Learn how to hypothesize, A/B test, and iterate with ecommerce CRO to improve your ecommerce store’s conversion rate and lift revenue.
If you own an ecommerce store, you’re undoubtedly already familiar with the term “conversion rate.” It’s arguably the single most important metric in ecommerce: Without a high conversion rate, all your web traffic, brand awareness, and marketing dollars never turn into revenue.
Ecommerce conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the strategy of gradually improving the user experience on your site to turn more browsers into buyers. At the highest level, CRO is all about identifying areas of opportunity to convert throughout the customer journey and continually A/B testing small tweaks.
We’ve invited one of our agency partners and European CRO Agency of the Year 2022, Swanky, to share their expertise on the key ingredients of a successful CRO strategy. We’re going to dive right into the process of A/B testing but if you’re newer to the topic, you’ll find some basic FAQs about conversion rate in ecommerce at the bottom of the article.
Why A/B testing is the backbone of CRO
Changes to your ecommerce site should always be approached with caution — or more specifically, with A/B testing. While every change to your website has the potential to affect your conversion rate, that difference could be positive or negative.
For example, you may think a pop-up advertising a new promotion will lead to higher conversion rates. That’s possible, but the intrusive experience of a pop-up may also turn visitors away from your website, lowering conversion rate.
The only way to know for sure what will improve your conversion rate is to test every change that you make. So before charging ahead with perceived improvements, it is vital to have a testing plan in place.
The most robust way to test your CRO experiments is through split testing, often referred to as A/B testing.
Split testing, as the name suggests, splits your audience into two or more segments (segments A, B, and so on). Each of the segments is served a different version of the page when they arrive on your site, although none of your users will be aware of this. The first segment will view the original version of your page — the control — while others will view a variant.
By measuring the rate of conversion from each segment, as well as a range of other metrics, you can build a clear picture of how each variant impacts your conversion rate. You can then confidently stick with the more effective approach and start A/B testing another element of the page.
To further improve your data, you can choose to separate segments according to customer type. For example, you might choose to test new visitors compared to returning customers, allowing you to personalize your customer experience for different users and get richer test results.
How do you set up A/B testing on your website?
There is a range of tools you can use for your A/B testing. These tools plug into your website and other platforms, such as your email marketing software and customer service provider, and allow you to set up tests quickly and easily.
To continually raise your conversion rates, you will want to establish a cycle of testing and iterating CRO experiments. Each A/B test will give you further insight into your customer behavior and give you additional ideas for future tests, as you’ll see below when we talk about ecommerce CRO strategy.
How to build an ecommerce CRO strategy
Swanky helps ecommerce businesses around the world boost their sales revenue through effective CRO strategies. When we work with ecommerce brands, we build and run CRO strategies in six stages (and recommend you do the same).
These stages form a circular process that continues indefinitely, as you continually learn from your results, shift your focus, and make further improvements.
- Define your goals
1) Define your goals
The first step of the CRO process is to define your goals. While people use the term “optimize” to mean “improve,” the correct usage is to optimize for something, be it more page views, sign-ups, or purchases.
- Are you looking to build your email list and improve customer retention?
- Do you need to raise profit margins by increasing your AOV?
- Do you want to target new customers, or focus on returning shoppers?
Every business will have different priorities, and these priorities will inform what changes you will need to make to your customer experience.
If you’re just getting started with CRO for the first time, consider testing and optimizing your checkout flow. 70% of all carts get abandoned during checkout, many of which are due to a poor checkout experience. While this isn’t a catch-all solution for every brand, most see a healthy lift in purchase rate by optimizing their checkout flow for completed purchases.
2) Analyze your existing data
Before you begin making any changes to your site, you need a clear picture of how your customers are currently progressing through your funnel. A deep analysis of your data will allow you to spot pain points along the customer journey. This helps you focus your efforts on areas likely to have the greatest impact.
The customer journey can be broken down into various stages:
- Discovery: The research phase, when the customer learns about or looks for a product, service, or business. This is the stage where they need to be attracted.
- Engagement: Where the customer seeks further information about the product or service. This is after they’ve been attracted but need to be sold to.
- Purchase: Where the customer purchases the product, through a seamless and enjoyable checkout experience, from start to finish, online and offline.
- Loyalty: When the customer is most likely to be willing to form an ongoing relationship, place repeat purchases, and promote your brand to friends and family.
Besides your ecommerce platform, you can collect data from various sources, such as Google Analytics and Search Console, CRM data, online marketplaces, and so on, as well as a range of other tools such as Crazy Egg or HumCommerce.
