Over the last 25 years there has been an explosion in the way consumers buy products, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the advent of the supermarket. Following the meteoric rise of the internet and all it has to offer, businesses have been scrambling to move their trade online and take full advantage of the new found audiences, advertising spaces and sales opportunities that now present themselves.
While the history of online shopping stretches back to the end of the 1960s (and the first example of an online sale in 1994), the year 1995 saw the launch of 2 websites that would go a long way to defining the industry and giving it the form we know today. We are of course talking about the giants Amazon and eBay, who together have spearheaded the practice of selling products online and have been influential in refining it into what we know today: ecommerce.
In the quarter-century since ecommerce has grown exponentially and is now accountable for around a fifth of all retail sales, and is showing no signs of slowing down in the race to overtake its offline counterpart. For this reason it’s important for businesses to begin carving themselves a foothold in the online market.
What many people fail to realise is that selling successfully online is a lot more than just “getting a website up”, and there are in fact a battery of things that you can do to bring more people to your site, and to turn those potential customers into paying customers, otherwise known as a conversion.
Today we are going to be breaking down these two processes and giving you a headstart in increasing your ecommerce website’s online conversions.
An ecommerce website that converts
Before you even consider going to market with your website, you need to make sure it’s fit for purpose. Does it meet all of the objectives of the user that’s browsing? How easy is it for them to browse your catalogue and ultimately make a purchase?
Let’s talk you through all of the fundamentals for a good ecommerce website.
Slick checkout process
There are whole products and companies dedicated to the fine art of ecommerce checkouts.
The truth is we’re all just one clunky field, or patience testing step away from an abandoned cart and a lost conversion. We need to be constantly reviewing our checkout processes on all devices to make sure they are a) easy to use, and b) offering users all of the latest payment options.
So, what makes a good checkout process?
Firstly, checkout processes need to be short and simple. In and out as quickly as possible. Sure they need to meet the needs of the website and with that could come some additional steps, but on the whole, they need to funnel users to the end goal as quickly as possible without jeopardising on data collection.
We always find that the highest performing checkouts give users an indication of their progress throughout the process, whether that be step one, step two and so on, or a percentage bar. That way, users won’t be expecting the worst if they know that they’re just one step away from ordering.
Try to keep it as consistently designed with the overall website as possible. If the look and feel changes sharply then this could trigger warning signs with the user, whereas a seamless transition from product page to checkout will help keep the process running smoothly.
Discount codes, and making them easy to use
Now that your customer has arrived at your site you have to push them over the edge and get that all important conversion. One of the most effective methods of doing this has always been discount codes because after all, who doesn’t love a good deal?
While discounts have been a great way of promoting sales both on and offline since the dawn of commerce several thousand years ago, the online marketplace allows you to distribute these discounts to specific individuals without potentially losing full price conversions from others. Instead of simply slashing prices across the site for all to take advantage of (which can in itself be a useful tactic), try using discount codes to coax a conversion out of those who are considering buying your product but haven’t fully committed.
You can do this by sending private discount codes to those viewers of your site who have had an item in their basket for several days, but haven’t completed the transaction. This little nudge, along with the added pressure of making it a limited time offer, is a proven method of drawing the maximum conversions out of those who are visiting your site.
Another way to employ discount codes is to partner with businesses like Honey, who are growing in popularity at an alarming rate. These businesses use browser extensions to scan for discount codes on affiliated websites, and give the customer the best price possible at the checkout without any charge or subscription. This is possible as they receive a commission on each sale and so do not have to charge the customer for the discount.
But why would you encourage another business to lower the value of your sale for you and then charge you a commission for the trouble? It’s simple, a customer using an extension like Honey will likely be looking for the best deal possible and so are more likely to shop with you if they can get a juicy discount. And once they know they can get a discount with you, they are more likely to come back to you, leading to increased ecommerce conversions and more inbound revenue in the long run.
Use imagery that resonates with your audience
Audiences love to see imagery that resonates with them, as this is what attracts them to your site and your products. Making sure you have plenty of images that speak to your customers, in all angles, will further grab their attention to want to find out more about what it is you are offering.
