to find the product they’re looking for. But your website is taking a long time to load and, when it finally does load, your customers can’t find your products easily. When they’ve finally tracked down your product listing pages, everything’s jumbled up and it’s not clear what’s in stock. Before you’ve even had a chance to wow them with your award-winning products, they’ve exited your site to find an alternative.
Simply put, if your website isn’t optimised, you’re likely to be missing out on extra revenue.
The good news is, there’s a lot that you can do to ensure success in eCommerce and a big part of that is Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO). CRO is the process of improving the number of users who will complete a desired goal on your website – in this case, purchasing your products. It helps you make the most of the traffic your website already acquires, maximising the ROI of your existing digital marketing activity.
If you’re still unsure, don’t panic. To help you understand what you can do to achieve eCommerce CRO success, I’ve detailed five key components that you need to consider when looking to increase conversions and, ultimately, boost revenue.
The main navigation is a key element of any website and ensuring that it is easy to use and clear to understand, can be the difference between an increasing and decreasing bounce rate. This is only amplified when it comes to eCommerce sites because, let’s face it, if your customers can’t easily find what they’re looking for on your site then they’ll go elsewhere. A web usability report from KoMarketing found that 37% of respondents said that a poor main navigation causes them to leave a website.
There have been many occasions where I’ve been looking to purchase a product but can’t work out how to find it in the main navigation without searching for it (something we’ll revisit a little later). It’s frustrating and inconvenient.
Let’s put it another way. Imagine you owned a high street retail store that sold different types of women’s clothing. To make it easier for your customers to find what they’re looking for, you group your products into categories and position them in different places around the store, with relevant signs over each area. That means that when a customer enters your store looking for a pair of jeans, they can clearly see where they need to go to get what they want, without having to spend time searching your store for the product.
This is effectively what your main navigation does for your eCommerce store. It lists out all of your product categories and ranges, allowing users to enter your site and navigate directly to where they want to go.
As a business owner, you also want to consider the language you use to categorise your products. If you sell wooden tables, tell your customers that you sell wooden tables. Although it might sound more eloquent to describe them as “Solid Timber Work Surfaces”, your customers are only looking for wooden tables so make sure your product categories reflect what your customers are searching for. As NNGroup point out, your product categories need to make sense to your customers.
A good example of this is FeelUnique, an online retailer of premium beauty products. Say, for example, I’m looking for a product that will help with anti-ageing but I don’t know what type of product I want. I click into the ‘Skincare’ menu item, where there are a range of easy to understand categories with additional subcategories under each one. I can see ‘Anti-Ageing’ is listed under ‘Skin Concerns’. Rather than listing out the different names of each product, such as Retinol Serums or Pro-Collagen Marine Creams (whatever they are), Feel Unique have broken their products down into key issues that people experience to help their customers find a suitable product.
I mentioned it earlier, but another aspect of the main navigation that is pretty crucial when it comes to eCommerce sites is the internal site search function. According to trend data from Econsultancy, people who use your search function are more likely to make a purchase, as they are shopping with intent rather than simply browsing your product listing pages.
These types of customers have already made their decision, they know what they’re looking for and are ready to convert, so ensuring that your search bar is visible and easy to use is paramount. And if you’re using site search then you absolutely need to make sure you’re tracking your customer’s searches in Google Analytics. The Google Analytics Site Search report allows you to see what terms your customers are using to search for the products they’re looking for, as well as which pages they start their search on and where they navigate to from the results page. This type of data can allow you to better understand how your customers are behaving on your site and what types of products they’re searching for, allowing you to optimise accordingly.
Naturally, the key components of any eCommerce website are the product pages. You can have the best main navigation and internal search function in the world, but if your product pages are confusing or difficult to use, how can you expect to make any sales?
Your product pages are typically broken up into two categories: Product Listing Pages (or PLPs) and Product Detail Pages (or PDPs).
PLPs are the overarching product pages that users normally navigate to when selecting a specific product category or range. The example below is from premium bike wear brand Rapha. I really like Rapha’s layout; it’s quite minimal in terms of design, but it’s easy to use and provides me with a number of different sort and filter options to help me find what I’m looking for.
PLPs are not as significant for smaller product ranges as they are for more diverse ranges. If your store only sells two types of products, you’re probably best skipping a PLP and focusing your time on creating strong PDPs.
PDPs are the individual product pages for each of your products. An effective product page should be clear, concise and informative, but it also shouldn’t bombard the user with information that they don’t need. Based on my experience, some of the most important elements of a PDP include:
So you have your clear, concise and informative product pages, but you’ve noticed that they’re taking a while to load. So long, in fact, your customers are getting tired of waiting and so exit your site without even making it to the checkout phase. We already know that slow-loading pages cost the fast-fashion industry over £1bn every year, and, according to Hubspot, the first five seconds of a page-load time have the biggest impact on conversion rates. Nearly 70% of consumers say that page speed impacts their willingness to convert, which means that the slower your product pages are at loading, the fewer conversions you’re likely to have at the end of it.
