Boost your eCommerce conversion rate with this 15-point optimisation checklist

A customer shopping online using their mobile phone and credit card

If you’re getting traffic to your online store, but aren’t seeing the sales you’d hoped for, it’s time to understand your eCommerce conversion rate and how to optimise it. In this post – the fourth in our how to start an eCommerce business series – we guide you through a 15-point checklist to start conversion rate optimisation (CRO) for your online store.

Why should you care about conversion rates?

A conversion rate is defined as the percentage of visitors to a website that convert. Depending on the type of website you run, “convert” will mean different things – for example, subscribing to a blog or submitting an enquiry form are both types of conversion.

But for an eCommerce business, conversion rate ultimately means the percentage of visitors that buy something:

eCommerce conversion rate = (Number of sales / Number of visits) x 100

In Q4 2017, the average global eCommerce conversion rate was 2.5% – for every 200 visitors to an online store, 5 made a purchase.

This rate varies depending on where your visitors are located, which devices they’re browsing on, and which channels they use to find your site. Crucially, eCommerce conversion rates are declining over time, as more online stores spring up and consumers browse multiple sites before buying.

As such, it’s important to know your eCommerce conversion rate and take steps to continually improve it. Doing so will increase your sales, make your marketing more effective and fend off your competition. Following the 15-point checklist below will help you get started with CRO, then make it business as usual. It covers five areas:

Understanding your eCommerce conversion rate

Before you can optimise your conversion rate, you need to know what it is to begin with. There are three things you can do to find this out:

1. Set up Google Analytics

An example of Shopping Behaviour in Google Analytics.
An example of Shopping Behaviour in Google Analytics. Source: Analytics for Humans.

Many of the best eCommerce platforms have their own analytics features built in. But adding Google Analytics to your online store, particularly the Enhanced eCommerce Features, is likely to give you additional insights. (Kissmetrics has a step-by-step guide for doing this.)

Once configured, you can use Google’s Shopping Behaviour Analysis (pictured above) and Checkout Behaviour Analysis, to identify the journey that customers go through from visit to purchase.

Looking at this will not only help you understand how your eCommerce conversion rate compares with that 2.5% average above. It will also help you identify website problems that are causing visitors to abandon their journey. For example, are visitors reaching product pages from your homepage? Are they adding products to their basket? And once in their basket, are they buying them?

You can also compare how visitors on different devices or from different locations or channels are behaving. Analytics for Humans has some detailed advice.

2. Set up a heat mapping tool

An example of a heat map for an online store.
An example of a heat map for an online store. Source: webprofits.

A heat map is a simple, visual representation of where visitors are looking and clicking on your website. There are plenty of low-cost, easy-to-use tools that enable you to generate heat maps for your online store – check out Crazy Egg or Optimizely, for instance.

Using these tools on key pages of your shop – such as the homepage, product listings pages, product pages and checkout steps – will help you hone in on the problems you’ve identified above. For example, are visitors to your homepage missing a key call to action? Or are they confused by how you’ve labelled your menu items?

Heat maps can uncover all sorts of interesting insights about your visitors’ behaviour – ConversionXL has a comprehensive list.

3. Benchmark your conversion rates

Once you’ve set up Google Analytics and a heat mapping tool, you’ll probably want to wait a couple of weeks for data to come in. That’s because, unless you get thousands of visits every day, you’ll need a few weeks’ worth of data, to ensure any trends you spot are statistically significant.

For example, if 20% of 1,000 visitors (that’s 200 people) do the same thing, it’s likely to be a trend. But if 20% of just 10 visitors (that’s 2 people) do the same thing, it’s likely to be a coincidence.

Once you’ve waited a few weeks to benchmark your conversion rate, you’ll then be better placed to optimise it. You’ll know where to start – your site design, your product pages or your checkout process – and you’ll be able to measure which of the changes you make has the most impact.

Optimising your site design

If the data and insights you gathered above have unveiled a problem with your homepage – for example, visitors aren’t progressing to product pages or are spending just a few seconds on your site – then you’ll want to optimise its overall design. Here are some things to look out for:

4. Review your homepage design

Luckies of London: an example of a simple and attractive homepage design.
Luckies of London: an example of a simple and attractive homepage design.

