25 Things That Could Be Harming Your Store's Conversion Rate

Want more sales for your online store? Here are 25 factors that you can tweak to improve your store's conversion rate.

People on escalatorsAll store owners want to increase their conversion rates. A higher conversion rate means more sales without having to spend money attracting more customers!

Sometimes, though, it can be hard to know which factors are dragging your store's conversion rate down. Sometimes the seemingly tiny things, such as the colour of your "Add to Cart" buttons, can make a big difference.

In this article I explore, in no particular order, 25 factors that could be reducing your store's conversion rate. As you work your way through the list, you'll probably get some ideas for improving things on your current store.

It's a good idea to use tools such as Google Website Optimizer to try out several variations of your store elements (such as different colours or sales copy) and see which combination delivers the best result.

So, without further ado, here's the list!

1. Sales copy

Your sales copy is the text that you use to sell your products or services. Your choice of words can have a big influence on a shopper. Go through each block of text on your site — especially on landing pages, product pages, and checkout pages — and make sure they're all sending a coherent, persuasive message.

Know your customers — how their minds work, what personalities they have and what they're looking for. Tailor your copy to your customers.

Condense your copy as much as possible. People tend to skim-read on the Web. Stick to short paragraphs, and use bullets and bold text to highlight important points.

2. Site design

The look of your site can make a big difference to your conversion rate. An appropriate, professional design reassures shoppers, and an uncluttered page layout makes it easy for them to buy.

The styles you use for buttons and links — such as "Add to Cart" or "Browse Products" — can have a big effect on how often they're clicked. Experiment with different sizes, fonts, and colours to see which combinations work best.

Does your chosen colour scheme fit your market? For example, blue tones tend to imply "corporate" or "technology", while greens can make people think of nature, freshness, and money. A great resource for discovering colour schemes is COLOURlovers.

3. No tagline, or poor tagline

A tagline is a short description of your store's purpose, and usually sits near the logo at the top of the page.

With a tagline, the shopper can instantly see what your store is for, and if it's right for them. What's more, a catchy tagline can help to reinforce your store and brand in the shopper's memory.

Well-known taglines include:

  • The world's online marketplace (eBay)
  • The happiest place on earth (Disneyland)
  • We try harder (Avis)

If you don't have a tagline — or your tagline is unclear or long-winded — you're missing a great chance to tell your customer why they should shop at your store.

4. Confusing or long-winded checkout process

There's nothing more frustrating to a shopper than a non-intuitive checkout process. They want to buy, but the checkout's getting in the way! Common pitfalls here include:

  • Too many steps in the checkout process
  • No clear indication of where the shopper is in the process
  • The checkout pages have a different design to the rest of the store

Also, don't force shoppers to supply tons of information that isn't necessary for the checkout process, such as fax numbers, dates of birth, or size of company.

If you have to include fields that some shoppers may consider unnecessary, explain why you need that information.

If possible, don't force people to register with a username/password in order to buy something. Give them a way to buy without having to go through the signup process.

5. Confusing navigation and/or product categories

Don't make it hard for shoppers to find your products. Don't have tons of navigation options or product categories (unless you're Amazon.com), and don't nest categories too deeply.

Make sure your product categories make sense, and are named from the shopper's — not your — perspective.

If in doubt, keep things simple.

A fantastic site for learning about Web usability in general is Jakob Nielsen's useit.com.

6. No product search, or inadequate search

Always provide a way for shoppers to search for products. Many shoppers prefer to search rather than browse; if you force these people to browse then they will give up on your store.

Keep your search form simple: just a simple box. Don't have lots of other options.

Make sure your search produces relevant, expected results. If a search fails, don't just display "not found". Instead, offer the shopper a list of your top-selling products to choose from.

7. No way for shoppers to ask questions

No matter how good your product descriptions and store FAQ are (you do have an FAQ, right?), customers will still sometimes need to ask questions before they buy. Don't make it hard for them! Provide:

  • A contact form and email address, linked to from every page of the site
  • A phone number (preferably toll-free) on every page of the site
  • Links to your contact form next to your "Add to Cart" and "Checkout" buttons

8. Lack of shipping information

Many ecommerce sites bury their shipping rates and delivery times in their terms and conditions, or, worse, force you to checkout and register before telling you this valuable information! This can be incredibly frustrating for the shopper.

Make sure you list your shipping rates and times clearly on your site, and link to this information from your product pages.

9. No physical address on the site

Trust is very important with ecommerce; if a shopper feels they can't trust you then they won't buy from you. It's essential to have a physical company address on your store — ideally in the page footer — so that shoppers know you're a genuine outfit and not a fly-by-night scammer!

