JeremySaid's Blog for Startups and Lead Generation

6 CTA Hacks Used by the Most Successful Ecommerce Companies

Posted by Jeremy Smith on Sep 8, 2014 10:32:35 AM

Calls To Action For Ecommerce Companies

So you want to get better at conversion optimization? There are some things that you can learn from the big boys in the industry. The giants behind sites like Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Apple.com have a thing or two to teach us all about shopping carts, the checkout process, and calls to action (CTAs).

In this article, you’ll discover the CTA hacks that these guys are using to score big-time conversions. You’re bound to learn a thing or two.

CTA Hack No. 1:  Repeat Purchases


Revenue:  $61 billion

Here’s the crazy thing about Amazon. They’re the king of e-commerce, and they are growing at an exponential rate. In 2011, they’re growth rate was over 40%. (That makes me dizzy.)

Amazon clearly knows what they are doing. One reason why they’re so good is because they’ve been doing it for a while. Amazon has been selling stuff online since 1995. For reference, that was shortly after dinosaurs became extinct.

It wasn’t until 2001, however, that Amazon turned a profit. I guess it wasn't easy pulling through the dot-com bubble. But turn a profit they did, and they’ve been turning heads ever since with their profit.

How did they do it?

With virtually no cognitive load, no friction, and no worries, customers can buy things off the site in a single click. Look at this — It’s their trademarked “1-Click.”

CTA hack by Amazon.com - One click

1-Click allows users who are signed in to buy items without going through the shopping cart!

If you know anything about conversion optimization, you know that the shopping cart is the single area of an e-commerce site that is fraught with danger, toil and snares. “Shopping cart abandonment” is the feared bugaboo of any e-commerce retailer.

What Amazon has effectively done is eliminated shopping cart abandonment by eliminating the shopping cart. Smart, yes?

It’s almost like the real-life shopping cart experience. Something catches your fancy, so you toss it in your cart. You forget about it. Later, at the checkout register you realize it’s in your cart, and the cashier has already rung it up. Too late. It’s genius, really.

In the CTA above, you’ll see two buttons. In most e-commerce settings, this would be a no-no. With Amazon, however, it’s a yes-yes. Why? Because it’s the 1-click button.

Plus, their “buy now” button has several other features that invite it to be clicked:

  • The buy-now button is a darker shade of orange. This creates a stronger color contrast, which draws the eye toward it.
  • The word “now” has psychological appeal.
  • Numbers, especially the number 1, have psychological appeal.
  • The button is positioned in the center of the CTA box, meaning that the eye is more likely to be drawn to it.
  • The buy-now button is located in close proximity to the urgency signal (Order within 30 hours, 45 minutes) which increases the psychological tension to buy it now.

How You Can Increase Your Conversions

If you can create a “buy now” process, do it. If not, then learn from Amazon and make your shopping cart process unencumbered by extra steps and hassles.

CTA Hack No. 2: Trust Signals Everywhere


Revenue:  $16 billion

If you hang out with SEO people, you probably knew that eBay got nailed by a manual penalty, which means that they lost a lot of organic search volume. Too bad for them. But thankfully, in terms of revenue, eBay is not doing too badly. eBay is another one of those old-as-the-hills e-commerce companies. They, too, were born before the dot-com bubble, and came out stronger after it popped.

How did they do it?

One of eBay’s built-in challenges is trust. eBay is an auction site, allowing people to buy stuff from just anyone. In many cases, this obliterates any sense of trust that a consumer would have. Customers have questions:

  • Will I get my stuff?
  • Does this seller know what they’re doing?
  • How will they ship it?
  • When will it come?
  • Can I return it?
  • Am I getting a decent price?

In response, eBay has placed trust signals all around their CTA. They’ve had to pay for it in terms of UX. The page is noisy. There’s a lot of stuff going on here, which I believe could be streamlined for a less-jarring and more seamless route to conversion. Nonetheless, I’ve got to give them props for having trust signals. That’s clutch.

eBay.com CTA hack is placing trust signals all around their buttons.

