Ecommerce conversion techniques

Ecommerce & Lead Gen Article
20 mins

We explain some of the most successful conversion techniques in ecommerce. What does ecommerce conversion best practice look like, and which conversion-boosting trends are taking ecommerce by storm in 2020? Let’s find out. 

What counts as an ecommerce conversion?

First off, let’s make clear our definition of an ecommerce conversion.

Most inbound marketing is intended to drive conversions, where a visitor performs an action that satisfies a business goal. Purchases, ebook downloads and user account signups are all common conversion types targeted by marketers.

This article deals specifically with purchase conversions, where the visitor buys a product or service.

Core techniques for ecommerce conversion rate optimisation (CRO)

The most effective steps you can take to improve the rate of ecommerce conversions revolve around basic ecommerce best practice. If you’re new to the subject, learning the basics outlined in this section should be your top priority.

On the other hand, if you’re an experienced ecommerce whizz, skip on to the subsequent sections of this article, where we’ll discuss emerging ecommerce standards and trends.

Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is the name given to activities aimed at increasing the percentage of website visitors performing a certain action, such as buying a product.

CRO is a whole profession unto itself, but its core techniques and best practices are essential knowledge for anyone whose work involves ecommerce.

Measuring ecommerce conversions

The first step in CRO is to set up a process for measuring conversions and conversion rate. Without measurement, there’s no reliable way to tell how your CRO efforts are impacting conversions.  

There are plenty of tools out there to help with measuring conversions and related behaviours, from free ones like Google Analytics, to arguably more advanced subscription services like HotJar and Kissmetrics.  

For guidance on setting up conversion measurement, see our article on DIY Conversion Rate Optimisation.

Once you’ve got conversion tracking set up, you can start testing how different website and marketing variants affect conversions, using what’s known as multivariate or A/B testing. This approach can be used to CRO product page layouts, marketing email subject lines and just about anything else the seller displays to the customer.  

Product images and descriptions

The quality of a product’s photos and description will have a significant effect on conversion rate.

Images should be large enough to show visitors a high level of detail. The potential problem with this is that large images can require large file sizes, which slow down website performance. Marketers can counteract this effect by using an image compressor, to reduce an image’s file size while maintaining its quality to an adequate level. Read more about this in our complete guide to Squoosh, the free image compression tool by Google.

It’s also important to use the right number of images. This tends to be however many it takes to show every angle of the product – and if you have capacity to add a few “lifestyle” photos showing the product in-use, that’s better still. One of the major disadvantages of online shopping vs. bricks-and-mortar shopping is the disconnect between customer and product. Comprehensive product photography goes a long way towards bridging that gap.

There’s a formula to basic ecommerce photography, which can be put into practice at a relatively low cost. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Camera. Ideally this will be a professional-quality camera, but a decent smartphone camera can do the job if budget is tight.
  • Neutral background. Most product photography studios use a white sweep backdrop, which transitions in a curve from the vertical plane to the horizontal. This prevents the camera from picking up distracting background detail. While professional studios often have permanent white sweep walls installed, a similar effect can be achieved with affordable materials. For an example of this, see the video below.
  • Light. Either sunlight or softbox lighting, depending on the light levels in your studio space. For the most effective product shots you need plenty of white light.
  • Tripod. Stabilising the camera will be crucial to image quality.
  • Post-production software. To touch up your photos

Capture every angle of the product against a white sweep background, touch up the photos in post-production, and you should have the basic ingredients for serviceable product photography. In theory, the better your photographs, the better your conversion rate should be, with the greatest gains to be made in the transition between poor and adequate product photography.

If you are shooting the products yourself, you may want to look into an inexpensive portable light box studio. These are great for shooting smaller products and can give quite a convenient portable set up for any product shots without needing to break the bank.

In some product categories such as furniture and craft jewellery, customers respond well to “in-situ” photos showing items used as they might be in customers’ homes, sometimes in combination with other products. For an introduction to this branch of product photography, check out Folksy’s excellent compilation of tips.

Payment and delivery

One of the quickest and easiest steps ecommerce sellers can take to increase conversions is to configure their store with the payment and delivery options customers want.

The big one is free shipping. Data from the Walker Sands Future of Retail Report (2016) suggests this is a top priority for online shoppers, with nine in ten survey respondents naming free shipping as the one thing that would motivate them most to shop online more often.

Free shipping is a reliable conversion-booster, so if the market (i.e. competitors’ pricing) will allow for you to build your shipping costs into your retail prices, you should consider doing so.  Just be aware that doing this will lose the leverage you can gain from offering limited periods of free shipping which can be a really useful boost to campaigns when you need them. You will also need to consider what offering free shipping might do to the level of profitability of some products, particularly if customers are needing them shipped overseas or to an offshore UK island. Costs will vary considerably depending on the delivery courier you are using so look into these before you leap into any form of free shipping promotion. You may find you need to set a minimum order value on free shipping in order to make sure your generous offer doesn’t cost you money on the smaller lower cost products your store offers.

Your delivery offering and how delivery information is communicated will also have a big impact of conversions. According to eCommerce Masterplan, 25% of customers abandon cart if a product page does not show a delivery date or timeframe – so adding this element could be an worthwhile way to trial  increasing your conversions.

What’s the benchmark for a good ecommerce conversion rate in 2020?

Factors including sector, customer demographics and price greatly affect the rate at which visitors are likely to convert. So, while some sellers will aim for a conversion rate of 5% or higher, others might be doing very well to achieve even 1%. An ecommerce business’ first target should always be to achieve a conversion rate that enables business goals to be met. Once this has been achieved, improvements can be made to increase conversions further.