It takes visitors less than two-tenths of a second to form a first impression of your website. That means your homepage design is critical to ensuring they stick around long enough to progress to your product pages.

There are various steps you can take to make the right first impression:

  • using high-quality, original imagery
  • having a clean, modern design with plenty of white space
  • making it clear what a visitor should do next
  • and providing enough information to attract customers, but not so much that it overwhelms.

Gift seller Luckies of London does just that. Its homepage is simple and attractive, but also manages to showcase its products, signpost where visitors should go next with three “shop now” buttons, and incentivise them to browse with free delivery and a discount.

5. Make your navigation buyer-centric

Luckies of London's buyer-centric online store navigation.
Luckies of London’s buyer-centric online store navigation.

As well as the “shop now” buttons, Luckies provides a variety of clear navigation options. The search box enables buyers who know precisely what they’re looking for to find it right away. Meanwhile, the menu sorts Luckies’ product range into user-friendly categories, which are ideal for gift buyers who are browsing for ideas.

This process of “merchandising” – grouping products by how they’re used and providing filters to help visitors find exactly the right one – is key to getting more traffic to your product pages. Taking a buyer-centric approach – for example, conducting keyword research to ensure you call products the same thing as customers – will also help.

6. Remember that shoppers are increasingly mobile

eCommerce conversion rates have traditionally been lower on mobile devices than desktop ones. But this is changing. Analysis of over $1 billion in Shopify sales over Black Friday / Cyber Monday 2017, showed that 64% of sales were on smartphones – up 10% on the previous year.

To capitalise on increasingly mobile shoppers, you need to focus on first impressions once again. Having a responsive website, which works as well on mobile as it does on desktop, and improving your site speed, so that pages load quickly on the go, are both a must. (Shopify has some tips on achieving this.)

You should also think about how visitors interact with your site on smaller touchscreens – read this guest post on creating a great mobile customer experience for more.

Optimising your product pages

If the data and insights you gathered above highlighted that visitors are getting to your product page, but not buying, it’s time to look at optimising these pages. Here are some things to consider:

7. Invest in photography (and video)

Bellroy: an example of an optimised product page.
Bellroy: an example of an optimised product page.

“If I’d have to pick one single thing that would sell a product online, it’s images,” says Peep Laja, Founder of ConversionXL. “You *technically could* have an eCommerce site with just images, and no product descriptions (I don’t recommend it). It wouldn’t work vice versa.”

To boost your eCommerce conversion rate, you want to use high-quality product images set against a white background (this tool could help). You want images that zoom in on the details of your product, provide alternative angles and show it in context. The product page for Bellroy’s note sleeve (pictured above) does that beautifully. It also uses a simple video to showcase the product’s key benefits in action.

ConversionXL has more advice on how images can boost your conversion rates, while BigCommerce has a full guide on building your own eCommerce photography studio.

8. Sell the benefits and the features

We’re often told that “features tell, benefits sell” – that we shouldn’t promote the details of our product, but what it can do to solve a customer’s problems. In the case of eCommerce product pages, though, you need to do both.

Customers who are comparing multiple products online want the details. The Bellroy example above does this beautifully again, with a simple, bullet point list highlighting the product’s size, capacity, features, quality and warranty – the features. But scroll down the page and you get the benefits too: “Fit your cash, coins and up to eleven cards… Slim your wallet, without turning your world upside down.”

In short, ensure your product pages are giving customers all of the information they need to decide if your product is right for them, plus a compelling reason to buy it from you.

9. Make use of social proof

An example of social proof for CRO on Bellroy's website.
An example of social proof for CRO on Bellroy’s website.

The AIDCA model for creating effective advertising – in which the “C” stands for “satisfying caution” – is as old as advertising itself. And one of the best ways to satisfy caution is to stop telling customers how great your product is yourself, and start using a third-party to do it for you.

Today, this approach is often called “social proof” and there are various ways you can use it to boost your eCommerce conversion rate. Customer reviews are the obvious place to start, and we covered the importance of gathering them in our previous post on getting traffic to your online store.

But you could also showcase reviews from journalists or other influencers on your product page, as Bellroy does above, or use a recent sales app, such as Checkend for Shopify, to show visitors who else is buying, what they’re buying and where they’re buying from.