If you’re concerned about how long your product pages are taking to load, why not use something like Google’s Test My Site tool or PageSpeed Insights? I regularly use these tools to test client websites against competitors, to better understand how they’re performing and what improvements we can make. As a business owner, by doing these simple checks on your eCommerce site, I believe you could see a significant increase in the number of conversions and a decrease in the number of users that exit your site without converting.
Picture this: you’ve done your research and you’ve found the product you want to purchase. You’ve flicked through the product imagery, read the reviews and you’ve just added it to your basket. As you ‘Proceed To Checkout’ you’re hit with a long winded form filled with several detailed form fields and it’s not clear whether pressing ‘Pay Now’ allows you to review your order before processing.
Making a purchase on your website should be as easy as possible for your customers, so why do some websites make it feel as though you have to jump through hoops just to get the product you’re looking for? A common issue I see regularly on websites is an over-complicated checkout process. It seems that many businesses believe the hard work in getting a customer to make a purchase, ends when they add a product to their basket, however, this is far from true.
Data from Econsultancy shows that global basket abandonment rate is around 77%, proving that basket abandonment is a key issue for eCommerce businesses everywhere. So, what can you do to ensure CRO success?
Well, a good place to start is conducting user testing of your checkout flow. As a business owner, you’re probably not the best person to test this yourself, as you’re slightly biased towards the end goal. Ask everyone you know outside of your business to go through the checkout flow and get them to note down any comments or issues. This type of feedback is vital, as you’re able to gain a deeper understanding of any pain points that your customers may experience, and thus look to improve them.
One of the biggest reasons a customer is likely to abandon their cart is because your checkout process is too long. If you’re asking a user to input their details over 10 different pages, you’ve probably lost the majority of them in the first 3. If your user testing highlights this issue, ask your testers to list which sections they felt were unnecessary or irrelevant and remove them. You can even set up user recordings on your checkout process to see where your customers are dropping off. Or maybe even consider moving your steps into one page, rather than continuously moving users through to a different page for each section.
Alongside this, you also need to ensure that your forms are as simple and concise as they possibly can be. Form filling is a boring process anyway, so why make it even more painful by asking for every piece of personal information from your customers? Think about what you actually need in order to process an order. Typically, unless your products are more bespoke, I would recommend including first name, last name, email address, potentially a mobile number for any delivery related queries, and an address field.
A few other key considerations include adding a progress bar to your checkout process, so the user knows how far through the purchase process they are and how long they have left; ensure all call to action buttons are positioned clearly; reassure the user that their payment information is protected and your website is trustworthy; provide an order summary prior to order completion, so that your customers know exactly what they’re purchasing and at what cost.
Ultimately, the biggest and most important thing when it comes to the checkout process is that it is streamlined, concise and user friendly in order to increase conversions.
And, as I mentioned earlier, ensuring that every single step of your checkout process is speedy is also key. Remember, a slow loading page will make your customers leave your site, so making sure that your checkout pages load in a timely manner is even more important – your customer is ready and willing to convert, don’t make it difficult for them!
I also believe that many businesses often miss the opportunity to upsell in the basket itself.
The basket is ultimately the holding place for products that a customer wishes to purchase. Recommending products at this stage is a great idea as your customers are not yet in the checkout flow – they’re ready to make their purchase but could potentially be persuaded to purchase an additional relevant product.
For example, I’m purchasing a bike. I add it to my basket and click to view the contents before proceeding with my purchase. In the basket, there’s an “Other Products You May Be Interested In” section, with links to a helmet, bike pump and mudguard. This is helpful, as these are products that I may have not initially considered but would be useful to purchase alongside my bike.
The checkout, however, is the section that comes after I click “Proceed To Checkout”. This is where I’ve made my decision and I’m ready to convert. Don’t start trying to sell me a bike pump at this stage. I am happy with my purchase and I just want to proceed with payment. Trying to upsell at this stage might appear pushy and you may find that your checkout drop-off rate increases the more you try to push additional products onto your customers here.
As a whole, email marketing and data capture is something business owners massively underuse and underestimate. I see this very regularly with clients, where they have a great website and strong product offering, but a poor email marketing strategy which ultimately leaves them missing out on potential leads.
Yes, we have all been bombarded with salesy emails. We know that there are brands out there that send discount emails almost daily, claiming to be providing us with exclusive sale links or reduced-price products. I believe that this is the reason why many businesses steer clear of email, falsely thinking that they’re better off ignoring it completely than putting together an effective strategy. But, as Shopify says, as an eCommerce business owner, if you haven’t taken the time to invest in email marketing you’re (quite literally) “leaving money on the table”.
So how can email marketing and data capture help you with CRO success?
