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Converting More Online Sales: What's Working
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By Danny Flamberg

For more than 400 years the central proposition of the Inquisition was “convert or die”. After the death of eToys.com that proposition isn’t far from the reality faced by online retailers of all stripes. Every pure-play and BAM retailer, undergoing inquisitions from investors, wants to know what to do to sell more, faster and to generate repeat business, especially when 60-70% of customers who select merchandise on transactional sites abandon their shopping carts. As the economy sputters, and the appetite for spending fades, the race is on to leverage existing technology investments and to optimize conversions.

Everyone I speak to is ready to disperse with strategic paradigms, overarching frameworks and all manner of consultant-speak. Instead they want to know how to get better mileage out of existing websites by making “quick fixes” and grabbing the “low hanging fruit.” The focus is squarely on whatever works and works quickly.

Understanding what works is a function of understanding why people shop online. It’s convenience… plus the ability to save time, sidestep crowds, and do it quickly. There is a definite psychology to shopping. You can’t fight it. You must deploy technology to capitalize on it. Every tweak should be in service to delivering against customer expectations.

Converting more sales requires improvements in usability, promotion, merchandising, advertising and CRM to give customers what they want quickly conveniently and reliably. To sell more, faster, do the following. These are the tactics that are working for multiple online retailers.


  • Be sure your site is always up. Spend whatever you need to be there when your customers bestow a visit on you.
  • Make sure shoppers know where they are. Integrate branding elements, logos and icons across all channels.
  • Limit graphic pages to 5K. Every page should load in 5 seconds or less.
  • Lose any graphic elements that weigh down pages or slow-down load times.
  • Get to the merchandise in 2 clicks or less. They come to buy. Show them the goods.
  • Decide what you want site visitors to do. Register? Buy? Buy Again? Then make that action the most important visual element on the page.
  • If in doubt, use Amazon-like tabular center navigation.
  • Link the merchandise displayed to your actual inventory. If it’s not in stock, don’t show it.
  • Display shipping/alteration or other costs along with the merchandise.
  • Allow shoppers to quickly buy the goods they see in your catalogs, print ads, circulars or direct mail with “Quick Shop” functionality.
  • Display or categorize merchandise based on the way customers shop.
  • Help them find merchandise easily with a robust search engine.
  • Clearly mark promotions, sales, or seasonal merchandise.
  • Use “breadcrumbs” to orient shoppers and to keep them on your site.
  • Offer help in real time. Coordinate FAQ’s, e-mail, phone reps, live chat or personal shoppers. Display the “help” link or the 800 number on every page. Make sure a real life somebody is there to answer questions in real time.
  • Don’t ask for personal data until check out. Shoppers like being anonymous until they buy.
  • Check out in 4 clicks or less.
  • Set expectations for delivery and offer links to UPS or Fed-X package tracking tools.

  • Put your URL and your 800 number on all communications.
  • Offer a free gift with purchase
  • Offer an immediate discount for a first purchase. Offer progressive discounts based on purchase value.
  • Subsidize or offer free shipping.
  • Offer certain merchandise exclusively online.
  • Run a sweepstakes. Be sure the prize is relevant to your target customers and has a high perceived value to them.

  • Set up a “1 click shop” function.
  • Limit your merchandise selection to best sellers, evergreens, fast moving or replenishment items. Don’t sell the whole store online.
  • Bundle merchandise to achieve value pricing and to increase average sale volumes.
  • Allow customers to save purchase histories.
  • Facilitate automatic replenishment or easy reorders.
  • Synchronize credit, returns and raincheck policies across all channels and venues.
  • Promote “e-mail a friend” functionality to capitalize on the way people really shop.
  • Figure out which items go together. Cross-sell those product cognates.

  • Speak with a single voice in all media.
  • Sequence postcards with e-mail delivery.
  • Drop e-mail, coupons or postcards in tandem with newspaper ads or FSIs.
  • Synchronize e-mail drops with catalog drops.
  • Use HTML e-mails
  • Message your most frequent buyers heavily. Frequency is a better predictor of high value online customers than recentcy.

  • Offer best customers early or exclusive access to merchandise.
  • Figure out who are your best customers and make them special offers.
  • Solicit permission to e-mail them.
  • Use persistent cookies to expedite engaging them.
  • Collect only as much information as you intend to use.
  • Model your best customers and use mail to find more of them.

Article courtesey of Family Business Strategies.

About the author: Danny Flamberg is Sr.VP, Marketing Director at Digitas Europe. His opinions are his own. Danny Flamberg can be reached via email or at http://www.digitas.com.

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