10. No privacy policy, or an objectionable privacy policy

As with having a physical address, you must have a privacy policy on your site if your shoppers are to trust you. This should spell out, in clear terms, what customer information you collect and what you do with it. Always offer an "opt out" procedure that customers can follow to remove all their details from your database.

Many privacy policies include clauses along the lines of "We may give your details to third parties for marketing purposes". Avoid this if possible — it scares many people off!

11. No terms and conditions

It's essential to have terms and conditions for your store, and to link to them clearly from every page in your site. As with a privacy policy, it creates a sense of trust. It also provides you with a framework for dealing with and resolving disputes.

12. No security assurances

Customers need to feel that their personal information and credit card details will be kept safe. Here are some tips to help with this:

  • Prominently indicate that all customer details and credit card details are encrypted when they are sent to your store. (To make sure this happens you need to use HTTPS.)
  • Consider using seals such as the Verisign Secured Seal on your store (this, of course, requires you to purchase an SSL certificate from the company in question). These can help to give a sense of trust to your shoppers.
  • Offer tips to help customers keep their data secure, such as choosing hard-to-guess passwords and always logging out when they have finished their purchase.

13. No free samples or free trials

If at all possible, provide some sort of free sample or free trial of your product. This gives shoppers the chance to try before they buy, which is very reassuring. Sometimes a shopper will try your product and then decide not to buy it; however, if your products are good then a free sample is likely to increase overall sales.

If you can't offer a free sample then at least offer a money-back guarantee (see below).

14. No money-back guarantee

Nothing reassures a customer like a 100%, no-quibble, money-back guarantee. It gives them the confidence to buy your product right now, knowing that if there's a problem or it's not what they're after, they can always return it later.

For some types of products you might need to add conditions to your guarantee, such as "the product must be returned unopened". However it's well worth having a guarantee if possible. The amount of extra sales you'll make usually far outweighs the number of returns.

15. Badly optimized landing pages

A landing page is where a lot of visitors enter your site. A landing page can be intentional (driven by a pay-per-click ad campaign) or accidental (the page happens to rank highly in organic search).

Landing pages are very important since they're the first glimpse a potential customer has of your site. If they like what they see they may stick around, and eventually buy something. If your landing page doesn't grab them in the first few seconds, they may leave your site, never to return (this is known as a bounce).

Your landing pages need to persuade the visitor to move through the sales process. They should include compelling sales copy and an obvious call to action (such as a "Buy Now" button). They should also be targeted to the visitor's desires. For example, if you're building a landing page for a pay-per-click campaign targeting "Sony Blu-ray players" then your landing page should feature these keywords prominently.

If you're not sure what your key landing pages are, use tools such as Google Analytics' Top Landing Pages report.

16. Not enough product detail

Some shoppers are happy just to see the name and an image of the product they want before they buy it; however many shoppers prefer to see a lot of information about a product to help them make a purchase decision. This is particularly the case when selling technology-related products such as computer hardware or hi-fi equipment.

If your conversion rate seems low, try adding more product information, such as:

  • A detailed textual description of the product
  • A list of the types of people this product is suitable for
  • Product dimensions (width, height, depth, weight)
  • A list of compatible products
  • Other names or model numbers that the product might be known by
  • Customer reviews of the product
  • Related products
  • Product popularity (if it's a best-seller, say so)

17. Poor quality product images

Often a decent product page is let down by poor product images. This includes images that:

  • Are too small
  • Are too blurry
  • Are too compressed/blocky
  • Don't show enough information about the product
  • Are of the wrong product (happens more often than you think!)

Take good-quality product photos (or hire a professional photographer if necessary), and make sure they are sufficiently large and detailed. Most ecommerce software lets you upload small and large photos for a product; the shopper can then click the small image to view the larger one.

18. Browser issues

Browser problems can leave a sour taste in your shoppers' mouths. Test your store in all common browsers to make sure there are no glaring incompatibility problems. Some issues you might encounter include:

  • Broken page layouts. For example, the layout looks fine on Firefox, but on IE the right-hand column moves down below the left.
  • Missing content. You might find that whole chunks of content simply don't display in certain browsers. (Run your pages through the W3C validator to make sure there are no errors.)
  • JavaScript errors. If you use a browser such as Firefox or Safari, you may never notice these errors; however, Internet Explorer will display a suspicious-looking warning triangle or, worse, a pop-up alert whenever it finds a JavaScript error. Needless to say, this doesn't create a good impression with your shoppers!
  • Popup blocking. If your site tries to open a popup window when a page is viewed (a bad idea anyway since many people hate popups), some browsers will block the popup and display a warning message.