If you’re selling a product and it is available in different colours then take the opportunity to showcase this in all angles. It will add more value and attention to your product, keeping users informed and therefore more likely to make a purchase. To keep the consistency throughout, there must be a certain style you maintain for each photo and backdrop.
This also applies to consistency with your branding. A strong and utilised brand is equally as important as it creates a sense of professionalism and trust in your website.
Offer free shipping if you are able to
Nothing quite puts customers off from placing an online order than being hit with a £3.50 shipping fee right at the end of the checkout process. In fact, shipping costs are the number one reason for cart abandonment.
This is generally because shipping costs aren’t usually mentioned on a website until a customer is about to pay, so it’s almost a bit of a shock when the extra fee is added at checkout, and can leave them feeling duped.
If you find that your website is generating a particularly high cart abandonment rate, you might want to revise your shipping options. Offering free shipping is a huge incentive for customers placing online orders, and in today’s world it’s almost expected.
With so many ecommerce stores now offering free shipping with no minimum order value, it only makes sense that consumers would turn their nose up at your delivery charge, and seek out a competitor that offers it for free.
As humans, we’re programmed to be immediately attracted to the word ‘free’, and sometimes are even more inclined to be swayed by the £3.50 saving on shipping, as opposed to say a discount code for £10 off the entire order.
While it may be a case of incurring additional business costs, offering free shipping is certainly something worth thinking about and can often be the difference between making a sale or not.
Optimise your product descriptions
Adding high quality descriptions to your products will increase their value as the consumer will want to know as much information about the product as possible, but at the same time, they still want to enjoy what they’re reading.
So, to combat this make sure you use words that will attract their attention but refer back to key features and specifications, whilst providing all of the technical information that is expected of you. This will give the consumer more confidence in you and your product, and will increase trust in your website.
Furthermore, it’s important to keep your product descriptions as unique as possible. You do not want to give the user the impression your work is copy and pasted from the manufacturer. This doesn’t help you to stand out from the other websites the user is most likely browsing simultaneously, and duplicated text can actually harm your SEO in the long run. Rewrite them to bespokely match your website and your tone of voice.
Call your users to take action
CTAs prompt an immediate response from a website user, so you can imagine how important they can be for ecommerce stores that are designed to generate sales. There are a few factors that can influence a strong and successful CTA on an ecommerce website, and they can be the difference between a user clicking through the site funnel successfully or getting lost and ultimately bouncing away.
From the size of your buttons to the colours you choose, the text you opt for and the place you stick it, all of this needs to be considered when adding a call to action to an ecommerce website. Some popular and common ecommerce CTAs include:
- Add to cart and View cart
- Create an account or Sign up
- Browse here
- Learn more
- Share this product
The main job of a call to action is to ensure that visitors have a clear method of taking that next step in your order process, when they feel that they are ready to do so.
Inspired by the content and want to learn more? Click. Like the look of that red t-shirt and want to check if it’s available in your size? Click. Found something that isn’t necessarily for you, but you know your best mate would suit it perfectly? Click.
It empowers users to take those actions quickly.
Consider adding live chat functionality
Good customer service is such an important quality to have, and this is one way of ensuring you’re providing it at the pre-purchase stage.
If a customer comes onto your website and has a query about your products or services, there needs to be a clear place for them to go to get answers, otherwise they may well exit your site and shop elsewhere.
While sometimes a simple FAQ page might be enough to answer these questions, a percentage of queries will require a human response. The site user could send their query over to your team via a contact form or email address, or contact you through social media, but the response time to this can be varied.
However, with a visible live chat function in the corner of the site offering a call to action, customers can experience a much quicker response. A live chat doesn’t even need to be manned by customer service staff, with many providers offering simple chatbots that can automatically respond to common queries. Having a live chat operated by a human is a big advantage though – it’s much more accurate, and customers will appreciate the truly personal touch in the purchase journey.
…but overall, it all needs to be part of a good user experience
User experience is the overall experience of a website user, when browsing a website or app.
First and foremost, how easy do they find it to navigate? On all devices an ecommerce store needs to be a pleasure to use. Great navigation stems from a solid menu with clearly defined categories and subcategories, but this menu needs to be designed in a format that is clear for users to read and interact with.