Let me simply repeat the trust signals, so you get a sense of the sheer volume of this single portion of the screen:

  • Satisfaction guaranteed
  • Fast free shipping
  • 195 sold
  • Experienced seller
  • Hassle-free returns
  • 36% savings
  • Item location:  Long Island City, New York, United States
  • Delivery:  On or before Wed. Aug. 27
  • Estimated by eBay FAST ‘N FREE
  • Returns:  Hassle-free returns
  • Returns:  14 days money back or item exchange, you pay return shipping
  • Guarantee:  eBay MONEY BACK GUARANTEE
  • Guarantee:  Get the item you ordered or get your money back
  • Guarantee:  Covers your purchase price and original shipping
  • Seller information:  92897 [star symbol, “me” symbol]
  • Seller information:  99.3% positive feedback
  • Follow this seller
  • Visit store.

To further enhance the trustability of the CTA, eBay strategically uses blue buttons. The color blue has been shown to signal trust.

How You Can Increase Your Conversions

If your site smacks of untrustworthiness in any way, try to reverse that. Sheer quantity of trust signals is a great way to go, as eBay so capably shows us. And the color blue will probably help, too.

CTA Hack No. 3: Urgency and Scarcity


Revenue:  $6.79 billion

Travelers love Priceline. The idea behind Priceline is discounts, and the deliverable is airline tickets, hotel stays and rental cars. Obviously, Priceline is not the supplier, but as a facilitator, they’re doing pretty well.

Once upon a time, Priceline actually sold gasoline, telephone services, automobiles and second-hand items. They nixed those operations and stuck to the tried-and-true travel services.

How did they do it?

Priceline has a lot of microconversions on their site. From the moment you land on their homepage, they present you with your very first conversion — inputting your travel itinerary. From that point on, you convert on every single page until you finally give them your money at the end.

The place where they really turn on the conversion power is the second page, where you choose a hotel or flight. Here’s what you see:

Prcieline.com CTA hack is the use of urgency and scarcity

The urgency and scarcity is high. Here’s how they implement it:

  • Red bar. The picture was probably the first thing you looked at. The second thing was the red bar. Its color and proximity to the picture mean that you can’t miss it. The color red can raise awareness, heart rate and a sense of urgency.
  • Little clock. The image of a clock causes us to think time. Since most moderners think of time as a resource that can be exhausted or used up, the clock image causes our minds to import this meaning into the overall experience of considering the CTA.
  • The word “now.” That’s an urgency indicator in an of itself.
  • 5 rooms left! Psychologically, we’re wired to spring for a deal if it is scarce.
  • 138 people are looking at this hotel. This, too, signals the scarcity idea. We do the quick math. If there are 5 rooms left and 138 people are looking at this hotel, then I'd better buy it now!

Well played, Priceline. Well played.

How You Can Increase Your Conversions

Use numbers and time signals to increase the urgency and scarcity of what you're selling. Stock supply numbers and deal expiration dates or times are easy ways to do this.

CTA Hack No. 4: Shipping Convenience


Online Revenue:  $9 billion (Total revenue:  $469 billion)

Walmart is synonymous with insanely massively huge. Your neighborhood Walmart is one of the biggest businesses around in terms of sales and revenue. Walmart is a latecomer to the e-commerce game, with online sales accounting for very little of  total revenue.

In 2001, one guy decided that Walmart could shake up the online world, too. His name is Jeremy King. He’s Walmart’s CTO.

He turned up the volume. Walmart crawled up from its oh-so-'90s hole of doing business, and started doing it online. Now, thanks to Walmart.com, consumers can have those “Everyday low prices” that they crave.

How did they do it?

Customers who save money on shipping are happy customers. In a Crazy Egg blog post, I asked the question, “Does free shipping work?” The fact is, it does. Customers are looking for shipping deals, and that can improve a conversion.

Walmart has recently been experimenting with an increased array of shipping options and techniques. They realize that since their brick-and-mortar stores are easy to find, easy to access and familiar, then they can save money by having customers pick up their items at the store. Amazon simply can’t play in that sandbox.

Walmart.com CTA hack is their Shipping Convenience

Walmart emphasizes these shipping options on its product selection page, as seen above.

They also place these shipping options prominently in the shopping cart.

Walmart.com CTA hack emphasizes these shipping options

Walmart is able to leverage their existing brick-and-mortar location to drive up sales for its online platform.

