Read anything related to e-commerce and you are bound to come across the terms “conversion” and “conversion rates” more than a dozen times.

On its own, “conversion rate” can mean a lot of different things, but in the context of commerce, it is a subject that requires more than basic knowledge or the briefest of attentions. In fact, many would say that the success of e-commerce rides heavily on conversion rates.

How to Optimize Conversion Rates in E-Commerce

© Shutterstock | Max Griboedov

This article covers 1) conversion rates in e-commerce, 2) the importance of conversion rates, 3) why optimize conversion rates, 4) statistics on conversion rates, and 5) what variables are effecting conversion rates and in what stage of the lead funnel.


In e-commerce, conversion refers to the act of turning visitors to your site into actual paying customers. In effect, you will be converting these visitors to purchase or to buy what you are selling on your site. The phrase “conversion rate” is also often used to refer to the number of visitors to your site that you were able to convince into taking the desired action that you want, whether it is to buy something outright, visit an affiliate website, sign up for something, or download content.

For purposes of this discussion, however, we will focus on conversion and conversion rates with respect to the number of people that you manage to convert to purchase although the principles are the same whether you are looking for downloads, signups or pretty much any action that you would like your visitors to take.

Conversion rates can be easily calculated. Say, for example, that a website is getting an average of 5,000 visitors per day. Among these 5,000 visitors, 100 end up buying something. Therefore, the daily conversion rate of the store is 2%.

Some basics on Conversion Rate Optimisation.

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Aside from getting an idea how many people are actually buying from you, conversion rates as metrics actually play a bigger role.

  • Conversion rates serve as a tool to measure business profitability. The general rule is that, the higher the conversion rates, the higher the sales. This means more profits generated by your business.
  • Conversion rates are used for forecasting purposes. It has predictive value that can be used to forecast, to calculate, or to estimate the future performance and success of the business.
  • Conversion rates can be used to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of your business processes. Through this tool, you can determine whether a process or step that you have implemented is working or not. This then lets you take the necessary steps to make corrections and improvements.
  • Conversion rates may be used to improve the overall customer experience. Customers may have issues or problems when navigating your website. Your conversion rate can be an indicator that there is something lacking in customer experience. This will help ensure that you have lower customer acquisition costs since you will be able to improve your marketing to attract the right kind of customers.

It is a reality that not all businesses with websites are fully aware of the importance of conversion rates. For many businesses, it is just one of the many metrics that are there, for reference purposes, without realizing that they can actually get more benefits from this metric.

Things are changing, however. Awareness about the significance and advantages of conversion rates is increasing among businesses, and they are now investing heavily on monitoring their conversion rates and, at the same time, optimizing them.


It is a rule that, in order to run a successful business, you have to be aware of all its aspects and facets. One of these aspects is the rate of conversion. However, being aware of your conversion rate is not enough. In order to make the most of it, you also have to take steps to optimize these rates.

But what if you already have a conversion rate that is considered to be very good, or excellent, even? Do you still need to keep track of it and optimize it?

The answer is yes.

Why is it so important to optimize conversion rates?

  • To sustain growth and profitability of business. No matter how excellent your conversion rates are, there is always room for improvement. Of course, businesses are always, ALWAYS, looking for ways to increase their profits and boost their bottom line. Even if they have reached their target profit for the year, they are bound to increase that target for the succeeding years. Paying attention to their conversion rates will aid in the ability to meet these increasing targets.
  • To streamline spending on marketing. There are some businesses that are under the impression that the only way to make their online marketing work is to spend more money on it. That is not necessarily true at all times, because it is possible that the business is actually spending needlessly, thereby wasting money they could have spent on other things. Conversion rate optimization will enable them to actually save on online marketing and advertising expenses.
  • To increase your customer base. All visitors to your site are essentially potential customers. By optimizing your conversion rates, you are increasing the likelihood of these potential customers to become actual paying customers, and loyal customers that will keep coming back, at that. Increasing traffic alone only increases the number of people who see your home page. Increasing conversion rates will see to it that more of these people will buy.

Learn more about conversion rate optimization from Rand Fishkin of Moz.


To further understand the significance of conversion rates in e-commerce and why it is important to optimize them, take a look at the following figures taken from statistics gathered and compiled by the Monetate Ecommerce Quarterly publication.

