Lessons learned from top10 converting websites


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Lessons learned from top10 converting websites

  1. 1. SeeWhy Inc.300 Brickstone Square, Suite 201Andover, MA 01810USAPhone: +1 617 502 2077Email: info@seewhy.comTwitter: SeeWhyIncFacebook: SeeWhyIncThe copyright in this document belongs to SeeWhy (‘the Owners’). No copyrightedmaterial may be used, sold, transferred, or reproduced in whole or in part in anymanner or form or in or on any media to any person, except as authorized by theOwner’s Agreement, the United States Copyright Act, or the prior written consent ofthe Owners.All brand names and product names mentioned or referred to throughout thispublication are fully recognized as the Trademarks or Registered Trademarks of theirrespective holders.COPYRIGHT © 2010-2011 SeeWhyALL RIGHTS RESERVED
  2. 2. Table of ContentsExecutive Summary .............................................................................................. - 2 -Methodology ...................................................................................................... - 3 -The Top 10 Converting Websites .............................................................................. - 4 - Table 1 - The top 10 converting websites ................................................................. - 4 -The Data: Similarities and Differences ....................................................................... - 6 - Table 2 – Min / Max ranges of the top ten converting websites ........................................ - 6 - Pop-up Shopping Carts ....................................................................................... - 8 - Table 3 – Check out processes of the top ten converting websites .................................... - 9 - Table 4 Communication channels offered ................................................................ - 10 - Table 5 Merchandising ....................................................................................... - 11 - Screen width .................................................................................................. - 13 - Remarketing .................................................................................................. - 15 - Identifying more visitors .................................................................................... - 17 -Lessons Learned: The Three BIG Ideas Used to Drive Conversion ........................................ - 19 -Conclusions ...................................................................................................... - 21 - [- 1 -]
  3. 3. Executive SummaryEcommerce teams have an understandable fascination with the top ten converting websites. Whilemost websites convert 2 or 3 percent of their visitors to a purchase in the same session, some sitesare able to achieve much higher levels. In this study the top 10 converting websites averaged 23percent, with a range between 18 and 42 percent.So what makes the difference between a site that converts 2 percent and one that converts 42percent? What do they do differently, and what can the ecommerce sector learn as a result?It’s not what we expected to find when we set out to study these websites.Conventional wisdom would suggest that these websites would be tuned to make purchases intuitiveand simple, to speed the buyer through the process.But this is not it.Some of the websites are far from intuitive, lack clear calls to action, and have lengthy shopping cartprocesses that would deter all but the most determined. Moreover, 6 out of the top 10 convertingwebsites force the first time visitor to create an account and register on the site before being able tomake a purchase.The difference is that all of the companies behind the top 10 converting websites are directmarketers at heart. Astonishingly 9 of the top 10 have a catalog. All make it exceptionally easy forreturning customers to make purchases, and herein lies the difference.It’s a different mindset: to these companies, it’s not about SEO, or page views, and making a sale,but about the second, third, fourth sales to the same customer, driving profitability for theircompanies. And in the process, they get the highest conversion rates in the industry as theircustomers come back to buy again, and again, and again.This research shows that these companies all follow three big ideas which drive exceptional websiteconversion rates, and essential lessons for all ecommerce companies. Collectively these three ideasare transformational and represent a clear business strategy for the ecommerce sector. [- 2 -]
  4. 4. MethodologyProducing the list of the top 10 converting websites is relatively fraught with pitfalls: the data isn’tperfect, and some decisions need to be made about what data to include and what to exclude.This study is based on Nielsen data. Nielsen, using long established consumer panels, track visitorbehavior, and consequently are only as good as the panels themselves. However, Nielsen are a longestablished leader in consumer panels, so we can be assured that while not perfect, these give a verygood indication of consumer web traffic. In order to qualify, a website needs to achieve a minimumof five million unique visitors per month.We decided not to rely on any single month, but rather to use the last six-month period for whichdata was available. We selected the six months ending November 2009, specifically excludingDecember, representing the latest data available for ‘normal’ months. Including December resultswould have skewed results disproportionately towards December gift purchases. Given the massiveswings in website conversion rates observed in December 2009, this was felt to be prudent. Equallyas an additional measure to avoid a ‘flash in the pan’ type result each website had to have beenfeatured in the top ten list a minimum of three times in the six month period. [- 3 -]
