Your conversion funnel might have some major problems — spots where conversions are getting destroyed. Just think. If you can stop up all those holes, you will begin seeing huge improvements in your conversion numbers.
So, how do you find the holes and patch them up? In the article that follows, you’re going to discover seven major problems and spot-on solutions for them. In each of these seven, many e-commerce retailers are losing precious conversions. You’ll find out exactly where those losses are taking place, and what corrective measures you should take.
Let’s be honest: You’re going to lose customers along the way, no matter how watertight your conversion funnel is. Your goal is to lose as few as possible, and the way you do that is by refining your conversion process.
The following seven points identify the places where the conversion process is most commonly derailed. Thousands of e-commerce sites all over the world are ignorant of these points, giving you a distinct advantage over them. When you actually settle in and examine the numbers, you may discover that these holes are costing you thousands of dollars in sales.
It’s time to set things right, and start bringing in the money.
1. Option overload.
“Option overload” happens when a viewer is presented with an overwhelming number of options on a page, freezes in terror and jumps out of the conversion process. I call this “overload,” because an overload is “an excessive load or amount,” which usually causes something or someone to stall.
Our brains are capable of taking in huge amounts of data simultaneously. From each of your five senses, your memory, your instincts, and thousands of neurons, you are a living, breathing, information intake center. However, your brain cannot successfully process all of this information that it takes in, especially when presented with a multitude of the same type of information.
Processing is different from intake. Processing takes time, effort, and a lot of mental exertion. If presented with too many options, the brain can freeze up. Rather than picking one of many, a customer determines that the safest decision to make is to choose none.
This is exactly what you do not want to happen in the conversion process.
Authors Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt describe this situation in their book Freakonomics (a book which I hereby require you to purchase and read forthwith). Psychologist Barry Schwartz also discusses the situation, which he has famously called “the paradox of choice.” The idea, summed up by Dubner is this — ”too much choice is actually a bad thing, causing decision paralysis and unhappiness.”
The famous “jam test” conducted by Iyengar and Lepper, sparked massive interest in the “paradox of choice.” In this study, shoppers who were presented with six flavor choices of jam were far more likely to buy the product than shoppers presented with 24-30 choices. The research seemed to overturn the “implicit assumption that having more choices is necessarily more intrinsically motivating than having fewer.”
Here’s how it happens. A customer goes to your e-commerce website to buy a pair of jeans. When he gets to your page, he sees this: “149 products in 25 models.”
This is too many. The customer just wants a freaking pair of jeans.
Contrast the option-overload of JeansShop.com with the website of TrueReligion. Their site features 13 pairs of jeans.
A few subtle differences on True Religion help to take the customer further down the conversion pathway.
● First, True Religion does not display the number of results above the fold. This coaxes the customer to browse below the fold, which helps to bring them further into the conversion process.
● Second, they populate the jeans with three photos in the row of photographs, making the UI seem less cluttered and less overwhelming. There is a sense of simplicity and ease of browsing.
● Third, they put fewer options on the page. Someone is more likely to look at 13 pairs of jeans and pick one, rather than browse 149 and crumple in a whimpering heap of confusion and hopelessness.
In some cases, your e-commerce site will have a lot of options, and there’s not much you can do about it. You have to list everything; your inventory has to sell. It would be unwise to hide all your options. At the same time, you don’t want to let it all hang out, creating option overload. In such cases, the use of strategic filters is advised.
Overstock.com sells a lot of pens. However, they provide filters, which are located on the left side of the page. Filters allow the user to create his own options, as it were, thus preventing option overload, and enabling the user to proceed further down the conversion funnel.
There are also filters at the top of the product display, featuring “sort by” array of options, allowing the user to create his or her own options. When someone selects their own options, they are that much closer to a conversion.
This entire observation regarding option overload is not to say that choice is bad. The point is, too many choices and too many options can result in confusion, not conversion. Simplify things, pare down the options, and you’ll see your conversions go up.
2. No call to action.
A “call to action” is a simple way of urging your website visitor to do something. The copy you place on the page is a "call" for the site visitor to act. The “action” is the next step in the conversion funnel.