For more in-depth analysis you can use customer exit surveys and heat mapping to get a better picture of your customers’ onsite behavior, as well as their motivation for failing to convert during a site visit.
📚 Related reading: Learn how to collect and implement customer feedback from your helpdesk.
3) Build a hypothesis
Once you have collated all your customer insight, you will start to triangulate the pain points throughout your customer journey. Now, you can start to hypothesize on how you might improve your conversion rate.
Of course, you’ll want to use your data to guide your search. If you have one product page that converts three times higher than the rest of your pages, look into the difference to understand what elements of that page you could test on others.
Conversely, if a significant percentage of carts get abandoned at one step of the checkout process, start looking at that step to understand what could be the conversion barrier.
You might want to consider:
- Which pages are central to your customer journey?
- What are the main things blocking conversions?
- What changes could you put into place that would help more customers convert?
Some of these hypotheses will rest on common sense (e.g. a small, hard-to-find email submission box is a likely barrier to email newsletter signups). Others may be inspired by CRO best practices, like the 13 we share below.
If you’re having trouble developing a hypothesis, consider asking a friend to try and sign up for your newsletter, purchase an item, or achieve some other conversion goal. Ask about their experience and watch as they navigate the site. A fresh user’s perspective may help you discover opportunities to re-design webpages, re-organize your website, and use alternative copy.
4) Prioritize your testing roadmap
No doubt you will have a long list of improvements you could make. Some of these will be easy wins — fixes that are quick to implement and highly likely to be effective. Others may be more complex to implement, usually requiring support from a developer, with less guarantee of having a meaningful impact.
You will therefore want to start prioritizing your ideas for improvement, identifying low-hanging fruit that is likely to bring you the most immediate impact. When in doubt, fall back on the goals you established in the first step. Your results will be easier to interpret if you test against one goal at a time.
📚 Related reading: See our tips on how to build a prioritized testing roadmap for your store.
5) Test one hypothesis at a time
This is the stage where you put your ideas to the test. Using a testing platform such as Optimizely or Kameleoon, build your new variants of the page, segment your audience, and start comparing the results.
For the most accurate results, you will want to test small changes individually. If you make multiple changes at the same time, it will be impossible to tell which is having an impact. For a concrete example of A/B testing in action, check out Swanky’s CRO experiment for Saltrock, a UK-based surfwear brand.
Here was the original mobile menu, where visitors would get text-only sub-categories after clicking on any of these buttons:
And here was a variant that used blocker shapes and photographs, to increase menu use (measured by an increase in collection page landings, product page landings, and revenue per user).
Note: While the image below features the same photograph, the test was conducted with actual product photography.
After running this experience, Swanky found the variant outperformed the original with 76% confidence and helped Saltrock build the polished menu they still use today.
6) Learn from your A/B test
What were the results of your tests? It’s tempting to view A/B testing as a means to simply find the winning result, and to see any change that does not improve conversion rate as a failure. However, the goal of testing is far broader, with one of the main goals being to learn more about your clients.
Were the results what you expected? Perhaps you saw an increase in transactions but a decrease in AOV as a result. Why do you think this is? Was the impact greater among one demographic than another? Analyzing how your customers respond in different situations will help you to understand them better and serve them with what they need.
This final step of interpretation is in some ways the most important of all as it helps you to improve your strategy and form new ideas. Now you are ready to go back to the start, redefine your goals, draw up some new hypotheses and prioritize what tests to perform next.
13 tactics to test for ecommerce CRO
As we explained above, the backbone of CRO is conducting controlled tests based on user behavior. Until you establish such a system, be careful about applying CRO suggestions you read online. What works for one brand may not work for yours, and you’ll have no way of knowing without testing.
Once you are ready to A/B test, however, consult CRO best practices when deciding what to test first. Core aspects such as your search functionality, your checkout process, and your product pages improve conversion rates more often than not, and usually have a big bang for their buck.
Here are 13 ideas for where to start your CRO journey:
1) Personalize your customer journeys
Before you start to drill down into specific changes on your site, first you need to ask yourself: “Who am I targeting?”. Different customers will require different customer experiences to convert.
By segmenting your customers, you can offer targeted, personalized customer journeys to each segment that are more likely to have a greater impact. Segments could be new vs returning customers, local vs international customers, or customers from various acquisition channels like a social media influencer campaign.
For Gorgias and Swanky client YuMOVE, CRO testing revealed that displaying the number of customers who purchased an item on the product page as a form of social proof had little to no effect on returning customers, but increased purchases by 11% among new site visitors.