The average conversion rate for UK ecommerce businesses in Q3 2018 was 4.04%, per the Monetate e-commerce Quarterly. Interestingly, the global average conversion rate for that period was much lower, at 2.42%.

Conversion rates tend to vary greatly based on the visitor’s device type. According to Monetate’s report, the global average conversion rate on traditional computers in Q3 2018 was 3.95%, ahead of tablet (3.78%), smartphone (1.84%) and other devices (0.13%).

These stats are worth knowing, but there’s no reason to assume your website’s audience will follow the same patterns.  Some online ecommerce stores are a part of a larger site that services multiple customer needs.  As your conversion rate is typically calculated by site visits divided by site visits that include a purchase you may see much lower percentages than the benchmarks suggest. Adjust your expectations accordingly or calculate your conversion rate based on visitors who visit the ecommerce section of your website.

To gain insight into how your customers convert, you’ll need to set up conversion tracking in your analytics software, e.g. Google Analytics. This subject is covered in detail in our podcast episode, Analytics Conversion Tracking & Multi-channel Funnels. Once you’ve got conversion tracking set up, you should be able to see your conversion rate by device type, location and more, as well as your overall website conversion rate.

Ecommerce conversion trends to look out for in 2020

In the ever-evolving field of ecommerce, identifying the most promising new CRO trends can provide an advantage over competing sellers. Let’s take a look at a few of the key trends emerging in 2020:

Automated personalisation

Advanced ecommerce businesses have been automating processes that personalise customer experience for many years. The practice is widespread to the point of becoming an industry standard.

We explain automated personalisation in our Human-Friendly Guide to Marketing Automation. In a nutshell, it involves using data from past customer interactions to tweak aspects of the ecommerce experience and marketing customers are served.

So, if we can see a customer matches “persona A” based on their demographic data and online behaviour, we can deliver them “ecommerce view X”, because we know similar customers are more likely to convert when that’s the ecommerce view they see.

This approach can be used to personalise things like the time at which a customer receives an email, the version of an ecommerce category page they see, or the special offers made available to them. For businesses with lots of customers, the only workable way to deliver this level of personalisation is automation.

According to an IBM-sponsored case study published by Marketing Land, the coffee shop chain Caffè Nero used personal data and behavioural mapping to drive an automated email campaign for loyal customers, yielding a 70% email open rate and concurrent increase in offline sales. 68% of the customers targeted visited a Caffè Nero within a week of receiving an email from the campaign.

Whatever the size of the business, personalisation has the proven ability to increase conversions. A recent study by One Spot suggests email programmes with personalised content bring a 6% conversion rate increase, while boosting average order value by 5%.

More choice and convenience in payment

Ecommerce giant Magento points to smarter payment options as the top ecommerce CRO trend to look out for in 2020.

Consumer payment habits are evolving, with uptake of non-traditional payment methods like PayPal, Google Pay, Apple Pay and even cryptocurrency on the increase. Ecommerce sites accommodating these diverse payment methods stand to decrease the likelihood of cart abandonments resulting from customers not finding their preferred option. 

Another key trend in payments this year will be increased implementation of the card payment protocol 3-D Secure 2.0. This payment standard enables online shoppers to authenticate online card transactions using biometric inputs such as fingerprint and facial recognition, as opposed to the alphanumeric passwords used in the original 3-D Secure.

Current authentication processes are contributing to an eCommerce cart abandonment rate of around 10 to 15%. 3-D Secure 2.0 will not be a magic bullet solution to this effect, but it could reduce the potential for cart abandonment, thanks to its superior speed and convenience.

Support for voice shopping

A minority of ecommerce sites are tapping into voice assistant tech to enable customers to make purchases by voice.

From regular product orders to fast food purchases, the use cases of ordering via Alexa and other voice assistants are numerous. Ecommerce sellers which are quick to implement the new functionality could see a boost in conversions, through the potential speed and efficiency of voice ordering, and through meeting the demands of customers who prefer voice.

The capacity for voice shopping to increase conversions is especially pronounced in service-based ecommerce. Software provider Divante reports that the pizza chain Domino’s saw 20% of orders that would normally have taken place through its mobile app happening via voice instead, within two months of implementation.

Voice shopping is in its infancy, and at this stage we’re not convinced implementing it will bring the necessary ROI for most ecommerce sellers. Our advice for 2020 is to focus on automated personalisation and smarter payments, while keeping an eye on the developing practice of shopping by voice assistant.

How important is conversion rate optimisation in ecommerce?

The capacity of your ecommerce site to convert visitors into customers defines the value of your digital marketing. We can express this as a simple equation:

Digital marketing leads (visitors) x conversion rate = conversions


1,500 visitors x 0.02 (2% conversion rate) = 30 conversions

So, the better a website’s ecommerce conversion rate, the more value its digital marketing will create.

Target Internet’s content writer Pete Wise, once secured coverage in The Sunday Times newspaper for a lab diamond jewellery seller. This resulted in a five-figure spike in daily website traffic – but only a single-figure increase in orders. Among other issues, the website lacked product photography, which contributed to its failure to attain the conversion rate needed to make good use of the publicity.

The other side to this picture is that the quality of digital marketing will strongly influence a website’s conversion rate. High quality leads – i.e. the people likeliest to convert – will paint a much brighter picture of a website’s conversion capabilities than low quality leads who were never likely to make a purchase.

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