  • Global conversion rates during the four quarters of 2015 saw an increasing pattern, from 2.83% during the 1st quarter to 3.48% in the fourth quarter. There was a slight fluctuation in the 2nd and 3rd quarter, but not by much, with the rates going from 3.08% to 3.02%.
  • This pattern was closely mirrored by the average conversion rate of US based companies, although they registered higher than the global conversion rates. By the end of 2015, the average conversion rate of US companies is 3.62%.
  • Despite the higher number of people browsing through online stores using their smartphones and platform devices, conversion rates are still higher when using the traditional platform. For the 4th quarter of 2015, the average global conversion rate using traditional devices (desktop PC or laptop) is 4.43%. This is decidedly higher than the conversion rate when using tablets (3.75%) and smartphones (1.53%).
  • UK companies show higher conversion rates by smartphone and tablet (3.05% and 4.02%, respectively) compared to US companies, which registered a 1.43% conversion rate by smartphones and 3.89% by tablets.
  • Operating systems also figure greatly in the conversion rates, with Windows and Macintosh showing the highest rates, at 4.48% and 4.72%, respectively. For smartphone and mobile device users, the conversion rate using iOS is higher – at 2.54% – than its main competitor Android, which clocked in at 1.74%.
  • Among referrers and channels, AOL Search appears to have the highest conversion rate, which is 4.48%. Bing and Yahoo aren’t too far behind, at 3.03% and 2.80%. The conversion rate with Google as a referrer is 1.71%, closely followed by Facebook, which has 1.08%.

There is one thing that you should be aware of when dealing with conversion rates, especially when presented with the statistics above: there is no such thing as a correct or right conversion rate. If you are looking for a specific number or figure to benchmark as a conversion rate, that won’t be as reliable as you thought it would.


There is no fixed conversion rate that businesses should stick to. There are several considerations to be made, as they are forceful enough to have an impact on the rate of conversion of a business or website.

  • Industry that the business or company belongs to: There are certain industries that show higher conversion rates than others. For example, according to the Adobe Digital Index, the average conversion rate as of April 2016 in the retail industry is not all that far from that of the travel & hospitality industry. The retail industry registered a rate of 2.6%, while the latter showed 2.4%.
  • Traffic (source and direction): Conversion may be affected by the referring channel, which can range from natural or paid searches and social media to display, print and media advertising.
  • Marketing campaigns of the business: The current marketing campaigns and promotions of the company will also have an effect on the movement of the conversion rate. For instance, conversion rates may be higher during seasons when new campaigns are launched.
  • Product categories: It is expected that the conversion rates for commodity products – which are decidedly simple and straightforward – would be higher than products that have higher costs. For example, the conversion rate for apparel will be higher than, say, furniture, which has a higher unit cost.
  • Types of visitors: We can classify visitors into two: new visitors and returning visitors. Some businesses decide to treat their new visitors and returning visitors in the same manner, but others may not take the same route, deciding to treat their returning customers differently.
  • Price points: The price points offered by a company also figure greatly in its conversion rates. Visitors will be more inclined for conversion when the prices are within their budget.
  • Payment options: The conversion rate of a company that offers more flexible payment options will definitely be significantly different from that of a company that accepts a single mode of payment.
  • Competitors’ actions: You also have to take into account the actions taken by the competition. This includes considering their marketing campaigns, price points, payment options and similar offerings. Visitors tend to make comparisons among similar sites, and the ones that they find “friendlier” are those that they are going to buy from.

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Quality product images and videos

Humans are, by nature, visual. Although written product descriptions work, adding images and videos are far more effective. In fact, images catch a visitor’s attention quicker than a block of text, and videos tend to stick easily and longer in a viewer’s mind rather than just reading through descriptive narratives.

Images and videos must be compelling, and will really convince the visitors to act. Make sure that the images and videos in your online store (no matter whether it’s on Shopify or Amazon, or any other Shopify alternative) are of high quality, and that they convey the message that you want to deliver to your potential customers.

For example, if you are selling a specific product, it would be a good idea to provide more than one or two images. Show the product from different perspectives and angles. If you can make the visitor zoom in so he can see the finer details of the product, this will show confidence in the quality of the product and that always has a good effect on the conversions.

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Great product copy

Having quality images and videos is all well and good, but it would also be a good idea to back it up with equally good product copy. Some stores opt to just post images of the product, but others also include product descriptions to give the visitors more information about the product.

A great product copy must be concise, with complete and accurate information. It won’t do you any good if you throw in inaccurate details about the product, because that will work against you in the end when the customers receive a product that did not coincide with how you described it.

You may notice some companies using long product descriptions while others simply use one or two lines. It will be up to your judgment whether you go for the short version or try seeing how it goes with the long version. Either way, make sure they are written well, and will engage your visitor’s interest from the first sentence. Be careful not to make it too long or drawn out, though, because you might end up boring your visitors and thanks to their short attention spans, they will be on another website before they even finish reading your first paragraph.