  5. 5. The Top 10 Converting Websites Table 1 shows the top 10 converting websites for the six months to November 2009. Conversion is measured based on the ratio of site visitors to purchasers in a given session. Throughout this report we have also included Amazon.com (no. 11 in the table) as a useful point of reference. This is based on Amazon being the largest and best-known ecommerce site, and therefore it should be familiar to all, whereas many of the top 10 may be new to readers. Of course, some are ‘destination sites’ where customers go when they are on a mission: for example, ordering meals for a special dinner or sending flowers on Mother’s Day. But visit ProFlowers and see how they offer easy reminders for key occasions, encouraging revisit and repurchase. Table 1 - The top 10 converting websites Rank Website name Web address Sector 6 month Average Conversion rate1 Schwans http://www.schwans.com/ Food 41.7%2 ProFlowers http://www.proflowers.com/ Flowers 26.5%3 vitacost.com http://www.vitacost.com/ Health & Nutrition 24.0%4 Woman Within http://www.womanwithin.com/ Catalog /clothing 22.4%5 Blair.com http://www.blair.com/ Catalog /clothing 20.5%6 Lands’ End http://www.landsend.com/ Catalog /clothing 19.5%7 DrsFosterSmith.com http://www.drsfostersmith.com/ Pet supplies 18.6%8 Office Depot http://www.officedepot.com/ Office 18.4%9 Roamans http://www.roamans.com/ Catalog /clothing 18.4%10 QVC http://www.qvc.com/ Jewelry + 18.3%11 Amazon http://www.amazon.com/ Multi category 16.5% [- 4 -]
  6. 6. Of the top ten, Roaman’s and Woman Within are owned by the same company, Redcats, and bothoffer plus size clothing. To get one website in the top 10 converting list is an achievement, but two isa testament to Redcats formula.Although the branding is different for each site, and each is focused at a different age group andprice profile, the sites sell many very similar products. It is also interesting that the structure of bothwebsites is very similar, sharing identical check out processes:Spot the difference? While these two websites are serving slightly different markets, primarily basedon price, they both sell very similar products to the Plus Size clothing niche.What is really interesting is the significant difference in their conversion rate, which indicates thatthe site structure is one of the less important factors affecting conversion rate. In fact, on both ofthese sites, once you’ve placed items in your shopping cart, it is far from intuitive where you have toclick to get back to your shopping cart.So there are clearly bigger forces at play than the design of the websites. [- 5 -]
  7. 7. The Data: Similarities and DifferencesAcross the ten different sites, and using Amazon for comparison, some clear patterns emerge. Whatstands out most is that all 10 are direct marketers. The categories of goods sold may differ, but allare companies grounded in marketing directly to customers. Only two companies, Office Depot andLands’ End, also have physical stores; all the others are using distance selling where you can onlypurchase online or by phone.Some key summary statistics: 9 have a catalog 9 do not offer free shipping 8 offer a simple sign up on their home page 6 out of the top 10 force a full registration before a first purchase 9 out of 10 offer a 1-800 number on their homepageCritically…10 out of 10 use remarketing.One other striking thing is that traditional wisdom of what you need to do to maximize yourconversion rate seems to be of much lower priority to these companies. You would expect them allto rank highly with the search engines, have short and slick check out processes, capturing only theminimum of information. But this is not so.Table 2 demonstrates the range of how these sites score.Table 2 – Min / Max ranges of the top ten converting websites Average Min Max Amazon.comConversion Rate (6 month average) 22.8% 18.3% 41.7% 16.5%Google Page Rank 5.3 4.0 7.0 9.0Checkout process pages (new visitor) 3.9 2.0 6.0 5.0Check out fields before credit card 23.9 12.0 39.0 23Number of shipping options 3.7 1.0 8.0 5Number of payment types 3.7 1.0 8.0 3 [- 6 -]