The format and design of product pages should be clear and modern with only the key functionality presented in front of the user. Now we’re not saying that you need to focus 100% on usability and 0% on aesthetics, but that’s the fine art of UX design – a layout that’s both pleasing on the eye and gets the job done fundamentally.
User experience in ecommerce is not one size fits all, because different products attract different audiences and different audiences require different experiences. What works well with ASOS’ ecommerce experience, for example, probably wouldn’t translate to football magazine subscription service like MUNDIAL. Their audiences have different habits and different behaviours that need to be catered for.
One thing’s for certain though, if you can develop a good UX on your ecommerce website, you are much more likely to generate consistent conversions from return users that have a repeatedly good experience every time they shop online with you.
How to market your ecommerce store
Say you’ve invested heavily in all of the above, and you have an ecommerce website that’s built to perfection. That’s only going to get you so far. It’s then time to consider how you’re going to market your digital experience, to build consistent return users of your site and drive a high number of sales.
Some more tips from us, below.
Set up a PPC campaign
One of the most fruitful methods of spending your marketing budget, PPC is a simple yet lucrative way of increasing traffic and sales on your website.
Pay-per-click advertising comes in many different forms across numerous platforms, but one of the most commonly used types for eCommerce websites is Google Shopping. By uploading a TXT or XML feed of your products to Google Merchant Center, you can create Google Shopping ads with a low average CPC (cost per click). The ad format means your products will appear at the side of relevant Google search results, or on the separate ‘Shopping’ tab, with product photography, prices and a link that will take buyers through to your website to complete the purchase.
The options don’t stop there though. You could also create text ads to appear at the top of Google’s search result pages, or utilise the Display Network of over two million websites to gain customers through banner ads.
PPC isn’t limited to Google. Rival search engine Bing has a range of similar ad formats, while social media also has a wealth of potential.
Facebook is another popular choice for advertisers, with the site providing versatile formats for you to push your products on users. Facebook uses profile information and activity to deliver your advertising to relevant users who are likely to convert into customers, with the ads available to run cross-platform on Instagram too.
Build your online reviews, seriously!
Trust builds a brands reputation, and consumers’ purchasing decisions are largely influenced by the trustworthiness of a business.
Many of us can admit that we turn to reviews a lot before committing to a purchase. Whether it’s prior to booking a summer holiday, visiting a restaurant or buying a new gadget, we’re all looking for that third-party confirmation that it’s really worth our money.
In a recent Trustpilot study, it was found that 89% of global consumers check online reviews as part of their online buying journey, and 49% of global consumers consider positive reviews one of their top 3 purchase influences. This comes as no surprise, and only reconfirms that customer reviews should be a key ingredient in the marketing strategy of any ecommerce business.
Encouraging customers to leave reviews, whether that’s directly to the product listing on your website, or through an open platform such as Trustpilot, is a quick and easy way to assure potential customers that you’re a reputable company with real customers and real products/services to offer.
It’s also a quick win when it comes to getting ahead of your competitors. If you’re essentially offering a similar product or service at a similar price to other businesses on the market, why should consumers purchase from you over a competitor? Because you have customer testimonials to back up your claims, and this is an area where they’re lacking.
Generating reviews can be done as simply as sending a purchase follow-up email, politely asking customers what they thought of your product, and if they can leave some feedback. If you’re collecting one review out of every ten of these emails sent out, then you’re on your way to building up a solid set of reviews.
Don’t be afraid of negative reviews, either. A few bad reviews in amongst the good do no harm – some customers even like to see this, as it shows that you’re being open and transparent without deleting the negative feedback. And let’s be honest, nothing but 5* reviews across the board can sometimes look a little sketchy.
Influencer campaigns may be for you
The best way for an influencer to increase your ecommerce website would be to first get an influencer who is popular within your niche. Consumers are always hesitant when they are online, however, when you add an influencer that they will recognise this will increase the online conversions drastically.
Although, when looking for an influencer it is important to consider a number of things, such as do you think their personality will reflect your brand’s personality? Would their creative style suit your brand? Or would their followers attract potential customers? Making sure you are aware of this will give you a big advantage and will encourage you to make the right and best choice when deciding what influencer you want.
Furthermore, another advantage of having an influencer is depending on who you choose to collaborate with, if they love your brand it will make it so much easier to work with them. They will fully understand your brand and know what you want, this will lead to a great relationship with the influencer and further successful work in the future.