How You Can Increase Your Conversions

Shipping is clutch. You don’t have to offer free shipping to be able to capitalize on the power of shipping in your CTA. You can emphasize delivery dates, add some free insurance, guarantee trackability, or whatever extra bit of love you choose to throw in.

When it comes right down to it, customers are very concerned that their items get to them safely. You, as the e-commerce retailer, must see to it that you assure them of that very thing.

CTA Hack No. 5:  Simplicity


Online sales:  $6.6 billion

There are few things sexier than buying a computer from Apple.com. Steve Job’s legacy began when he sold a few computer parts to a curious technophile in California. Now, curious technophiles are clamoring to spend billions of dollars on Apple.com. Within one month of Apple’s online store, which opened in 1997, Apple’s sales hit $12 million.

If you haven’t browsed around Apple’s online store, I strongly suggest that you do so.

How did they do it?

Every CTA that we’ve looked at so far is cluttered with stuff. Following all the psychological tips, hacks and techniques, retailers can pack in urgency, scarcity, free shipping, trust signals and whatever else they think will push customers over the edge.

But what they don’t have is simplicity. It might not be possible to combine both simplicity and all the other things I’ve described above. In the proverbial world of having cake and eating it, one cannot implement trust signals, scarcity, urgency, free shipping and simplicity all on the same CTA.

Along comes Apple, thinking differently. Their brand already has the glittering appeal of “Awesome.” Their products are synonymous with quality and power. So, they dispense with the clutter, and maintain simplicity. And that has a power all its own.

Here’s the CTA. Can you find it?

Apple.com CTA hack

Thanks to some subtle differentiation, it’s away up there in the upper-right corner. It’s noticeable, but definitely not overt. And clutter? Not a shred.

The “buy now” button does not have the qualities that make you think “Wow! What an awesome CTA!” But what it does have is the surrounding white space — thousands of pixels of white space. And it has simplicity — raw, uncluttered simplicity.

The closest thing you get to clutter is on the selection page, where you’re presented with a few product options (just a few, mind you) and their specs.

apple.com's CTA hack is having a clean look,

The simplicity is still there, but in order to compare the five iMacs (two are below the fold), there are a few lines of information about each one. The CTA button itself is small and simple, with plenty of surrounding white space.

Apple is keeping it simple.

How You Can Increase Your Conversions

Keep things simple. Simple websites are scientifically better. Simple CTAs reduce the cognitive load that is caused by an array of options and messaging. Simplicity makes the intent clear and the goal attainable.

CTA Hack No. 6: Saving Money


Online sales: $10.6 billion

Staples is the biggest office supplier in the world. Staples knows online business. They were the first company to make more than $10 billion online. Even though the name “Staples” doesn’t have quite the cachet of Amazon or Apple, it’s still pretty good at making money. And you know OfficeMax and Office Depot? Yeah, they can’t touch Staples’s online sales by a long shot.

How did they do it?

It’s a tried-and-true retail tactic:  Show the customer how much you’ve marked down the price.  Staples does it as part of their CTA. Notice how they turn it into a math equation.

Staples.com CTA hack and saving strategy.This is a psychological technique known as the framing effect. That price is framed in such a way that it looks good. “Wow! I’m saving $20?!” There is more psychological power in not losing money than there is in gaining money, an experience known as loss aversion.

If Staples had provided a different equation like my made-up number below, the CTA would lack appeal:

  • Cost of materials:  $5
  • Cost of manufacturing: $5
  • Cost of shipping:  $5
  • Other overhead:  $5
  • Big Markup:  $9.99
  • Total:  $29.99

As a whole, Staples CTA isn’t mind-blowingly amazing, but it does have that critical psychological appeal — saving money.

Staples.com CTA hack and saving strategy (full)

How You Can Increase Your Conversions

Show people how much they’re saving. Whether it’s 40% off or $20 discount, you can appeal to the customer’s psychological signals with a few well-placed deal signals.


You may not be as big as Amazon or Apple. And that’s okay. But you can learn from the best, and put these techniques into practice on your site.

Topics: Conversion Optimization, e-commerce, Growth Hacks, trust signals

Want to hear more from us? 


Subscribe to the JeremySaid blog for Startups and Lead Generation.


You'll be notified as soon as we have something new for you to read!

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all