  8. 8. Three of the top 10 converting websites have a Google page rank of only four, indicating they havemade little or no effort to optimize their sites for search. Clearly their traffic is coming directly,perhaps based on direct mailed catalogs.Table 2 also shows a wide range of difference in the length of the checkout process. Conventionalwisdom would suggest that ecommerce teams should minimize the number of checkout pages. This isthe approach that Lands’ End has followed, with only two pages and a total of 13 fields or optionsbefore credit card entry. While Lands’ End is a great model of how to shorten your checkout process,some of the other sites are at the other end of the scale.A first time purchaser at ProFlowers is presented with six different pages as part of the checkoutprocess, and a total of 36 different options and fields to enter. It clearly hasn’t harmed ProFlowers,number two in the top 10, with an average of 26.5 percent conversion rate over the six month studyperiod.In fact, we’d suggest studying ProFlowers checkout process carefully, since this is a great example ofhow to do checkout processes well. The large numbers of steps involved are in part due to the natureof their business (i.e. the ability to send flowers and gifts to others rather than yourself) which arenecessary to make a purchase. The options are up-sell and cross-sell during the checkout process, alldone very well. While you’re checking out their process, note how the items in the cart are shown onthe right hand side throughout the process, but without displaying the price. This reminds purchasersabout the gift, with focusing on the cost (shown below): [- 7 -]
  9. 9. Pop-up Shopping CartsOne innovation worth noting is the pop-up shopping cart. When you add an item to the shopping cart,rather than taking you to the shopping cart page, and offering a ‘continue shopping’ button, siteswith a pop up cart are focused on increasing the number of items in your cart before you check out.The pop up shopping cart overlays on top of the page that you were shopping, then once the item hasbeen added, disappears after a few seconds, taking you right back to your shopping selection.We predict that this will become a widespread technique to use since it is clearly intuitive, and willundoubtedly increase the average cart size at checkout.Here are the Lands’ End and Blair versions:This is a very elegant way of encouraging visitors to buy more, and browse through the store. It alsomirrors what we do in the offline world: we pick items and put them in our shopping carts, then wecarry on shopping. The traditional approach in the online world is the equivalent of marching theshopper to the checkout every time they put an item in their cart. [- 8 -]
  10. 10. Table 3 shows a bit more detail behind these check-out processes.Table 3 – Check out processes of the top ten converting websites Yes No Amazon.comCheckout progress indicators 10 0 YesShip to non-cardholder address 10 0 YesForce a full account creation 6 4 YesPersistent cart (remembers items in the cart) 8 2 YesReview cart before payment 9 1 YesValidate email address 3 7 YesInterestingly six out of the 10 sites force a full account creation before a first purchase, as doesAmazon.com. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom says that if youprovide a guest a check-out facility, then this increases your conversion rate. The same is said toapply in relation to where in the process you captured the email address.Conventional wisdom also suggests that the email address should be captured towards the end of theprocess. Schwann’s, the leading converting website in the US, captures the email address in the firstfield. At Amazon, it is the third field.In order to purchase, at some point in the process the customer is going to have to give you an emailaddress for their order confirmation. If goods are going to be sent to them, they’ll have to give aphysical address as well.They know this.So, by forcing an account creation or putting the email address earlier, all you are doing is flushingout those that are never going to purchase anyway. So by not capturing this data early on, you areactually artificially inflating your visitor numbers in the early stages of the funnel. And by capturingthe email address earlier, of course, means that a much larger proportion of your website visitors areidentified rather than being anonymous. This allows you to follow up and remarket to them, even ifthey don’t complete the process. [- 9 -]
  11. 11. Table 4 illustrates this point. Eight out of the top ten offer a simple facility on their homepage tosign up for a e-newsletter, and opt in to email offers.Table 4 Communication channels offered Yes No Amazon.comHomepage: Simple sign up 8 2 NoHomepage: 800 phone number 9 1 NoHomepage: Contact email address 2 8 NoChat option 3 7 NoPop up survey 1 9 NoCatalog 9 1 NoStores and Online 1 9 NoWhen it comes to on-site merchandising, some of these sites stand out as best in class. Six out of theten sites offer user reviews and bestseller / rated lists, all aimed at making it easier to find andselect products. This is illustrated in Table 5 overleaf. [- 10 -]
  12. 12. Table 5 Merchandising Yes No Amazon.comUser Reviews 6 4 YesBest sellers / Best rated 6 4 YesAll product variations / combinations shown 5 3 YesEnter catalog number 9 1 NoFive out of the eight sites (to which this is relevant) show all potential color variations / productcombinations. There are two distinct approaches here: list all products individually (e.g. OfficeDepot which lists each color of a range individually, as does Amazon); the second approach is muchmore sophisticated and has come directly from experience of catalog based sales.Years ago Lands’ End noticed that the items featured prominently in their catalogs outsold the othercolor variations by an order of magnitude. This causes issues related to availability and stockplanning, based on which item is more heavily promoted by the merchandiser. As a result, Lands’End changed the way products are displayed in their catalogs to show all color variants prominently.A visit to Lands’ End website will show you how you can merchandise products more evenly. [- 11 -]