Therefore, we segmented site users into new customers and returning customers. We made the social proof visible on all product pages for new customers only, improving conversion rate among this segment while avoiding crowding regular customers with unnecessary information.
With every change you make to your ecommerce store, consider how it might impact different types of customers. A perceived “improvement” may increase conversions in one segment but harm another segment. Personalize your customer journey to have the maximum impact.
📚Recommended reading: Our guide to personalized customer service, including key benefits and tips.
2) Landing page optimization
You can optimize the customer journey from the first moment users land on your site by perfecting your landing pages. Test imagery, copy, and calls to action (CTAs) on your homepage and other landing pages to discover what encourages customers to click through to the product page.
The test’s results showed that highlighting relevant information for the customer on the landing page reduced the number of other pages a customer viewed before making a purchase and increased transaction revenue by 6.4%.
Rolling the new landing page out to 100% of traffic to the site could therefore raise overall revenue by 17%.
Having concrete statistics like this from tests enables your ecommerce and marketing team to provide clear evidence to stakeholders demonstrating the ROI of investment in your website improvements.
3) Pop-ups and promotions
Pop-up ads should be approached with caution. Whilst they can greatly help boost conversion rates when used well, they also risk distracting or irritating your site visitor. Therefore, the timing and positioning of your pop-ups are essential to optimize results.
If a discount coupon code pop-up appears when a customer is about to complete a purchase, this could cut into your profit margins unnecessarily, since the customer was prepared to pay full price for the product. However, if you time your pop-ups to appear when the user’s mouse is headed towards the “close tab” button, this could catch a customer who is about to leave your store, and incentivize them to stay and make a purchase using a discount code.
Alternatively, a pop-up inviting customers to join your mailing list is unlikely to convert as well when customers first arrive on your site as it might later in the customer journey, once they have got to know your brand.
If you use Gorgias, one alternative to an obtrusive pop-up is a chat campaign that automatically triggers to customers displaying certain on-page behavior. You can use these campaigns to ask if the customer needs help, announce a new promotion or product, or share a discount code.
Here’s an example of a chat campaign from Gorgias merchant Jaxxon, who uses chat campaigns and other automation features to boost revenue by 46%:
But unlike pop-ups, these only appear in a corner of the screen and give the visitor an easy path to talk to a real person.
📚Recommended reading: 6 examples of revenue-generating chat campaigns (and how to set them up in Gorgias).
4) Search functionality
How easy is it for customers to search for the product they need on your site? Online shoppers who use the search bar on your website are 200% more likely to convert. If your search bar isn’t programmed properly or if your products aren’t tagged, the search option won’t help your shoppers at all. And if you want your store visitors to make a purchase, they first need to be able to locate the item they are looking for.
Allowing your customers to search by size, color, brand, etc. will ease their online shopping process and make them more likely to reach the checkout, and return to your site again in the future.
Gorgias client Pulse Boutique saw a 14% increase in revenue per mobile user when Swanky introduced an improved filter on product pages, enabling customers to browse only products available in their size. Here’s an image of their new-and-improved Plaid collection, showing only products currently available in a size Medium.
5) Product pages
The quality of your product pages will be key to persuading customers to click the “add to cart” button. High-quality product images are essential, as well as a carefully crafted product description.
The description gives the shopper important information about the product itself and contains keywords that improve your Search Engine Optimization efforts and help the customer make a confident purchase.
We’re big fans of Ohh Deer’s product pages, which feature high-quality images and illustrative product descriptions:
It’s also valuable to include customer reviews and testimonials on product pages, as positive social proof plays a key role in reassuring the customer about your product before they purchase.
As you’re building these product pages, be careful not to overload them with too much information. This could lead to information overload for your website visitors and increase the page’s load time, which is a bad experience for your customers.
6) Live chat
Live chat is great for customer support, but it doesn't end there. Most online store visitors want to buy something but many of them are on the fence. Since there’s nothing on a web page to persuade them to finalize the purchase, they often leave the store without buying anything.
That’s where your sales agents can help. By placing a live chat option (supported by a chatbot or other kind of self-service alternative) on every single page, you can encourage shoppers to finish what they started. Research shows that people who use live chat are 3X more likely to complete their purchase before leaving a website.
7) Product suggestions
Customers often don’t know what product they need or want when they land on your site. The more you know about them, the easier it is for you to offer up pertinent product suggestions. And if customers find the products they want, they are more likely to make that all-important purchase (and come back for more).