Somewhere along the line, someone got messed up and thought that a call to action was overt, salesy, spammy, or otherwise a big turnoff for users. The reactionary assumption was that no call to action was the preferred method for coaxing a customer toward a conversion.
That’s shortsighted and simpleminded, to be blunt.
Every website visitor needs a call to action. It doesn’t have to be an egregious BUY NOW (all caps, flashing .gif font). It simply needs to be an appropriate, balanced suggestion that the visitor to do the next logical thing.
While I was researching this article, I came across a nausea-inducing statistic from Smallbiztrends.com. In August, Anita Campbell reported that “70% of small business B2B websites lack a call to action.” Now, maybe it’s because they were B2B, or maybe it’s because they were small, or maybe Campbell’s survey pool was too small, or whatever. Regardless, that’s an appalling statistic, but — without conducting a scientific survey myself — I think it’s true. Here is the stackup:
Crazy Egg’s Kathryn Aragon got it right when she wrote, “One of the most common (and worst) mistakes ... is to assume people know what to do, and forget the call to action.”
Let’s look at some examples. The website of the AAPC might be trying to pull a subtle marketing trick, but it’s not working. Let’s say I want to sign up for an online medical coding course. They’ve got my organic lead, but they have precious little call to action.
I have no interest in “bundling.” I want to buy a course. I’m ready! I want to get my training. But I’m confused, so I bounce.
Sorry, but the AAPC just lost my business.
Their competitor, AlliedSchools, however, has tons of calls to action:
In spite of its skin-crawling UI, AlliedSchools gets the whole call to action thing. There are at least seven calls to action on that one screenshot above. Speaking of skin-crawling UI’s, if you don’t believe me, just check out Robert Scoble (Rackspace’s Startup Liaison Officer) on ugly websites convert.
Both of these sites were on the first SERP, and AAPC outranked Allied by a couple of positions. But Allied had the CTA, and they therefore have my business. A website with a call to action can trump a higher-ranking competitor simply by having a call to action.
One brilliant call to action comes from Jawbone. Their conversion funnel is outstanding. When I Google “jawbone up,” I’ve got my credit card out of my wallet before I’ve even clicked on their page. Here’s a screenshot of the SERP:
Yes, that is an actual call to action in the SERP — “Buy UP by Jawbone | Free Shipping | 60-Day-Money-Back…”
There’s so many awesomes about this, most notably that the customer is already deep within the conversion funnel after a mere innocuous search for the UP.
The CTA for the Jawbone Up 24 is equally dazzling in its brilliant simplicity:
The call to action, situated in a modest black button close to the fold is an ideal clickable spot, and it’s perfect for the casual shopper to go further down the conversion funnel. It is neither abominable nor hidden. It is straightforward and welcoming — “buy” + “$149.99” and a nice little button to click.
Here’s the bottom line: Don’t be scared of having calls to action. Without them, you lose. With them, you stand a chance of making a sale. As always, remember to test them, as there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to conversion optimization.
3. Price hiding.
When it comes right down to it, most of your customers have one major question on their mind when they are shopping — “What’s it gonna cost me?!” This is especially true if you function within the B2C space. Therefore, one of the cardinal sins that you can commit is hiding the price.
Do not hide the price!
What’s the rationale for price hiding? One reason why some e-commerce sites don’t display prices is because they think that by nudging a website visitor just one step further down the funnel, they will somehow make conversion likelier.
Actually, they’re losing conversions. In a report from the Nielsen Norman Group, author Hoa Loranger writes, “Not showing pricing works against customer needs, and thus creates a hostile shopping experience.” Her thesis is that “customers want to know the price as their No. 1 info need on any website — including B2B sites.”
The takeaway is simple: show your *&#%^# prices.
Obviously, there is a blend of subtlety and ingenuity that comes into play here. You don’t want to blaze your homepage with a flurry of dollar signs. That could result in sticker shock. On the other hand, however, you don’t want to hide your prices completely.