Get more tips from CRO experts in the following presentation.

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Shipping fees policies

Often, a visitor will check a site’s shipping policies before browsing its products. Once they find the policies to be customer-friendly, they will proceed to shop. What is the most likely policy that will turn them off and dissuade them from buying anything from the site? Shipping fees.

It is a fact that sites that offer free shipping, or even free shipping subject to certain terms and conditions, have a higher conversion rate than those that charge for shipping. According to a study by E-tailing Group, 73% of visitors consider free shipping to be a key consideration to their decision to purchase from a site. After all, why should they pay for exorbitant shipping fees when they can simply go out and visit a physical store to make their purchase?

Of course, it is also possible that a business cannot fully provide free shipping. Should they decide to charge a fee for shipping, the important point is to come out with shipping fee guidelines and policies, and present them explicitly on the site, for all visitors to see. Hidden charges will only turn off customers and even ruin your brand.

Promotional sections

Shoppers are always on the lookout for sales and specials. Discounts are certainly always welcome, so one sure way to increase your conversion is to have a separate section for these sales and specials, distinct from products that are sold at regular prices. The section should be easy enough to spot and navigate, in order to encourage visitors to make a purchase.

Purchasing policies

Visitors shop online in order to buy something, not to spend long minutes and even hours filling up forms and answering questions. If the site requires a visitor to register first before he can make a purchase, you should make the process easy and straightforward enough. Ask only the required data; otherwise, the visitor may feel that you are asking way too much information.

Uncertainties regarding returns and replacements in case of damage should also be addressed. Be transparent in your Returns Policy. Putting in a Frequently Asked Questions section addressing these uncertainties and questions is a good idea, because it will save the visitors the trouble of contacting customer support for every query they may have.

Contact options

You will notice that some sites offer live chats, where visitors to the site can talk to a sales representative of the site at any time of the day. This is actually a good way to increase conversion rates, because any concerns or uncertainties of potential customers will be addressed immediately. Their doubts will be immediately settled, and they will feel more confident to make a purchase.

Other contact options should also be used, such as e-mail, an inquiry form on the site, and telephone numbers.

Payment options

You may choose to accept credit card payments or bank transfers. However, there are now a lot of alternative payment options that are definitely more convenient (and safer) than using credit cards or through banks.

Examples are Paypal, Payoneer, and Skrill. If you open more payment options, there is a higher chance that you will increase the number of customers who will decide to purchase from your site.

Search and filter functions

You are more likely to convince a visitor to buy from you if you facilitate their shopping experience, and one way to do that is to make sure that your search and filter function works very well. This is especially true if you are selling hundreds or even thousands of items in your site. Filters will allow customers to find what they are looking for quickly.

Search keywords should be flexible, so that they can return results that are related, instead of restricting them within the exact parameters or words keyed in by the visitor on the search box. As for filters, some sites allow visitors to filter products according to price range, brand, availability, and popularity, among others.


This pertains to all the information provided by the customer, ranging from personal data to financial data. Many shoppers are nervous about providing credit card details because of the possibility of their details being stolen by unscrupulous people.

The site should have security measures in place to prevent this from happening, and to put their customers at ease. Visitors are going to feel safer buying from a site that protects their information.

Product reviews

Not surprisingly, product reviews are just as effective as product descriptions when it comes to convincing potential customers to buy. Visitors are naturally curious to learn what other customers who have actually purchased the product think about it.

Once they have read objective reviews, they will be better able to make a decision on whether to buy or not.

Persuasive calls to action

Your calls to action must be persuasive, and they must be clearly visible. At every turn, make an effort to convince the visitor to buy. When viewing a product, a call to “add to cart” or even “add to wishlist” should be there. If you are using buttons, they must be easy to spot, instead of the visitor having to squint and read through lines of text to find them.

Even the smallest decision that you make regarding the design of your website or any aspect of the purchasing process, is bound to have an impact on your conversion rate. Your goal here is to convince anyone that visits your site to purchase your product. You should never forget to put yourself in the shoes of the people visiting your site. If you are visiting the site for the first time, is your interest hooked? Does it catch your attention? Are the photos and videos engaging enough? Are the products presented in a way that appeals to you?

Optimization of conversion rates may sound like a daunting task, and in many ways, it is. However, it is not impossible. Again, even the smallest thing can make a world of difference, both in your conversion rate and the success of your business.

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