Illustration by Jennifer Tapias Derch
Every step of your customer's journey on your website is a pivotal opportunity to make their paths towards purchasing smooth and unproblematic.
In this guide, we'll walk you through some of the tried-and-true tactics and strategies you can employ to improve conversions on your ecommerce website.
Table of contents
- What do we mean by “conversion” in ecommerce conversion rates?
- What are the typical conversion rates in ecommerce?
- Advanced strategies for improving ecommerce conversion rate optimization (CRO)
- Use analytics data to set benchmarks and get cozy with CRO tests
- Get the right tools to determine where your users are getting stuck
- Optimize the speed of your site
- Ensure visitors to your website feel safe
- Improve your navigation
- Employ ecommerce SEO best practices
- Create great product description copy
- Make your product pages actionable
- Improve your site search
- Use high-quality product images
- Leverage social proof
- Create discounts and offers for website visitors
- Work on delivering a seamless checkout experience
- Improve your customers' post-purchase experiences
- Display corporate social responsibility badges on your site
- Optimize for mobile
- Offer multiple customer support channels
- Try virtual reality shopping
- Offer personalized shopping experiences
What do we call a “conversion” in ecommerce conversion rates?
Before discussing how to improve your CRO, it’s helpful to know exactly how we’re defining conversion rates (CVR). Google, for one, defines ecommerce conversion rates as “the ratio of transactions to sessions, expressed as a percentage.” Often, the method for determining this ratio is:
- [number of transactions] ÷ [number of visitors or sessions] x 100 = CVR
So, if you had one transaction for every 10 sessions (or 10 users, depending on the metrics you choose to use), this would have a conversion ratio of 10%.
But while “conversion rate” typically refers to the number of visitors that become customers, you may have other actions you’d like them to take, such as signing-up for a newsletter or joining a loyalty program. CVR can then be used to help you evaluate the effectiveness of specific promotions or sales, UX changes you make to your site, or any A/B testing.
So a more helpful formula might be:
- [number of goals met] ÷ [number of visitors or sessions] x 100 = CVR
Regardless of your goal, determining your conversion rate isn’t just about evaluating changes to your bottom line. Often, it’s about examining the overall health of your site, your products and brand as a whole, and your marketing and customer service.
What are the typical conversion rates in ecommerce?
According to real-time market data from IRP Commerce, the average conversion rate as of July 2021 (based on total transactions per number of sessions) is 1.81%, but it usually hovers between 2% and 2.5%.
For each merchant, the average CVR can vary based on a number of factors, including the category of goods you sell, the cost of your products and your average order value (AVO).
- Arts and crafts: 3.39%
- Baby and child: 0.89%
- Fashion clothing and accessories: 1.63%
- Food and drink: 1.58%
- Health and wellbeing: 3.05%
- Home and giftwares: 0.99%
- Pet care: 2.85%
- Sports and recreation: 1.37%
According to an August 2021 survey of over 1,600 Shopify stores conducted by Littledata, if your brand’s conversion rate is anything more than 4%, it puts you within the top 20% of Shopify stores, while anything less than 0.8% puts you in the bottom 20%.
But before you try to keep up with the Joneses.com, don’t forget that your conversion rate may also depend on your end goal.
While CVR is typically used to refer to the number of visitors that become customers (which is also how we’ve referred to it throughout this article), you may have another goal in mind based on a specific campaign, such as trying to build your database.
Learn more: 15 Conversion Rate Optimization Strategies from the Top Fashion Brands
Advanced strategies for improving ecommerce conversion rate optimization (CRO)
1. Use analytics data to set benchmarks and get cozy with CRO tests
Before you even begin looking at ways to improve your CVR, you’ll need to determine your current conversion rates, alongside other metrics worth measuring, AOV, and customer lifetime value (CLV).
In order to do so, you’ll need to understand your website’s analytics, including how customers move through your website, from the moment they land on your page until they reach the checkout. This is sometimes referred to as conversion funnel optimization.
Doing a full conversion funnel analysis requires taking a deep dive into analytics reports (which can then be used to create CRO tests)
Only after examining these baseline factors will you be able to accurately benchmark and set goals for your CVR and determine how you’re going to measure your success.
2. Get the right tools to determine where your users are getting stuck
Your customers are more than just numbers. That’s why one of the first steps in CRO is taking a holistic and user-centric approach to figuring out where site snags exist. By identifying your site’s functionality issues, you’ll be able to see what’s causing visitors to abandon their carts or leave your store altogether.
From analyzing data and tracking visitor behavior to testing page loading speed, there are hundreds of tools for evaluating your CRO. However, user behavior tracking tools (such as CrazyEgg and HotJar) tend to examine how users interact with your site through one or more of the following:
- Heat maps. This tool is like a virtual version of the game “hot or cold.” This visual representation captures users’ mouse movements, with the hottest spots glowing red, so you can determine what attracts users’ attention—and what goes unnoticed.
