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Retail Touchpoints: Three Steps to Bridging the Gap Between Online Conversions and Buyer Intent

November 2, 2011

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail TouchPoints website.

Since online conversion rates have been tracked by the industry, the average has hovered between two percent and three percent. Yet according to the Fireclick Index, 10 percent of visitors come to e-commerce sites intending to make a purchase. How can e-commerce companies beat the conversion curse?

One area for investment is the personalization of existing websites and channels, such as email and mobile, to create a more engaging consumer experience.

Here are three best practices for driving conversion rates:

Consider Intent: Social graph profiles and historical transaction data all offer valuable insight about a shopper's tastes and preferences, but this intelligence alone cannot predict what a visitor actually wants in the moment. Altrec.com, an online destination for outdoor enthusiasts, recently increased its conversion rates by 450 percent after implementing an intent-based personalization approach. Because of the seasonality of its business, factoring in the real-time intent of its potential buyers is critical to its personalization strategy: a shopper may have bought a heavy fleece jacket in February but now is coming back in the summer looking for some Keen sandals. The quicker retailers can recognize and understand what the shopper's current intent is versus what interested him in the past, the more likely a shopper will convert.

Consider All Touchpoints: If a customer receives a certain personalized marketing message on a gadget retailer's site but then loads up the iPad app and sees a completely different message, the first message will be considerably less sticky to that customer. It often takes multiple impressions or interactions for a concept to truly resonate. Retailers need to consider how to apply personalization seamlessly across all of their primary customer interaction channels.

Treat All Customers As Unique: When people are in an information gathering or product exploration process, giving them personalized product recommendations mixed with a set of ratings or reviews might be most useful to them. However, if they're ready to buy at that moment, recommendations might be an unhealthy distraction; instead you're best off focusing on how to encourage them to move forward with a purchase. By paying attention to clues such as the search terms visitors use, how they arrived at your site or other touchpoints, and their behaviors once they get there, you can often ascertain what stage of the shopping lifecycle they're in and, therefore, how to best serve them.

Discussion Questions:

Discussion Questions: Why do you think online conversion rates are so low? What do you think of the recommendations made by the author? Are there lessons that online operations can take from in-store conversion practices?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Of the three suggestions for improving online conversion rates mentioned in the article, which is most critical?

Comments:

First, you can assume Fireclick's 10% estimate is too high -- a case of asking shoppers drives up the response. These recommendations are nothing new and shouldn't be to online retailers. Of course you don't push winter jackets in spring -- doesn't matter whether you're online or bricks/mortar. Integrated marketing communications has been touted for years, so nothing new here.

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

The question is: when are consumers abandoning the site? Are they leaving before they find what they want, after they find it or when the item is in their shopping cart? Sometimes a site is too difficult to navigate, making finding the desired item too hard.

The checkout process could scare consumers off, especially if a site requires consumers to provide billing information before presenting a final tally, including shipping costs.

If consumers don't feel comfortable, they won't make a purchase. As with brick and mortar stores, consumers need to be able to find what they want, in a friendly atmosphere that is easy to navigate, and trust that their transaction will be accurately handled.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

When it comes to online shopping, the key is to keep the browsing and transaction to the fewest amount of clicks as possible. I'm also curious to know exactly when the browser abandons the site? Is it cart abandonment or does price turn them away? Distractions your biggest obstacle when trying to retain customers.

Doron Levy, President, TheMortgageMachine.ca

Many consumers go online to check on products or services, to compare features, or compare prices. If the do not find the right product with the features at the right price, they will try again. There is often no compulsion to buy something until the find the right something.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but I believe that treating all customers as unique introduces to much personalization and detail, and ultimately removes the ease of searching for other things. Like Google's search abilities, if the online experience tries too hard to be just perfect for you, it diminishes the ability for the customer to seek and find.

Also, while the internet has made just about everything available to us, it has compounded complexities. Not much is really simple any longer, and I think that turns off a lot of customers. A lot of customers are "mission" shoppers. They just need something. They don't want to log in, create accounts, see 25 things that are chosen just for them...they just want to purchase. That is the intent.

Seems to me that if the conversion rate is so low, these are probably not the three best practices....

Paul Flanigan, General Manager, Experiate

I'll posit that shopping often gets in the way of buying. I've visited websites, intent on buying something, only to end up browsing based on suggestions and contextual placements. What was I going to buy again? Oh well, never mind. I need to get going.

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Carol Spieckerman, President, newmarketbuilders

How often does a site visitor login to be "recognized," search a site for items of interest, create a wish list, go through the shopping cart selecting items and then intentionally abandon the cart? Observations of site behavior indicate this is a common practice to then cause a response from the e-tailer to offer free shipping or incentive. The site is there to be "shopped." Keys to conversion are brilliant statistical tools and algorithms to prompt interest, cause site "stickiness" and lift conversion. You don't have to overdo it with personalization at the unique by customer level, but some level of recognition as to their status as a preferred customer, having achieved status as a top-tier rewards member, with preferred tender on file as method of payment and rewards equity status is a big step forward that most sites don't support when a rewards program is in place. Keeping suggested items based on previous purchase or browsing activity or abandoned cart to a "reasonable" level (3-5, not 10) helps to not push too hard and enable the visitor to accept suggestions willingly. In-store is "in person." I love sites that have a prompt for a call center rep to assist and if you feel that is intrusive/not necessary, you can click and close easy enough.

David Slavick, Director, Loyalty & Retention, FTD.com

Also think the 10% number is very high. Consumer intent and purchase can be very far apart. There of course is a strong consumer interest when shoppers go online, but depending on products, retailer sites, competitive position and much more -- conversion rates are still low.

Competition for shoppers spend is fierce -- there are many choices across retailers and channels. Shoppers are savvy, and will search for best value by searching sites and demand shopping convenience and fair terms.

Anne Bieler, Sr. Associate, Packaging and Technology Integrated Solutions

The reason for such poor conversion results is simple, very low quality software. The Internet retail business is not a game or a puzzle. The prospects that visit a site are there to get something now; a low price, item description and technical data, or product comparison information. These reasons account for about 40% to 60% of all visits. Leaving about half the visits into retail sites intended for competitive information gathering and or site structure, content and software logistics. This information, while somewhat leveling, is in fact very telling and lends much in support of this content.

The different departments of IT, Sales, Merchandising, and Marketing seem to be positioning for leadership in this new world of retail and not working together for a goal. This has happened simply because corporate budgets are handed down with the goals supported by the heads of the various departments.

There are many means to remedy this from above in the hierarchy of the company. The first would be to acquire chief executives with the 21st century savvy to successfully explore this new and emerging power market which is the doorway to the new world economy. I often wonder how much money could be made by a retailer's site that spoke to everyone, anywhere in the world in their own language? A goal kind of like going to the moon in the early 1960s.

'gjarnoldjr'

To understand why the conversion rates are low (and I'm not sold on the Fireclick Index) you need to understand exactly where during the visit that the customer is leaving. That to me is at the heart of the matter. If it turns out that 4%-5% are getting to specific item pages, and 2% to 3% are buying, that's a pretty good conversion rate.

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Ted Hurlbut, Principal, Hurlbut & Associates

What I find interesting is how few retail executives actually go to their own sites regularly and try to purchase something. The issue is definitely page distractions, as has been said herein. Keep the purchase process as simply as possible and you will have far better conversion. Simple stuff, but evidently not easy.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

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