18 ways to boost your e-commerce conversion rate

It’s amazing what a tiny increase in your conversion rate can do for your profitability. Why? Because increasing conversion rate goes straight onto the bottom line, whereas increasing traffic might well cost money in terms of pay-per-click, banner or traditional advertising.

Here are 18 ideas for boosting your online shop’s conversion rate. I have used them on one or more of my sites: it’s all about testing to see if they’re effective for your particular business. There's no sleight of hand, trickery or underhandedness here - it's mainly about making your e-commerce site easier to trust and buy from.

1. Guarantees

Offer a meaningful guarantee that’s easy to understand. If it’s a physical product then your customer expects to  enjoy the same guarantee as they’d be offered in a high street shop (in addition, of course, to their legal rights), so it’s probably even more important to offer a guarantee for an online service or download. And remember that a guarantee that’s tied up in lots of exclusions and is hard to qualify for is worse than no guarantee at all.

2. “Trust” logos

When I surveyed the visitors to PassYourTheory.co.uk who didn’t buy, one of the main reasons people gave (aside from “I don’t want to pay”) was their concern about whether the site was genuine. By joining Safebuy or the ISIS scheme, your site will be checked to see if it complies with best practice in various areas. If it does, and on payment of the annual membership fee, you’ll be able to display a logo which links back to a verification page on the site. The only decision you need to make is whether the presence of one of these logos is worth £100-£125 per year in extra sales: in most cases the answer is yes!

3. Add-on/related/upgrade purchases

If a customer is prepared to order an item, they are much more likely to agree to purchase an add-on at that time – especially if it relates closely to their main purchase. I’m a bit more wary about upgrades because it’s difficult to recommend an upgrade to your customer without undermining the original purchase.

4. Coupons

Regular coupon offers can be very effective for physical products. At MakingYourOwnCandles.co.uk we offer a coupon to those who sign up to our mailing list, along with a free gift. As with promotions (below), it’s usually a good idea to have a theme for your offer – whether that’s an introductory discount or a Christmas sale.

5. Promotions

Customers don’t expect to pay full price. We’re saturated with special offers of varying validity and, if anything, customers expect to see even deeper discounts online. It helps if your product isn't available on the high street (or at least difficult to get hold of) but I’ve found promotions to be the single most effective way to increase conversion. Surprisingly, I’ve often found that the promotion drives buying customers to the site in greater numbers but they often buy items that are not on promotion!

6. Member benefits

Encourage customers to become “members” of your community by offering coupons and/or free gifts or some other tangible benefit. They should get something out of joining up without buying – at this stage most visitors are not prepared to commit to a purchase, so a coupon on its own is unlikely to be enough.

7. An ongoing relationship

It’s easier to sell to a current customer than find a new one. Once a customer has signed up to your mailing list and bought from you, they should go onto a different mailing list only for customers. These are your very best leads and need to be treated as such. Use that mailing list sparingly, only send emails of genuine value (you should be doing this anyway) and cultivate a win-win relationship.

8. Payment Options

Different sites need different payment options. As a minimum you need to accept credit and debit cards. You can achieve this with the standard PayPal package. On Passyourtheory, we found that our conversion rate increased by around 25% when we added Nochex as a “credit/debit card” option alongside PayPal. You could consider accepting payment over the phone but that requires a dedicated call handler during business hours and so might not be practical. In my experience accepting cheque payment is more hassle than it’s worth except for large payments.

9. Self host the payment page

This is worth testing: are your customers more likely to buy from you if they are sent off to the PayPal site to pay or if the payment process takes place entirely on your site? This will depend on your customers but I know that if I'm asked to pay for something via an integrated process, that suggests to me that the company I’m buying from is a more serious and credible outfit. I still associate PayPal with personal payments and eBay, and integrated systems with sites such as Amazon - I would prefer that my customers associated me with Amazon rather than eBay.

It’s easy enough to integrate the payment process into your site if you have an e-commerce package such as BigCommerce – it’s just a case of signing up to PayPal Pro (or similar).

10. Make it easy to buy from you

Making it hard for a customer to buy from you is moronic. Imagine you’re buying a paper in WHSmith. You pick your chosen rag and turn to go into the queue, only to see that it’s 20 people deep with one person serving. In all likelihood, WHSmith has now lost your business – don’t let your purchasing process be the online equivalent. Your shopping cart should be easy to use, and the purchasing process as short as possible.

11. Use Adwords wisely

By setting up pay-per-click campaigns focused on small groups of keywords, you can then send potential customers to the right product page. For example, if a searcher wants to make candles out of Beeswax sheets, they’re much more likely to buy if they see an advert that specifically mentions Beeswax candle making kits with a link to the Beeswax page.

12. Add personality and humanity to the site

As a small business, you have the advantage of being able to inject your personality into your site. Identifying a human being with the site and its products is hugely effective if it's done genuinely. It’s especially valuable in building up a long-term relationship with your customers. Don't make the mistake a lot of small businesses make of trying to appear corporate.

13. Identify yourselves

It’s amazing how many e-commerce sites still don’t have real contact and identity information. Not only does this flout the law but it undermines the confidence of potential customers. If you put a bricks and mortar address and contact information into your About Us page, customers will perceive you as a genuine business and not a fly-by-night scam.

14. Clear terms and conditions

Again, this is simply best practice, but far too many companies ignore it. If you want to qualify for a “trust” logo then you’ll need to include this information in any case, but doing so establishes trust and credibility. And if your product and service is good, why not?

15.  Present products in terms of their benefits

Don’t assume that customers will know how your products will be useful to them. They might have arrived with a vague idea, it’s up to you to present the benefits of your product/service both in themselves and compared to the competition. People buy with their emotions but justify their purchase rationally -  in other words, they may want your product but they’ll often need to be told why.

16. Have plenty of photos and videos

Online, customers don’t have the chance to touch your products as they would in a shop. The next best thing is to have lots of photos and, if it makes sense, videos.

17. Unique products

If your product is unique then, all other factors being equal, your conversion rate will be higher simply because your customer cannot get it anywhere else. This assumes that you’ve researched your product to find a need and developed it to fill that need. Generally speaking, you’re much better as a big fish in a small pond.

18.  High prices

Test increasing your prices: you might be surprised!

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