Below is a positive example of a site that is not hiding the price, but inviting the user further into the conversion funnel before hitting them with the cost. This is a wise via media between sticker shock and price hiding. Intuit displays a clean UI with good graphics. Each potential customer will see the product they want, and instantly access the prices using the “See Pricing” button:
When customers see your prices upfront and boldly stated, it inspires confidence in the company and the product you offer. TripAdvisor’s innovative “show prices” CPC program was a huge success, suggesting that full pricing disclosure is a trust-building and revenue-improving move. One case study suggested that “prominent price display increases leads generated by 100%.”
Being upfront gives you, the retailer, a strong psychological stance. You are making the offer, disclosing your information, and providing a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. You hold moral high ground. The customer understands this and accepts it. Thus, they are more likely to take your offer.
The media company Sharefaith puts their prices right in the open for all to see and convert. The eye-tracking on this site goes from top-to-bottom, left-to-right, pausing briefly on the product, then the price, product -> price, etc.
Eye tracking studies suggest that most users will scan a web page using an “E-,” “F-,” or inverted “L”-shaped pattern. This site above works well, because prices are displayed exactly where readers’ intuitive eye motion leads them.
(Image from Nielsen Norman Group.)
iStock, by contrast, completely conceals pricing information. When I click their conversion-inducing button “join,” I see a request to set up an account. I even see a “billing country.” But I see nothing about prices. This is a turn off. I don’t want to enter that amount of information, give away my email address, and even state my billing country if I don’t even know how much it costs!
If you sell something online, your customer has every right to know how much it costs. Maybe you’ll lose some potential customers who might be flabbergasted by your prices. Maybe!
If you hide your prices, coax them further into the conversion funnel, and then tip your hand on pricing, you’ve simply annoyed them. Now they’ve wasted their time, and you’ve let another conversion slip through your hands.
When people see your prices upfront, they will either convert or not. There’s no sense in hiding the price.
Be bold about your prices. Charging a fee is nothing to be ashamed of. Build credibility and broadcast your pricing to the world. The true customers will come.
4. Long checkout forms.
People will exit the conversion funnel if they get fed up with a long process. Long checkout forms will kill your conversion rate.
Let me just preface my discussion by being very clear about the necessity of lots of information in the checkout process. Some conversion funnels require a bit of tedium when finalizing the order. This is especially true when a purchase involves shipping of a physical product. The customer will expect this, and there’s not much you can do about it.
However, when you needlessly muck up the process with extra clicks, forms and hassle, you will lose customers.
This information from Blastam analyzes a conversion funnel beginning at “login,” and proceeding to “orders.” The funnel begins with 68,839 visitors and ends with 51,365 finalized orders. The insanely high conversion rate is due to the fact that the process under investigation begins rather late in the game.
What I want you to observe is that the biggest falloff in this entire process is the “billing information” section. More potential customers left during this phase of the conversion than any other phase.
My point is simple. Customers will bid adieu even when they are in the middle of buying. In fact, since the stakes are raised, money is in question, and the transfer is about to take place, they are especially prone to jet. This is a critical moment for you to preserve the sale and win the day.
It is best if you can keep the checkout process to four major steps. The first step might look like this:
At first glance, there is a galling amount of information that I’m asked for. However, the more information one enters on a single screen, the fewer steps there will be in the entire process. Overall, it’s a net gain for the likelihood of conversion.
Another nudge down the conversion pathway is displaying billing and shipping information on the same page, sometimes side by side. Usually, there is a checkbox the user can click to set the billing address and shipping address as the same, or to make a change. The shipping address/billing address information should always be on the same page. Dismembering the process by placing these addresses on two different pages will probably lose you a few conversions.
Keep your checkout process simple, and you’ll score more conversions.
5. Required registration.
Smashing Magazine places this as the No. 1 turnoff for a smooth conversion process. “Your customers are here to shop, not fill out forms. Make sure that the registration is done during the checkout process and not before — and certainly not before a visitor places goods into their shopping basket. Sign up forms are barriers.”
True words. Some in the e-commerce world think that for some reason, registration is as good as conversion. Au contraire! Required registration destroys conversion.
Rue La La is a prime example of a big fat barrier to conversions. Here’s their homepage:
In order to see anything I’m forced to set up an account, or at least sign up with Facebook or Google. What if I don’t want to? Too bad. This is going to kill potential sales, rather than create loyal tribe members, which is presumably what they’re trying to do.
