Why we test and don't just implement​

Garret Cunningham

For e-commerce retailers, increasing conversion rates and average order value is the name of the game. The question, of course, is what are the best ways to do this?

One solution is to simply perform an online search. For example, you could Google “What are the top 10 changes I can make to increase my website’s conversion rate” or “What are the top 5 tactics for boosting our average order value?” You will get lots of ideas and recommendations, many of which are sensible and useful most of the time.

But not all the time. Because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to boosting conversion rates and order value. Instead, we always recommend that you need to test any tools or tactics before making website changes because they could have the exact opposite effect that you desire.

Where social proof works … and where it doesn’t

Social proof is a good example. With social proof, other satisfied customers, including experts and recognized celebrities, recommend your products and services based on their positive experiences. This capitalizes on the psychology of persuasion in which individuals view behaviour in a situation — here, buying a product or service — through the lens of whether others are buying the product or service.

Social proof tends to work well with mass market products where there isn’t a sense of exclusivity in making the purchase. However, it risks being less effective with luxury products and high-end fashion. Mass market fashion and clothing is a good example. Why? Because these customers don’t want to wear the same clothing or jewellery everybody else is wearing. They want exclusivity. In these markets, social proof can actually have the opposite of the intended effect and reduce conversion rates.

Use caution with product reviews

Product reviews are another example. Positive reviews help build trust among customers who don’t know you or your brand, which of course is a good thing. But when used incorrectly, product reviews can be detrimental to conversions.

For example, sometimes product reviews end up leading customers away from your website to another site where the review is posted. This is almost like a retail store employee walking a customer to the door and escorting them out. Any time a customer leaves your website, even if it’s to read a positive review, there’s a chance they might not return due to distractions.

Of course, negative reviews aren’t going to boost conversion rates. But the reality is that no matter how many customers are pleased with your products and services, there may be one or two who post a negative review. And one negative review can wipe out all the benefits of 99 positive reviews. We observed for an online bicycle retailer we work with that 60% of users sorted reviews with negative reviews at the top. These users read the negative reviews first in an attempt to justify not making the purchase.

When minimum order thresholds can backfire

Many online retailers set minimum order thresholds for free shipping. This can be a great way to encourage users to spend more and increase the size of their basket, but this tactic can backfire if not performed correctly. This is especially true for customers whose order ends up just below the threshold. For one thing, these customers become acutely aware that they have to pay for shipping if they don’t spend more, which might cause them to abandon their cart.

Or, these customers might go looking for more products to boost their order size. While this might boost the average order value, it’s also a distraction from checking out that might cause customers to abandon their cart. Or customers might just leave your site and go looking for another retailer with a lower free shipping threshold.

A fashion retailer we work with experienced a 7% decrease in conversion rate and 9% decrease in average order value among mobile customers due to the free shipping threshold. Interestingly, however, they experienced a 3% increase in conversion rate and 4% increase in average order value on desktop. We believe this is because desktop customers tend to have more time when shopping online which makes finding more products a more manageable task. For mobile users, speed and convenience are of the essence and adding a layer of consideration such as delivery charges doesn’t work within that.

Make discount code boxes prominent

It's common for online retailers to offer codes that customers can apply at checkout to receive a product discount. But placement and prominence of the discount code box is critical to success because this is the last stage of the customer journey and you don’t want to lose them here to faulty codes or to discount hunters!

For example, if customers arrive at checkout with products in their basket and a discount code but can’t find the discount code box, or the code they have doesn’t work or isn’t recognized, they may get frustrated and abandon their cart. Or they might go searching for a discount code to apply but on the way, it’s possible they will find one for a competitor’s website instead. Either way, you could lose a sale because of a tactic that is designed to actually boost conversion rates and average order value.

Don’t make assumptions — test instead

As you search for ways to boost conversion rates and average order value, don’t just assume that common tactics and tools you find on a Google search will always work. In some situations, they might actually have the opposite effect of what you’re trying to achieve.

The only way to find out whether a strategy will achieve your desired result is to test it before making it live. This will help prevent making changes to your e-commerce website that could backfire.

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