Improving Online Customer Conversion

Converting prospects to customers has always been one of the challenges of retail. In a high street store product selection and display, store layout and design, and most of all a skilled sales staff have all been vital to greet people walking in the door and make sure they leave with a purchase.

The same challenge is present in the online retail world, but it is more difficult because the shopping experience is changed from a physical event to a relationship conducted entirely through a computer or mobile screen. The physical contact with your sales staff is lost, as well as the impact of your store layout and design.

Despite these issues, customers can still be successfully converted online, but you must think about how to do this as you design your online experience, not after you have built your website or mobile app.

The Customer Decision Process

customer decision process, the steps taken to make a decision

The Customer Decision
Process is used to make
decisions and act.

This diagram shows a simple customer decision process, the steps typical customers take as they decide to take an action, such as making a purchase. Since the normal offline guides and motivators such as merchandise placement and helpful sales staff are not present, your online presence must be designed to move potential customers easily through this process to your end result.

When thinking about the online decision process for your customers, you should compare your own process to an ideal one where customers know exactly what to do and have no problems reaching the end. Keep the following in mind as you concentrate on the steps for your typical customers:
• What are your customers’ key frustration points and complaints while making a decision? Make these easy for them, even if it is harder for you.
• What choices do they need to make during the process? Give them the information to make these when they need it. Do not make them go elsewhere to find it.
• What decisions are they unaware they need to make? Provide information about these at the proper time to help them move forward.

Supporting the Customer Decision Process

website plan showing different decision paths taken by customers

Customers take different decision paths to reach
their individual goals.

Unlike the offline world, if online customers become confused or lost, they are much more likely leave. It is too easy to go to another online vendor, competitors are only one click away! Therefore, having a clear, easy process is essential to keeping customers engaged with you.

You may have many different types of customers, each using a different decision process. As shown in Figure 2, there are many different paths customers can take when deciding to obtain a book. Whatever process they use, you must make sure that your online presence supports as many as possible. Your website or app must be designed so that each type of customer can complete the process using their own choice of steps.

Improving Conversion Rates

graph showing typical website conversion rates fall off very fast to only a few percent

Typical website conversion rates fall very quickly
as people move through the website.

This graph shows the conversion rate for a typical website. For every 100 customers who begin the process to purchase, only one or two complete it. Most of the potential customers disappear between the start and finish for a variety of reasons: offering is different to their needs, limited selection, terms and pricing, difficult process to complete, etc.




graph combining typical website conversion rates and steps of the customer decision process

Problems with each step of the Customer Decision
process lead to a fall in the conversion rate.

When one considers the customer decision process each person is using and compares it to the drop in conversion rates, the combined picture shows why this happens. It is evident that each step of the decision process has an impact on the overall conversion rate, especially in the early steps where the falloff or abandonment is greatest.




Focus on Your Customers

graph showing a small improvement in a step flows through to the end

Making a small improvement in a decision step will flow
through to the end, resulting in large improvements.

However, this is not all bad news. Because each step in the Customer Decision Process follows from the one before, making a change or improvement affects the rest of the chain. This graph shows that if one makes an improvement in, for example, the Consideration step, this flows through to the end, improving the overall conversion here from about 2% to 4%. This is a 100% improvement. Significant benefits can be gained from making small changes.


Knowing how your customers make their decisions, what information they need and when, and the steps they take are essential for online success, since the face-to-face interactions of a physical store are not present. You must supply this information and direction through the design and interaction of your website. Make sure it is as easy as possible for your customers to complete their goals, even if this is more difficult for you.

A version of this article appeared in 2011 on the PowerRetail website as Getting Started Online: Improving Online Customer Conversion.


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