- Confetti maps. A variation on heat maps, these charts show where users click based on filters (such as traffic source or country of origin).
- Scroll maps. This tool determines the ideal landing page length for maximum conversions and, in turn, helps determine the best placement for CTAs.
- User recordings. These reports are only possible to generate if done while complying with privacy guidelines. However, they let you record and view a user’s session, which provides rare insight into how users navigate your page and any barriers they might be encountering.
On top of evaluating your existing site, all of the above can also be used for A/B testing for CRO.
3. Optimize the speed of your site
It’s not a myth that your site’s speed plays a crucial role in conversion. In 2006, Amazon reported that just a 100 milliseconds of extra load time cost it 1% of sales—the equivalent of over a billion dollars. Since then, countless studies have gone on to support the idea that faster is better. Simply put, having the goods delivered more quickly results in higher CVR.
For Shopify store Smoke Cartel, trusting Shopify’s servers to deliver faster site load times resulted in increased conversions and sales. The changes resulted in an increase of click-through rate from 0.8% to 1.2%. “It’s just a fraction of a difference, but it means thousands of additional dollars,” says store owner Sean Geng.
Likewise, after Pineapple Dance Studios migrated to Shopify, it experienced similar results. Its new site loaded two seconds faster, improving sales by 207%.
4. Ensure visitors to your website feel safe
The landscape of ecommerce was forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Within the first three weeks of March 2020 alone, 9% of Americans reported buying something online for the first time ever due to the pandemic.
Marqeta’s 2021 Fraud Report found that 67% of all consumers surveyed said they think shopping online more during COVID-19 has put them at a higher risk of scams.
Data breaches don’t just have financial implications. Fallouts from phishing, viruses, and stolen information can do harm to your brand and affect your CVR. Just ask mega brands Estée Lauder, Canon, Nintendo, and Barnes & Noble: all were victims of hacks and data breaches in 2020.
That’s why it’s important—for new customers and seasoned online shopping pros alike—to demonstrate your site’s trustworthiness.
Protection strategies include ensuring your store is PCI compliant; protecting store access with SAML, SCIM, and two-factor authentication; mitigating bots, backing up your store; and employing the use of ecommerce security apps and tools.
5. Improve your navigation
Anything that causes friction to a shopper’s journey lowers the possibility they’ll convert. The navigation of your site should be smooth, intuitive, and seamless, and it should help customers find and buy more products.
Two of the most important spots where this happens are on the entry point of your site (the main navigation) and the checkout page (when you seal the deal and make the conversion).
Yet, according to the Baymard Institute, which conducts large-scale usability tests on ecommerce sites, 18% of websites don’t display product categories in their main site navigation, which results in “severe navigational issues for users.”
As for the checkout page, Baymard found that making small tweaks can make a massive difference to CVR: improved checkout page navigation can increase conversion rates by as much as 35.26%.
6. Employ ecommerce SEO best practices
At its outset, it might feel like SEO has little to do with CRO. After all, one is directed at machines, sometimes resulting in clunky language, while the other is aimed at real human users. But SEO doesn’t just get visitors to your site—it also helps get them to stay there.
Don’t believe us? According to Forrester, 74% of consumers research and compare products via search engines prior to completing a transaction.
To improve your search engine rankings, write your product descriptions for SEO, keeping in mind that humans are the ones buying (more on that below).
In doing so, don’t neglect other SEO strategies, such as improving your page loading time (which can affect SEO rankings), and using tracking tools to monitor and use the most appropriate SEO tactics for your site.
7. Create great product description copy
According to Baymard’s research, 10% of ecommerce sites have product descriptions that are insufficient for users’ needs. As we’ve touched on above, great product descriptions aren’t just written for SEO. They should be persuasive and detailed, yet easy to skim.
Sound like a tall order? It’s easier than you think:
- Write in a language that’s designed to appeal to your target demographic—not just search engine crawlers.
- Address your customers’ biggest pain points. The reason infomercials work is because they focus on how they’re going to help solve a problem. You’re not just selling a product, you’re selling a solution, a lifestyle, or a feeling.
- Use sensory words, but avoid superlatives unless they can be proven. (Think of all those pizza shops that claim to have the world’s best pizzas. Unless they’ve got the actual award to prove it, you’re unlikely to believe them.)
- Don’t forget to include key information such as dimensions, sizing (with links to size guides, if relevant), materials or ingredients, compatibility info, included accessories, and corresponding photos that show the product’s scale.
Good product descriptions don’t just improve a user’s experience, they can also lower the rate of returns. This is important since conversion rates often don’t account for high return rates, which can mean your actual conversion rate is much lower.