Let’s start with data capture. There are a number of ways you can acquire a customer’s (or lead’s) email address, typically from newsletter sign up forms, brochure or online guide download forms or when a customer makes a purchase. These forms are typically only one or two fields long (name and email address) and explicitly state what the user will get by inputting their details.
Once you’ve got your customer data, you need to organise it. Segmentation is vital to knowing more about your customers. Effectively, segmentation is really just organising your contact information in a way that makes it easier to tailor your email content to better suit your users. Your segments will be unique to your business, however, as an example you might have Newsletter Subscribers, Customers Who Made A Purchase and Cart Abandons. This way you can clearly see your three defined groups of email contacts and tailor their email content based on their specific needs.
Depending on whereabouts within the purchase process they are with your business, there are a number of different ways you can look to encourage your contacts to convert.
For leads (users who are yet to convert), data capture is vital for remarketing. For example, a lead signs up to your mailing list but doesn’t make a purchase. They’ve agreed to receive marketing communications from you including a newsletter and relevant product updates, which implies that they’re definitely interested in your business; they’re just not sure if they’re ready to make a purchase at this stage. This provides you with the perfect opportunity to provide value in your email content, in a way that is relatable, relevant and effective. This is effective lead nurturing.
If your lead added a product to their basket, got to the first stage of the checkout process, and then dropped out, tempt them back with targeted and personalised content, like this example from Birchbox. I can clearly see what’s left in my basket and by giving me the option within the email to return to my cart to checkout now, Birchbox have created a tone that is friendly and helpful, rather than salesy.
And what about those contacts who’ve already converted? If we go back to FeelUnique who I referenced earlier, they retarget customers who’ve made a purchase to remind them to reorder if they’re running low on a specific product. For example, in the email below, they know I purchased a specific product on a specific date and, based on their own data, they have predicted that I may now (after several weeks) be running low on that product and therefore need to reorder.
This type of personalised reengagement campaign is providing value to me, the customer, because rather than trying to sell me new products or give me discounts, FeelUnique is helpfully reminding me that I’m likely to run out of my favourite blusher very soon. This in turn makes me want to reorder with FeelUnique, rather than look elsewhere.
Of course, this can only really be successful if there’s an effective automated flow set up. No one at FeelUnique is sitting there counting out the days after a customer makes a purchase, to then send them a personalised email to remind them to reorder.
Automation does this for you.
For example, you could create an automated email flow that sends an email to a user 1 day after they abandoned their cart, to remind them to come back and finish their purchase. If they purchase from this, great! If they don’t, a second email could be sent 3 days later to let the cart-abandoner know that to help them with their purchasing decision, you’ve created a unique 10% discount specifically for them and if they just click this CTA right here in the middle of this email, they can go on to make their purchase, and so on.
Ultimately, when used in the right way, email marketing is an incredibly powerful tool that could help you, as an eCommerce business owner, nurture leads, encourage more customers to convert and increase your revenue.
Finally, let’s talk about the importance of your branded content pages and how these can be a key component of CRO success for your eCommerce business.
First of all, let’s remind ourselves of what branded content is. Branded content is anything that relates specifically to your brand, rather than your products or services, such as content on the homepage, about pages and careers pages of your website. Branded content provides the user with everything they need (or want) to know about your business, which is incredibly valuable when you’re a smaller, lesser-known business.
You only have one chance to make a great first impression – one chance to build a relationship with your customer and gain his or her trust.
That means that when you’re a smaller business with less of a brand presence, your About page is the key to providing the reassurance your customers need to make a purchase from you.
This is the same for the homepage.
Let’s use an example. You want to order something from Amazon so you visit the website. What’s the first thing you do? Do you scroll through the homepage to see what information you can gather about Amazon? Do you track down the About page to see if you can trust them?
No, you don’t need to do any of this because you know who Amazon is. You know what type of website it is and the products they sell. Maybe you scroll through their homepage to view what recommended products they have on offer, but you definitely don’t spend time learning more about them.
Larger retailers and eCommerce businesses don’t need to worry too much about how their homepage and other branded content pages look because their customers already know about the brand and the company without needing to build up trust.
Smaller eCommerce businesses, on the other hand, need to ensure that these pages are fully optimised and that they show potential customers that your business can be trusted. According to business.com, customers feel more uncertain when shopping online versus in store for reasons such as the security of their personal information and payment details, whether the products in your store are genuine and of a good quality, and how long the items will take to be delivered.
I always feel more uncertain when making a purchase online, which is why I have found myself combing through a website looking for specific signals to validate my choice. Typically, some of the things I look for, when using a lesser-known eCommerce website are:
If you’re concerned about the CRO of your website, I invite you to view your website through the eyes of a prospective customer. Move through the website as though you’ve never seen it before and consider the five key points I’ve detailed above. Ask yourself the following questions: