Yesterday, I blogged about the need for conversion friendly web design, which was inspired by a news story that was doing the rounds about how online retailers were losing sales because of the way they presented their sites.  I thought it would be a good idea to follow it up with some principals that are useful to consider when optimising a site for conversion.

Understand the Goal

Seems simple right?  Actually, not.  Even sites that convert pretty well often just seem to have a goal that equates to “a sale”.  What about “sell more”.  A user who purchases one item is not a profitable user.  think about the cost of acquisition, the margin on the item, the cost of delivery, the cost of the site in general.  Focusing just selling something is not good enough, you need to encourage customers to buy more of what makes you the most money.  A goal which is to “sell more” rather than just “make more sales” will make you more money.  Simple.

Map the Path to the Goal

OK, this is Usability 101.  Having a clear understanding of the entire customer journey from research to purchase, and the touchpoints with your site along the way is essential.

  • What search terms to they use?
  • What pages do people they enter on?
  • How do they find the product they’re looking for?
  • What are the steps from that page to the checkout?
  • Where do customers opt out of the journey?

Analytics will help you here.  A lot.  Use funnels to measure user interaction, aggregate data into measurable chunks, understand the barriers to conversion.

User Journey Funnel

User Journey Funnel

It’s useful to write the story of a user interaction with your site to see the points at which an unfavourable choice can be made:

Jeff arrived on the shoes page of our website after searching for “blue shoes”.  He had a lot of different styles to choose from, but he couldn’t see  any blue ones, so he left.

Melissa came to our website to find “red court shoes” and spent some time browsing the court shoes range, because we had more than 50 pairs to choose from, she took her time, but only looked at the first page of the results, and didn’t find what she was looking for because there weren’t any red ones.

In both of these examples, the user came into the site using a search term that didn’t really apply to the page they were looking for.  This might be because the categorisation of products in the site does not match user behaviour.  To convert your customers, you need to understand how they buy things and create a site architecture that matches this paradigm.

Simplify the user journey to the point where buying is easy and all the steps are clear.

Design Appropriately

For some reason, we seem to have arrived at a place where beautiful design is generally being ignored in favour of functional brutalism.  Grids of products and thumbnail sized images are what too many online retailers think is but why?  Think about how shops merchandise their products.  For fashion they create outfits, for electrical goods, they show you a set up of how the product could look in your living room,

When you buy a new car off the lot, you can see it from all angles, polished to perfection, and placed in a location that shows it off, not dirty in a parking lot.

Discretionary purchases are about aspiration.  Make customers want to buy from you by making the products look better on your site than a competitor.

Having a consistent design language that customers can identify with is an art form.  It needs to be appropriate to your business goals and your brand identity.  Design is powerful.  Think about Apple, Google, Prada.  Apple in particular.  Design is an investment, and it is not an optional extra.  It is how you communicate with your customers.  If all you want to be is a grid of other people’s products, then you create an environment that promotes other products and doesn’t differentiate.

Incentivise Up Sell at the Checkout

Most retail sites now think about the ability to add impulse buys at the checkout.  Supermarkets do this well, but these products are not always appropriate to the sale.

A busy checkout

A busy checkout

Use data intelligently.  Look a the products that people commonly buy with the exact product your customers have bought, not similar products, exact products.  Create Point of Sale displays that allow you to complement one product with another and show how they work together.  Someone’s buying a laptop?  Show them the right docking station, or speakers from the same design set.  Someone’s buying a flatscreen TV, show them a wall bracket.

The incentive?  Offer them the second product at a discount, or give them free shipping if they push to the next tier:

  • Get 10% off this Asics Running Vest when you buy it with your Asics Trainers
  • Free Shipping on Sony Flatscreen TVs when bought with a Sony Blu Ray Player

Keep the upsell simple by only offering one or two products, and make sure that they can be added straight to the cart so you don’t interrupt the user journey.  Upselling with targeted impulse buys should not make it harder to buy the first product.

Test and Refine

The key aspect of a conversion friendly website is one that is flexible, your customers will evolve, and so must you.  Build flexibility into your site so that you can change things and test different layouts.  If your design is static and you have made a mistake, you are stuck with it.  If you can’t change imagery or categorisation, or page layout, or conversion paths, you can’t improve them.

Use tools like Click Tale and Google Website Optimiser to understand and improve user experience, and remember that the key element of all this is the user:  A happy buying experience is an experience, shopping is an event, buying is a conscious choice.

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