There are plenty of ways to offer personalized product suggestions, based on search history and purchase history, and tools such as Nosto are excellent at creating these. You can also create a more interactive approach with your customers, to proactively help them discover the product they need.
With Gorgias client Loop Earplugs, Swanky tested an interactive approach to the customer journey, in the form of a quiz. Since Loop’s product specifications can be complex to explain to new customers, this quiz format enabled customers to find the product that best suited them by answering a few simple questions.
There were various benefits to this test. Firstly, it produced an overall 2.7% uplift in conversions, with a particularly high impact among new and potential customers, who saw a 5.9% increase in conversion rate. Overall, by implementing the test across all their traffic, Loop could generate an additional 2% of their UK annual revenue.
Secondly, the quiz element also created valuable zero-party data about users for the company. This information could then help the brand personalize its email marketing in the future, to further improve conversions from its email campaigns.
8) Improve the checkout experience to avoid abandoned carts
Let’s talk about shopping cart abandonment. 70% of carts get abandoned, usually because of a complex or misleading checkout process. If your checkout takes too long, people will start bouncing. You’ll want to do everything in your power to prevent this from happening.
Your sales team doesn’t need to know every single detail about your customer’s life before processing purchases and sending products out. Keep the form fields to a minimum and ask the customer only for essential information that concerns payment and shipment. If you currently require users to sign up before making a purchase, add a guest checkout option pronto.
We streamlined the signup process, making each stage user-friendly and reassuring the customer by showing a progress bar to show customers that they didn’t have far to go.
📚Recommended reading: 12 tips to reduce cart abandonment for your ecommerce store.
9) Create urgency
When time’s running out, shoppers become anxious. They start making faster decisions without overthinking them. By adding time pressure on your visitors, you remove the opportunity for them to consider all reasons why they might not make a purchase.
There are various ways to achieve this goal. You could add a countdown timer to your pages, giving visitors a sense of urgency to motivate them to purchase before it’s too late. One brand managed to increase sales by more than 330% with limited-offer incentives. You could try:
- Countdown to a holiday: “Only 4 days left to order to guarantee your delivery arrives before Festivus”
- “Order by 3 PM to get same-day shipping”
- “This item will be held in your cart for 5:00”
- Remaining inventory counts
Alternatively, you can create social proof using count-ups. This approach could look like:
- “5 people bought this product in the last 24 hours”.
- “Shipped to 83 countries”
- “Over 10,000 shipped and 983 positive reviews”
10) Payment options
Although many customers are still happy paying by credit card, customers are increasingly looking for faster methods — shopping apps such as PayPal or digital wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay. “Buy now pay later” options like Shop Pay Installments, Klarna, AfterPay and Four are also increasingly popular.
By failing to offer customers their preferred payment options, you risk losing revenue. 7% of customers would abandon a transaction if their preferred payment method wasn’t available.
Baby and parent brand DockATot saw a significant drop in cart abandonment when they added ApplePay to their checkout. Customer feedback showed that busy parents found it time consuming having to enter card details every time they made a purchase.
11) Delivery options
With 19% of customers abandoning their carts because of slow delivery estimates, your ability to deliver products promptly (without high shipping costs) will impact your conversion rate.
Between Amazon, Wayfair, and all the other big players, free shipping has become the norm. What’s more, customers increasingly expect an easy returns process, the ability to track their delivery, and to select and amend their delivery date.
Ecommerce conversion rate optimization permeates every area of your business and optimizing your ecommerce fulfillment and post-purchase experience is just as important as the earlier stages of the funnel. For example, you could consider using free shipping as an upsell mechanism if you have a low average order value.
12) Streamline your customer support
Your customer support is at the heart of ensuring a positive post-purchase experience, so it needs to be as streamlined as possible.
Keep a regular look at the data from your customer support service. Which questions come up time and time again? For most companies, the most common questions are about shipping, return policies, and the status of orders. Use this insight to add additional automated responses to speed up your support team’s responses.
Also, you can update the FAQs section of your site to answer these common questions, freeing up your team to deal with more pressing issues.
What’s more, feedback from your customer support can also help you improve the customer journey. If there are issues that arise often, you can use this information to identify areas of your business that need improvement.
13) Launch a customer loyalty program
Acquiring new customers to your store is costly. So, although your initial goal will be to lead them to complete a purchase, in the long term the key to building your revenue is the ability to retain customers. By improving customer retention, you can increase the customer lifetime value of each of your customers, thereby improving the ROI for every new customer acquisition.
Loyalty programs are an excellent way to encourage customers to come back again and again. Gorgias customer Pulse Boutique saw a 39% increase in returning customers after Swanky helped them build a loyalty program using LoyaltyLion.