  13. 13. However, this doesn’t solve the problem completely. In the picture above, the beige raincoat shownon the left hand side will still outsell the 4 other colors of this raincoat. Lands’ End deal with this byshowing all color variations on the product selection page using a selectable color swatch.On their ‘Canvas’ pages, they go one step further, by showing the modelled outfit in different colors.Selecting the color box changes the picture dynamically, using image manipulation. Go and try it out.It’s very slick.While this is particularly relevant to clothing, ProFlowers have demonstrated how effectively thistechnique can be used when matching flowers to vases.As shown in the two screen grabs below, the flowers remain the same, but the vase and backgroundchange to show the buyer the combination together. ProFlowers use this technique very effectivelyto upsell during the checkout process.This style of merchandising is far more sophisticated than simply listing all products of a given typeseparately, and makes it much easier for the customer to choose. In many ways these techniquesmirror the way that we buy in stores: we’d put the bunch of flowers next to a series of vases to seewhich looked best, and then choose the combination that worked best. [- 12 -]
  14. 14. Jumping back to the data in table 5, we can also see that the nine websites that have catalogs alsoenable you to enter a catalog number and make a fast purchase.Here’s Schwann’s version:And here is the clear benefit from forcing an account creation. All these sites are optimized, not forthe first purchase, but for repeat sales. Schwann’s, with an average visitor to order conversion rateof 41.7% has outstanding conversion. But the site itself breaks many of the conventional wisdoms,sacrificing a quick tactical sale for a longer term, and more profitable customer relationship.Screen WidthWhile screen width is effectively online real estate, most of the Top 10 are not using wider widths.Table 6 shows the different screen widths being used.Table 6 Utilized screen width [- 13 -]
  15. 15. On a side note, it is interesting to see how Amazon use screen width. Their site is designed to scaleto use the full width available. The two screen grabs below illustrate how this works.The first screen shown below is 1920 width, while the second one is only 1280 pixels wide. Amazonleverages the additional real estate dynamically, enabling seven different variants of UGG boots tobe shown on the larger screen, compared with only 4 on the smaller screen.1920 Resolution1280 Resolution [- 14 -]
  16. 16. RemarketingRemarketing is one of the most effective techniques to boost website conversion rates, and isarguably the most profitable marketing technique. Website visitors are ‘remarketed’ based on theirbrowsing behavior, using email, direct mail, or in the case of anonymous visitors, advertising. Ofthese techniques, email is by far the most cost effective, and the top ten converting websites makeuse of that email address captured on your first site visit wherever possible.Here’s an example probably familiar to you, from Amazon, based on browsing behavior:Amazon maintains that a full 30 percent of their sales come from recommendations, which aredelivered both on screen and into your mailbox via email. This is testament to both the effectivenessof the technique, and of remarketing. [- 15 -]
  17. 17. ProFlowers followed up an abandoned shopping cart, about 24 hours after the purchase was abortedwith this email:While all these companies use remarketing, it is clear that there is scope for further improvement. Arecent study published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that ninety percent ofecommerce leads go cold within an hour. While following up twenty-four hours later is better than nofollow up at all, it is clear that an immediate follow up is best practice.The importance of an immediate first follow up, in a sequence, cannot be stressed too much. Animmediate follow up will generate between two and five times as many conversions as a follow uptwenty-four hours later. [- 16 -]
  18. 18. Identifying more visitorsIn order to make remarketing work effectively, you need to be able to identify your visitors. It goeswithout saying that if you want to remarket to visitors using email you need to capture an emailaddress. A very strong theme that emerges from these sites is that they are striving to maximize theproportion of visitors that are identifiable through early and prominent capture of email addresses.One simple technique you can copy here is to offer an incentive to encourage a first time visitor toshare their email address right on the home page.The top of the Woman Within home page looks like this:Notice the box on the right hand side: ‘Sign up for emails today and get a free shipping coupon inyour inbox.’When the visitor enters their email address, and they click the sign up button, this is what they get,delivered by email in real time: [- 17 -]