Make sure your store actually works too! Regularly test the whole buying process from the product page through to the payment page, and make sure there are no server errors.

19. No customer testimonials

Most shoppers like to know that other people are happy with your products and service. A great way to do this is to have a list of customer testimonials on your store.

Keep in touch with your customers and ask them for feedback. If a customer praises your product or service, politely ask them if you can put their comments on your testimonials page. Most customers will be happy to oblige.

For each testimonial, give as much detail as possible about the customer, such as their name, their company name, the date of the testimonial and the exact product they bought.

For bonus points, ask your customers for photos of themselves to add to your testimonials page. Nothing sells a product like a photo of a happy customer!

If you're selling services or big ticket products then case studies are also worth looking at. A case study is a bit like an extended testimonial, and often takes up a whole page. You'll need to collaborate with your customer to get more information, such as:

  • Background information about the customer or their business
  • Why they needed your product or service
  • How they discovered your store
  • What they liked about the shopping experience
  • How the product or service they bought helped them achieve their goal

20. Not using HTTPS for purchases

HTTPS is a variation of the HTTP (Web) protocol that encrypts information sent between the browser and Web server. Data sent via HTTPS is much, much harder to intercept than regular HTTP data.

It's very important to use HTTPS for transmitting customer information from their browser to your store — particularly when it comes to payment data such as credit card numbers.

In order to use HTTPS on your store, you'll need to purchase a TLS (also known as SSL) certificate for a yearly fee, and install the certificate on your Web server. Your hosting company should be able to help you with this.

21. Limited range of payment options

You might offer Visa and MasterCard payment options on your store, but many shoppers prefer American Express. Some don't have a credit card at all, or don't like using them on the Web. Some prefer PayPal, bank transfer, or sending a check in the mail.

It can be time-consuming and expensive to set up lots of payment options; for example, American Express charges extra to process its cards. However a wide range of options inspires confidence and gives your customers choice. If you run a busy store then the extra sales will probably make it worthwhile.

22. Slow-loading website

A webpage that takes several seconds to appear is big turn-off for shoppers — and visitors in general. Ideally your pages should load in 2-3 seconds at the most.

Here are some tips for speeding up your store:

  • Reduce the file size of images used on your site.
  • Remove comments and other unnecessary text from your store's HTML pages, CSS files and JavaScript files.
  • Use Ajax to load things such as product reviews only when the shopper requests them (by clicking a button, for example).
  • Enable mod_deflate on your Apache server to compress your HTML, CSS and JavaScript files on-the-fly (your hosting company can help here).
  • If your server is slow generally, move to a faster one.

23. Page clutter

Unnecessary page elements not only slow down your site; they can also distract shoppers from the buying process. Make sure each product page and landing page has a clear call to action (such as a big "Buy Now" button) that isn't drowned out by other clutter in the page.

Common page clutter includes:

  • Too many product options on one page
  • Adverts for other products/services
  • Distracting animations or other flashy graphics
  • Too many navigation links in a menu

Some retailers such as Amazon even remove their primary navigation when checking out, in order to focus the customer on the checkout process.

24. Non-clickable products in the cart

If possible, make the products in a shopping cart clickable so that shoppers can go back and read a product's description if they like. This adds a sense of reassurance, since the customer can double-check that they're buying the right product. It also makes it easy for them to compare different products in their cart.

For an extra gold star, also display a thumbnail of the product image next to each product in the cart (and make it clickable). That way customers can see exactly what products they have in their cart before they checkout.

25. Not following up with customers

Loyal, repeat customers are likely to buy more often, and buy more products per purchase.

Make sure you have some way of staying in touch with customers, such as email newsletters, RSS feeds, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and so on. Use these channels to mention new products, special offers, competitions, and so on. That way you can keep your store and products fresh in your customers' minds.

Make sure there is an explicit "opt in" checkbox on your customer registration form, so that customers can choose whether to receive your newsletter.

Also, always ensure that there's a ridiculously easy way for a shopper to unsubscribe from your mailing list, such as a simple link in your mailout. Nothing creates a bad feeling like receiving unwanted email!

You've now looked at 25 different things that could be adversely affecting your store's conversion rate. Remember:

  • Small changes can have big effects
  • Test everything! Use Google Website Optimizer or similar tools to see which combination works best
  • Keep tweaking until you're happy with your conversion rate. There's always something new you can try!

Good luck, and here's to high conversion rates!

Follow Elated

Related articles

Responses to this article

There are no responses yet.

Post a response

Want to add a comment, or ask a question about this article? Post a response.

To post responses you need to be a member. Not a member yet? Signing up is free, easy and only takes a minute. Sign up now.

Top of Page