The Pulse Perks loyalty program rewards customers for interaction with the brand and encourages them to make further purchases by offering discount codes and vouchers. Customers are incentivized to leave reviews and share content, which in turn helps introduce new customers to the brand.
Advocacy is an excellent way to incentivize your customers to grow your customer network for you. As well as personal referrals, simply featuring product reviews on a website can produce an 18% increase in sales on average.
Related: If you use Gorgias, check out our integration with LoyaltyLion.
FAQs about ecommerce conversion rate optimization
When a user lands on your ecommerce store, your ultimate aim is for them to buy something—that is, to convert into a customer. There’s little point in spending your marketing budget on cultivating a social media following, improving your SEO, and drawing website visitors to your site unless you can convert your site traffic into sales.
What does conversion rate mean in ecommerce?
Conversion rate is the percentage of people who complete the desired action on a given website or webpage. Generally, the desired action is a step toward making a purchase.
Conversion, or the act of completing the desired action, looks different at each step of the customer journey. A conversion could be:
- Signing up for a newsletter
- Clicking on an “add to cart” button
- Completing a purchase
Whatever the conversion, you want to optimize your ecommerce website, acquisition channels, and retention strategies to ensure every step of the user journey has the best shot of moving customers down the funnel, closer to making a purchase.
That’s where conversion rate optimization comes into play.
What is conversion rate optimization (CRO)?
Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the continual cycle of iteration, testing, and improvement of your ecommerce store.
CRO can extend beyond your website to your email messaging, your customer support interactions, and your wider digital marketing campaigns across all your channels. At every stage, you must ask (and test to answer):
- What are the potential barriers to conversion and how can I eliminate or reduce them?
- What is the optimal experience that will entice the customer to buy my products?
What’s the average conversion rate?
In Q1 of 2022, Kibo Commerce released data based on billions of customer sessions on 250+ ecommerce stores showing the average ecommerce conversion rate in the US is 2.3%.
The report breaks down this number into a few categories. For instance, conversion rate for ecommerce is around 2% on mobile devices and 3% for tablet and desktop.
What’s a good conversion rate?
For most ecommerce brands, a conversion rate of 3%+ is considered a good conversion rate.
However, this number varies depending on your industry and size. Also, the type of conversion in question will change this number: You should expect to get more email signups than purchases, for example, though both of those could count as conversions.
If your conversion rate is much lower, don’t be discouraged. If your conversion rate is low, chances are you have some easy opportunities to radically raise conversion for your store. It’s far more important to continually improve your conversion rate, no matter where it started, than reach an industry benchmark.
Calculating your conversion rate
Your website’s real conversion rate can be calculated as follows:
Take the number of visitors who converted to customers, divide it by the overall number of store visitors you had during a certain period, and finally, multiply that number by 100. This will give you your conversion rate at that particular point in the funnel.
No matter what rate you aim for, you’d probably agree that there’s always room for improvement. No website is ever perfect, and what’s more, customer behavior changes over time. CRO is an ongoing process of learning and improving.
The benefits of CRO for your ecommerce business
Of course, the ultimate goal of CRO is to improve your bottom line. However, there are plenty of ways to do this, and CRO can be used across many elements of your business to optimize every part of your activity.
Some of the benefits of CRO include:
- Drive traffic and sales volume: Improve your customer acquisition and click-through rate to bring more customers to your store
- Reduce cart abandonment: Identify and eliminate the barriers to purchase so that more customers make it through checkout
- Increase your average order value (AOV): Use upselling, product bundles, recommendations, and other tactics to increase the amount spent on each order
- Boost the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) of your customers through loyalty programs that encourage customers to return again and again
- Improve your marketing ROI: Test the effect of each campaign, to optimize future campaigns and analyze results to inform where to channel your future marketing budget
- Encourage advocacy: Get your customers to sell your products for you by incentivizing referrals and positive customer reviews
- Reduce overheads: Increase the availability of your support team to answer urgent pre-sales questions by learning from your customer data, so that you can streamline your support processes
Start boosting your ecommerce conversion rates today
Improving conversions is a complex process, especially if you’re still new to ecommerce. If you’d like a CRO agency to guide you through the process, you can reach out to Swanky to discuss their CRO services.
Additionally, understand that a helpful, responsive, and self-service customer service program is a key ingredient for high conversion. Gorgias is the customer service platform built exclusively for ecommerce, and we help over 10,000 online retailers turn web traffic into happy repeat customers.