Build your social media presence organically
While ecommerce has been around for over two decades the ways in which you advertise for your online store have been evolving continuously, and one of the biggest revolutions has been including social media into your overall marketing strategy. There are many businesses who don’t yet realise the importance of social media, assuming that their target audience isn’t on the platform and therefore treat it as irrelevant. These are the businesses who will struggle to survive as time goes on, and with the total usership of these platforms well past 3 billion and counting, it’s not hard to see why.
So how do you use social media effectively? There are several ways to employ platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to help you and each of them has its own particular strengths and weaknesses, but the quickest and by far the most effective method is social media ads.
In the same way that Google recognised that they could sell positions in their search results (leading to the birth of PPC), social media platforms have realised that they can sell the spaces in between posts on someone’s news feed and allow businesses to use these spaces to drive traffic to their own websites. As paid social media ads have proven themselves to be effective time and time again, and platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become accustomed to the incomes they generate you can be sure that this method of advertising will be here to stay.
The real advantages of social media advertising are that it replaces ads in newspapers and on TV as the way of marketing your business in the environment where your customer goes to relax, and allows you to precisely target your audience based on every bit of information about themselves they put into the platform. Here you catch them undistracted and responsive to messages that interest and engage them. With just a little ad spend you can capture the attention of customers and lead them to convert with handy integrations like “shop now” buttons, “swipe up” posts and even buyable pins, where the post itself may as well be an online product listing as they contain images, a description and a “buy it now” button.
As if attractive ads precise down to the postcode and preference of shampoo weren’t enough, platforms like Facebook and Instagram are now rolling out their own storefront integrations that will allow you to sell to your customer without them even having to leave their chosen social media app. This totally seamless process will be one of the biggest changes to selling on social media and may even cause a shift in how we sell online altogether.
While we will have to wait and see how in-app store fronts affect the world of online sales, you shouldn’t be wasting any time in using the existing social media ad platforms to get your ecommerce site in front of those customers who are most likely to convert.
Why not offer free samples?
Depending on the type of products you sell, free samples might be the perfect way of getting customers to make a purchase with you.
In some industries, it simply won’t be a suitable marketing method for the stock you sell, but others will fit perfectly within this advertising model.
For example, if you only sell products in bulk, sending out one of them individually as a sample is a great way of getting a customer to purchase the full package. It’s something that also works well with products that are sent on a subscription basis, with the first package being free with the aim of getting a regular new subscription sign-up.
The free sample method of marketing is perfect for numerous types of product – of course, food and drink is one of the more popular categories that fit into this, but it can work well elsewhere. For example, you might be using eCommerce to sell brandable clothing – if customers can get one of your plain t-shirts for free to check the quality, they’re more likely to go ahead with the personalisation process on a larger scale.
Build a compliant email marketing list – and use it!
If you’re not already regularly promoting your products/services to customers through email marketing, there’s a good chance you’re missing out on some valuable conversion opportunities.
Over 3 billion people worldwide use email, and 59% of consumers list email as their preferred way to receive marketing communications, as opposed to other methods such as text or postal mail.
Not only does email offer a direct route to targeting your customers, but the results are fully trackable. This means that you can measure the success of each email marketing campaign in terms of open rates, click-through rates and much more to thoroughly analyse your audience and their intentions.
There are tons of different ways that you can use email marketing to drive sales through your website, including but not limited to:
- Welcome emails
- Abandoned cart emails
- Re-engagement emails
- Thank you emails
- Feedback request emails
- General offers / discounts / birthday emails
Email marketing lends itself perfectly to a whole host of different scenarios, all with the same end goal – to keep you in the mind of your consumers and encourage them to convert.
The great thing about email marketing is that by using a tool such as Mailchimp, you can automate all of these processes so that when a customer completes a certain action, this will trigger the relevant email, landing straight into their inbox so you don’t even have to think about it.
How do I know when I should be considering a website redesign?
7th November 2023
Top 10 tips for building an email marketing strategy
3rd October 2023
Key considerations when building an eCommerce website
29th September 2023
Beginners guide to the Shopify admin area – plus tips & tricks
18th September 2023