10. Be clear about delivery and returns

Another area in which you need to provide customers with comprehensive information is your delivery and returns policy.

You should highlight the shipping options you provide, plus the costs and delivery times associated with them on your product page. If you don’t, you’re likely to see customers abandon during the checkout process, as the full cost of their purchase and the time it will take to get their item becomes clear.

You could also add a shipping deadline countdown – “order in the next 4 hours to get the item tomorrow” – or offer free shipping and returns as an incentive to buy (or buy even more). We’ll cover this in more detail in our post on eCommerce shipping strategies.

11. Give visitors a way to get in touch

A live chat pop up on Bellroy's website, to boost eCommcerce conversion rates.
Having made the changes above, your visitors should now have all of the information they need to buy from you.

But just in case, you should also provide a clear way for them to get in touch – that could be a contact page listing your email address, physical address and phone number, an enquiry form, a Q&A section on your product page or, increasingly, a live chat option like Bellroy’s above.

Doing this will not only offer visitors a way to have their questions answered, but add credibility to your business, by showing there’s a real person behind it.

Optimising your checkout process

If the data and insights you gathered above highlighted that visitors are adding products to their baskets, but not checking out or completing their purchase, it’s time to review your checkout process. Here are some areas to explore:

12. Don’t ask for too much information

Protein Empire: an example of a simple, one-page checkout to boost eCommerce conversion rates.
Protein Empire: an example of a simple, one-page checkout to boost eCommerce conversion rates.

Once a customer has decided to buy from you, they want to complete their purchase as quickly as possible. Any barriers you put in the way will stop them.

That means requiring customers to register for an account, asking them for their address twice, taking them through multiple checkout pages, or even asking what type of credit car are all checkout deadly sins.

Instead, follow the example of Protein Empire (who we provide e-fulfilment services to) above. Its simple, one-page checkout caters for both first-time buyers and registered users, makes it simple to add two addresses if needed, and defaults to PayPal as the payment method, to speed up the process.

13. Offer reassurance about site security

Another area that Protein Empire gets right is site security. Today, online shoppers are increasingly aware of security issues and expect that their sensitive and private information will be protected.

That means you should ensure your checkout pages have an https:// address and an SSL certificate, and you display appropriate certificates and badges to highlight this.

Many of the best eCommerce platforms enable you to set this up easily.

14. Tackle shopping cart abandonment

On average, around 70% of shopping carts are thought to be abandoned before or during the checkout process. That means it’s one of the most important areas to optimise, if you’re looking to increase your eCommerce conversion rate.

There are various ways you can do this. If you capture a customers email address early in the checkout process, then emailing them shortly after they abandon can be an effective way to get them to return – SmileyCookie won back nearly 30% of abandoned carts this way.

Alternatively, you could implement a persistent cookie on your site, which ensures that when visitors return, their baskets are already filled with the products they added last time. Or you could use remarketing ads to attract them back to your site, as we discussed in our post about getting traffic to your online store.

Whatever option you choose, most eCommerce platforms have functionality built in or apps available, to support cart abandonment interventions.

Making CRO business as usual

Once you begin working through the 14 steps above, you should quickly see improvements in your eCommerce conversion rate. The next step is making CRO business as usual, with the final item on our checklist:

15. Start A/B testing

A graphic highlighting how A/B testing works.
A/B testing a control versus a variation. Source: Optimizely.

A/B testing (also known as split testing) is a process in which you show half of your visitors the existing version of a web page (the “control”) and the other half a new version (the “variation”). You then track which one converts best and, depending on the result, stick with the control or move to the variation.

When conducting A/B testing, it’s sensible to make one change at a time, so you know what is impacting conversion rates the most – for example, is it a new product image, a new product description or a new call to action?

The tools we discussed in items 1 and 2 – Google Analytics, CrazyEgg or Optimizely – all enable you to start A/B testing quickly and cheaply. But again, you’ll need to be patient and wait for your tests to become statistically significant, to know whether the changes you’re making are really improving conversion rates.

Shopify has a good beginner’s guide to A/B testing for eCommerce.


So now you know how to optimise your eCommerce conversion rate. In our next post, we’ll look in more detail at the impact your eCommerce shipping strategy can have on converting visitors. Read it now, or browse more posts from our how to start an eCommerce business series.