8. Make your product pages actionable
Imagine your product page as being the moment that a customer has picked a product off the shelf and is considering putting it into their shopping basket. What if they have a last-minute question and can’t find a sales associate to help them? Or what if they want to buy a product, but a particular color or model isn’t on display, so they head over to the competition to make their final purchase? Or maybe they put it in their cart but can’t find the till, or discover that the store only takes a particular form of payment?
The exact same things can happen when someone is shopping online. Visiting a product page is the moment a customer might make the purchase, but any friction can make them turn around and leave the store.
The solution is to create more actionable product pages. If your shoppers aren’t clicking Add To Cart, it might be time to employ user testing to see the page through your users’ eyes.
9. Improve your site search
An integral feature of site navigation and usability, site search bars allow customers to find exactly what they’re looking for, improving chances of conversion. The easier the information is to find on your site, the less likely shoppers are to leave and look elsewhere.
Generally speaking, though, ecommerce sites have poor search performance.
Among the top 60 ecommerce sites, Baymard Institute found that 70% of the search engines were unable to return relevant results for product type synonyms, meaning the onus was placed on users to know the exact phrase to use.
The result is that in a test of leading ecommerce sites across eight different verticals, Baymard found that 31% of all product-finding tasks “end in vain” when users tried using the site’s search functions.
Why does this all matter? One study indicates that visitors using the search function convert at 4.63%, which is much higher than most websites’ average rate of around 2%.
With searches, shoppers may be conducting an exact search (such as knowing the exact name of a product), a general product type search, a problem-based search (where they don’t know what product they need for their problem), or a non-product related search (such as sizing info or shipping options). Here’s how to optimize your search for each:
- Make sure your internal search bar is easy to find on both desktop and mobile sites. According to Forrester Research, 43% of website visitors go straight to the internal search bar when they first visit a site.
- Make sure your search uses AI capabilities to allow for autocomplete or error correction. (Baymard’s research indicates that 34% of sites don’t return any useful results when users search for a model number or misspell even a single character in a product name.)
- Optimize your search terms for the language and phrases your customers might use, not for industry jargon or internal product names, and note they may also vary regionally. (A British customer is unlikely to search for sweaters, but they’ll certainly look for jumpers.) Make sure you also include these synonyms in each product’s metadata.
- If your site has hundreds of products, allow users to filter results according to price, brand, reviews, sizes, colors, or materials
10. Use high-quality product images
There’s a reason “buyer unseen” stories make the headlines. After all, while we may have reveled in the surprise of mystery grab bags when we were kids, as adults we want to know exactly what we’re getting. For many, photos are the best way of determining this. According to Shopify’s data, 33.16% of customers prefer to see multiple photos, while 60% prefer images that enable them to have a 360-degree view of the product.
Producing your own photography in-house—rather than relying on supplier imagery—lets you differentiate yourself from your competition. It also gives you the opportunity to showcase every product consistently and in its literal best light, allowing shoppers to easily scan the page and find what they’re looking for.
As a general rule, use four to five shots per product—both hero shots (which focus on the product) and lifestyle shots. Make sure to show different product colors or styles, different angles, and if possible, give users the option to zoom in. By using photos that are clear, well lit and high res, you’ll minimize your rate of returns and improve your CVR.
11. Leverage social proof
As we’ve covered above, the ecommerce industry might be booming, but so are scams, which has put customers on the defensive. Likewise, shoppers that are new to your brand will be comparing you against the competition, with the vast majority of shoppers reading between one and 10 reviews before making a purchase.
One of the best ways to capture both wary shoppers and those who have done their research is to leverage social proof, which is the online equivalent of word of mouth. This may include showcasing customer or expert reviews, social media following and engagement, publications that your product has been featured in, trust symbols, award badges, or celebrity or influencer endorsements.
Research indicates this works. According to the Spiegel Research Center, the purchase likelihood for a product with five reviews is 270% higher than the purchase likelihood of a product without any reviews, while purchase likelihood increases by 15% when consumers are exposed to reviews written by a verified buyer versus an anonymous review.
12. Create discounts and offers for website visitors
If you’re looking to improve your CVR quickly, one surefire method is to offer a discount code. Shopify store owners are eight times more likely to make a sale when coupons are used.
Promotions, such as free shipping, can also be an important factor in converting a website visitor into a sale. In a 2019 survey of nearly 1,000 American online shoppers, 68% said they didn’t make a purchase at least half of the time when the retailer didn’t offer free shipping.
Offering discounts and promotions via email and SMS campaigns help improve CVR, particularly where abandoned carts are involved. According to Omnisend, merchants were able to improve orders by 69% by sending out three abandoned cart emails.
But don’t lose sight of the fact that while discounts may result in more conversions, they will also decrease your margins, potentially cancelling out the benefits of an improved CVR. Offer too many promos or discount? You may also risk doing damage to your brand.