The MeUndies Facebook ad is a prime example of registration barrier. Click-throughs from Facebook required users to enter an email address. MeUndies had a customer relationship mess to clean up from the outrage of potential customers.
Forced registration equals a guaranteed reduction in conversions.
In the entire checkout process, the only difference between the registration of a user and getting all of their billing and shipping information is two fields. The ID and password. A far better alternative is to allow a shopper to fill his or her cart without having to so much as think about registering.
Registration should be part of the process to purchase. Placed any sooner in the funnel, and it becomes a barrier.
6. Low quality images.
Peep Laja of ConversionXL writes, “If I’d have to pick one single thing that would sell a product online, it’s images.” Conversely, poor quality images will cause people not to buy your products.
The psychology behind this is simple. People want to see whatever it is they’re buying. If they see something, they automatically assume that is what they will receive in the mail. Thus, if they see a photo that is blurry, distorted, saturated, or whatever, they will psychologically associate those poor quality attributes with the product itself. A blurry, ugly, grainy, pixelated, poor-lighting, awful picture of a Bentley — a high-end luxury vehicle — will cause people to associate those poor quality perceptions with the expensive product.
Viewers import associated imagery into their perception of the product. For example, a product that is photographed in a beautiful garden will inspire associated feelings of peace, nature, beauty, etc. A picture of an attractive woman modeling a bracelet will associate feelings of beauty, sexiness, and competence.
Photographs have a direct impact upon conversions. Here are a few examples.
This is an actual homepage of an e-commerce site. You should imitate virtually nothing on this site. There are not enough product images, the images are too small, and the images are covered by callouts. Do the product photos inspire confidence?
Some sites lose conversions because they don’t show enough images of their products. The site below is attempting to lease cars, but you may think that you’re buying a chicken or looking for celebrity gossip. I see a sideways Mercedes, but not much more. Chances are, I’m not rushing to this site for my next lease.
A refreshing positive example of good product images is Crate & Barrel. Although the products, duvet inserts, are difficult to feature in a photograph, they have done so with simplicity and elegance.
7. Shipping charges.
If you charge for shipping, you are shooting your conversions. When online retail spending is at an all-time high, you will disappoint customers if they have to pony up extra cash just to get their product to the doorstep.
TechCrunch reported the words of ComScore’s Gian Fulgoni, who wrote, “consumers are taking free shipping for granted.” Most galling, however, is his death-sentence for retailers who charge for shipping.
According to Fulgoni, more than half of consumers are likely to cancel their purchase if they don’t get free shipping. Since he made those statements nearly three years ago, we can only assume that the importance of free shipping is higher than ever.
Forrester’s research on the subject nailed two reasons that result in return shoppers:
1. Low prices.
2. Free shipping
In their study, 92% of the best e-commerce sites offered free shipping, and more than half of customers said that they would switch their loyalty to a different e-commerce site over the question of shipping charges.
During the holiday season, most retailers offer “free shipping” in some form or another, and see exponentially higher sales. Doesn’t it make sense, then, to offer free shipping year round?
As Time Magazine reports, these “free shipping” statements even coerce buyers to buy more to meet the minimum threshold to qualify for free shipping.
When you charge for shipping, you place a small barrier directly in the conversion pathway. Besides, when you legitimately offer “free shipping,” you are able to place compelling sales copy directly on your homepage.
The offer of “free” anything motivates buyers to purchase. Knowing the possibly outrageous prices of shipping, this is a very appealing gesture.
Look at Zappos. They give you free shipping, and the upper-right promo is perfect for enhancing sales:
Some companies go so bold as to offer free international shipping! That’s a win! Here’s TopShop. Check the top banner.
GAP has free shipping on orders of $50 or more.
Macy’s parades their free shipping policy, too.
Free shipping should be standard, but you can still announce it on your homepage.
Conversion killers aren’t that hard to identify and prevent. In order to do that, you’ve got to watch the numbers on your site like crazy. Every metric is relevant. The further in the conversion process that a customer is, the more important that step in the process becomes.
If you shore up on these seven places, you’re virtually guaranteed to improve your conversion rate.