  19. 19. This elegant promotion means that at any point after this sign up whatever they do on the site,Woman Within can then remarket to them. What’s really neat is that by doing this they increasetheir first visit conversion rate, because the visitor is much more likely to convert as a result ofhaving a free shipping voucher code. When they make a first purchase, they are forced into a fullregistration, capturing their address details, and in doing so they are added to the next catalogmailing. Clearly this is a company with an integrated marketing strategy that knows the value ofcustomer data. [- 18 -]
  20. 20. Lessons Learned: The Three BIG Ideas Used to Drive Conversion 1. A customer is for life, not just a session All of the top ten sites have one thing in common. The sites are optimized, not for a first purchase, but have Key Fact been optimized for repeat purchases. By making it easy A 5 percent increase in for the returning visitor to purchase, and by driving customer retention translates visitors’ numbers through traditional direct marketing into a 25-100 percent (email and catalog) these sites are getting outstanding increase in profits conversion rates. We shouldn’t be surprised that some don’t focus on Search Engine Optimization, because Frederick Reichheld – The search traffic is far less qualified than customers coming Loyalty Effect to the site having already received and browsed through a catalog. What these sites know is that existing customers are significantly more profitable than new ones: the cost of acquisition can be amortized over many purchases, not a single session. Loyalty economics are well understood by these companies, and their websites have been optimized accordingly. Notably Amazon invented (and patented) one-click shopping. But even without one- click turned on, it only takes six clicks in total to make a second purchase at Amazon. Crucially, this has to be backed up by delivering on the promise though quality products, efficient logistics, and solid warranty and returns policies (with returns logistics to match). These are just as essential to the long term relationship as convenience. 2. Superior search and selection A core strength of all of these websites is merchandising. While some are better than others, all provide an Key Fact experience where it is easy to browse. In fact you could 65 – 70 percent of purchases conclude that some are focused on making the shopping are unplanned. experience as pleasurable as possible. Paco Underhill – Why We Buy These companies understand that the majority of individual items purchased were unplanned, and have invested significantly in merchandising. They also have invested in technologies to make it easy to find products that you are already familiar with, offer [- 19 -]
  21. 21. new suggestions based on best sellers lists, reviews or analytics, and some make it easy to choosecolors /combinations of products that are going to work best. Notably Amazon have built theirown proprietary A9 search technology.3. Lifetime remarketingAll of these companies use remarketing, which is in itself,very significant. Only one quarter of all companies in theecommerce sector as a whole remarket to their Key Factcustomers, yet all of the top ten do. All of the top ten converting websites use remarketing.Amazon, the gorilla in the space, is one of the biggestremarketers of all. In fact Amazon emails are a steady Only 26% of ecommerce sitesdrip, drip, drip, of subtle suggestions and reminders to remarket.purchase. SeeWhy ResearchBecause remarketing, when done well, is perceived asgood service, customers accept and value remarketingapproaches.When delivered through email, recommendations, suggestions and relevant content gets veryhigh open rates, and low unsubscribe rates. When delivered via mail, a catalog provides andenhances the choosing experience. Both these channels drive highly qualified visitors back to thewebsite with products in mind to purchase. It’s no surprise that their website conversion ratesare so much higher. [- 20 -]
  22. 22. ConclusionsWhen we set out to study the websites of the top ten converting websites, we expected to find thelikely conventional wisdom: short shopping cart processes, guest checkouts and highly tunedwebsites, focused around getting the sale.We didn’t find this. While a few have focused in this area, it’s clear that all these companies arefocused on lifetime customer value. They are seeking to thrill shoppers with a superior experience,and make it incredibly easy to purchase again.By linking catalogs with online purchasing, 9 of the top 10 have made it easy to choose offline, andpurchase online, resulting in dramatic conversion rates.It’s also clear that the top 10 are willing to sacrifice a small proportion of initial sales lost as a resultof their desire to capture user data. Once captured, these details are used very effectively toremarket to website visitors, driving highly qualified buyers with intent to their sites.There are lessons in here for the entire ecommerce sector._______________________________________________________________________________________For more information on website conversion best practices and resources, please visit ConversionAcademy online at: http://www.seewhy.com/resources.htm [- 21 -]