13. Work on delivering a seamless checkout experience
For most stores, turning a customer into a conversion happens at the checkout page. Yet, it’s estimated that the average abandonment rate hovers between a staggering 65% and 96%, dependent on the industry.
This is likely because customers are incredibly likely to experience friction at the checkout page. In 2021, Baymard found that 18% of users will abandon their cart if the checkout process is perceived as being too long or complicated.
To reduce shopping cart abandonment, optimize your store for international languages and currencies, consider reducing the number of form fields, offer autofill, and consider creating a one-click checkout process. For Shopify merchant Muddy Bites, converting to a one-click checkout system resulted in high conversion rates and a 1,167% year-over-year growth in 2020.
You can also create a custom checkout using Shopify. For eyewear store Peepers, creating a custom checkout—which showed shoppers how much more they had to spend to qualify for free shipping—resulted in a 30% increase in conversions.
14. Improve your customers' post-purchase experiences
Yes, one conversion is good, but a high CLV is even better—which is why the post-purchase experience is a key part of CVR. Take welcome campaign emails, for one. They have a particularly high open rate of around 50%.
If you’re hoping your customer reviews a product, wait until they have an opportunity to use it or test it out before requesting a review. Finally, make sure they don’t hit the Unsubscribe button by giving your customers an opt-down option and a choice of how often they want to be contacted.
15. Display corporate social responsibility badges on your site
In the 2020 report How Sustainability Is Fundamentally Changing Consumer Preferences, 79% of consumers reported changing their purchase preferences based on sustainability, with 77% saying they were concerned about the humane and fair treatment of workers and 66% choosing to purchase products based on their “environmental friendliness.” Now, more than ever, customers are considering what it means to vote with their dollars.
There are countless ways to improve sustainability in your supply chain, but it will take demonstrating this commitment to your customers to improve CVR. Displaying corporate responsibility badges is just one of the ways to do so, as it shows customers you’re giving back without asking them to do too much research.
16. Optimize for mobile
Research indicates that in 2020, 67% of global online retail traffic was generated via mobile—and it was even higher for some categories such as fashion (76%).
Mobile shoppers aren’t just browsing, though. They’re buying. According to a 2021 Statista study of American online shoppers across 250 retail brands, 5.7% convert on mobile devices (2.2% on tablets; 3.5% on mobile phones), compared to just 3.9% on desktops. The statistics are clear: if your store isn’t already optimized for mobile, you’re missing out on an invaluable opportunity to improve your CVR.
17. Offer multiple customer support channels
The importance of good customer service to CRO certainly isn’t new. But what is changing is the different channels through which people interact with brands—and how quickly they expect responses.
Speed is critical to the way your brand is perceived. In a poll of 1,000 consumers on how long they’re willing to wait:
- 64% of Twitter users expected an answer within an hour
- 85% of Facebook users expected a reply within six hours
- 77% of people said they won’t wait longer than six hours for an email reply
It’s no longer enough to offer customer service through only one avenue—you need to have multiple customer support channels.
18. Offer virtual reality shopping
In ecommerce, the uses of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are still in their infancy. But even now, research indicates it’s working. Customers are much more likely to purchase a product if they can try it out—even virtually—and it’s estimated that by the end of 2020, as many as 19% of shoppers were utilizing VR for this purpose.
Ecommerce merchants are also already seeing success in improving CRO by using VR and augmented reality (AR). High-fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff can tell you exactly what a difference it makes. Website visitors who interacted with a 3D model of one of its products were 27% more likely to place an order. And when customers view a product in AR, they become more than 6% likely to make a purchase. Likewise, by leveraging Shopify Plus’ 3D/AR capabilities to let users place their dog beside a prospective kennel, Gunner Kennels experienced a 40% increase in conversion rates.
19. Offer personalized shopping experiences
Ecommerce personalization can have a big impact on a consumer’s path to purchase, with 2018 Epsilon research indicating 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when brands offer personalized experiences.
This may include geo-location targeting (where content is displayed in a customers’ local language or currency), different homepages based on the age and gender of your shoppers, or suggestions based on similar purchases users have made in the past.
Conversion optimization myths, pitfalls and misconceptions
While there are many best practices to CRO, there are just as many myths and misunderstandings that come with it. Check out these articles for more tips:
- Email Pop-ups With Offer Codes Are The Best & Other Ecommerce Optimization Myths
- Conversion Rate Optimization: What Everyone Gets Wrong and How to Do It Right
- 3 Common Misconceptions About Conversion Rate Optimization That Are Wasting Your Time
- What Conversion Experts Wished You Knew About Optimization
The problem is that while research and surveys can tell us so much about customer behavior, CVR goals have to be driven by the unique needs of a merchant and its customers.
What works for one store is not guaranteed to work for another, which is why setting clear goals, digging into the day, doing the research, and being willing to experiment is the only real solution to CRO.