The Order of Optimization: How to Prioritize Changes to Your Ecommerce Site

Posted in Strategy & Discovery

Change happens fast in ecommerce. To stay competitive, retailers need to keep their online store, and backend operations, in top form. Yet with so many moving parts, how do you prioritize the order of optimization? Here Command C’s founder, Sara Bacon, and Tech Lead, Tiffany Kuchta, discuss the best plan forward.

In this Recommerce episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Command C begins by defining a retailer’s stage: Challenge, Equilibrium, or Growth
  • Ways retailers spend valuable time and money unnecessarily
  • The 3 main strategic avenues to onsite optimization
  • The role of data in determining optimization next steps
  • When in doubt, “start closest to the money.”

Full Episode Transcript

Announcer: Welcome to Recommerce, a podcast for ecommerce wearable brands navigating technical complexity and change, brought to you by Command C.

Sara Bacon: Hello. I’m thrilled to be here with y’all for our first episode of Recommerce. I’m Sara Bacon, the founder of Command C, and I’m here with Tiffany Kuchta, our tech lead.

Tiffany Kuchta: Hi everyone. I’m really excited to kick this off as well. To start we want to discuss the order of optimization. It’s not uncommon when we get a new inquiry that the request is to increase site conversions or to improve site conversion rate. Today we want to talk through where to begin when it comes to optimization.

Sara Bacon: Totally. I feel like when we get a new inquiry, it’s very common that the client is saying, “I want to add this to my site and I want to add that to my site,” and they’re not coming in with the mentality of ensuring that the underlying foundation of the site’s technical aspects, but also the UX, is in a place where it’s optimized enough to maximize whatever new enhancements they’re planning on implementing.

One of the first conversations that we find ourselves having is helping clients identify where they are currently. Our model is called Challenge, Equilibrium, and Growth. The first thing that we typically do is try to help clients identify which silo they’re in. Each silo is characterized by a list of criteria.

Our model is called Challenge, Equilibrium, and Growth. The first thing that we typically do is try to help clients identify which silo they’re in.

For the Challenge stage, we often see clients having low conversion rates, consistent site bugs, frequent user complaints, and there’s often slow low times or even downtime. They’re typically dealing with very high cart abandonment rates, lack of automation and inefficient administrative processes, and they don’t have a solid developer in place to help them address all of these things.

One of the things that you and I discuss quite frequently, Tiff, is helping to get a client to understand that they’re actually at the Challenge phase. Even though there might be certain aspects of their site that are working really well and they may not have all of those criteria, how do those conversations usually go? How do we go about convincing a client that they’re in challenge phase, and sort of throttling their excitement about jumping into the tactical enhancements that so many clients seem to come to us thinking are the cure for all of their site issues?

Tiffany Kuchta: Yeah, absolutely, and I think one of the most important things to take away is the fact that they’re coming with a list of improvements indicates that they know that there are places to improve. While this doesn’t immediately mean that they’re in a challenge phase, it certainly indicates to us that there are potential problems. I think that a lot of times the problems may not even be with the user experience. They are issues that are operations dependent. Or there are a lot of small inconveniences that happen – a lot of limitations that may be based on the current system that have just been piling up over time. And so they don’t really realize that there can be a lot of efficiency to gain there.

The flip side of that is when it’s really clear that there’s a challenge. Conversion rates have tanked or there’s a surprise bug that half of their users are experiencing. Those kinds of things make it really clear, and those give us a good place to start. But I think that often times what happens is the desire to fix those issues and to sort of compensate for them leads to an unbalanced forward progress. In other words, we’re talking about, well, we need to improve this whole checkout process, but also we’re going to fix this gigantic bug. When really those things have to be taken into consideration in a little bit more linear of an approach, so that we can confirm that the giant change you want to make to checkout to increase conversion rate is actually even necessary once the larger, more inconvenient bugs have been corrected.

Sara Bacon: It’s interesting that you bring sort of the difference between the kind of glaring, “oh crap, my conversion’s tanked situation or this user can’t checkout,” like these really obvious issues, versus the client who just has a general sense of “I think things could be better, I don’t really know what’s wrong.” For those two different clients, we have different approaches. I think that this is where we come back to, which silo are you in? Are you in challenge, are you in equilibrium, or are you in growth mode? This is the key to helping them identify where to start.

If they truly are in equilibrium – and to kind of run through the criteria of equilibrium – we’re talking about all mission-critical and low-hanging fruit issues are addressed. There’s consistent uptime, some amount of automation analysis has been at least thought through, thinking through where can we create efficiencies even if those efficiencies haven’t yet been implemented but there’s a plan for that, there’s established workflows in place, and analytics are actively being tracked. Really I think equilibrium is identified by “I no longer know what my site issues are.” That’s the stage where it makes sense to start investing in growth, right?

Tiffany Kuchta: Absolutely.

Sara Bacon: That’s when we want to start talking about new feature additions.

I can’t tell you how many conversations I have with clients who say, “We’re running this $10,000 a month Facebook campaign, but there’s this issue with checkout still,” and I’m like, “Put a pause on that Facebook campaign.” It’s such a waste of money to be investing in growth when there are significant site issues still occurring.

This is common sense, but I think that in ecommerce it’s easy for folks to suffer from a little bit of paralysis because there’s so much going on at once and there’s such a high stakes on “the conversion.” We’re talking about real monetary value here that there’s such a fear to pull back on advertising or pull back on some of these growth strategies. I think a lot of clients have a hard time really stepping back and looking at the big picture because there’s just so much being thrown at them all the time.

But what we are really trying to do is get the client to step back. In these initial kickoff and discovery sessions that we’re having, we’re really trying to plan how to prioritize what we need to do from a perspective of return on investment. The return on investment of advertising is greatly diminished if you’re still having symptoms of a challenge phase.

The return on investment of advertising is greatly diminished if you’re still having symptoms of a challenge phase.

Tiffany Kuchta: Yeah, I think all of that is a really good point. Starting off any sort of technical discovery or audit of existing systems, understanding what the issues are, and being able to clearly identify the phase that you’re in is really key to making sure that you’re investing as intelligently as you can be. Certainly making some improvements is going to have a positive impact, but our goal as a team is to help you make the biggest impact.

Announcer: You’re listening to Recommerce, a podcast for ecommerce wearable brands navigating technical complexity and change, brought to you by Command C, a development team that saves ecommerce retailers from outdated tech and ineffective operations, with a strong focus on Magento and Shopify Plus. You can learn more about how we help at

Sara Bacon: Let’s say that you are actually at equilibrium. You really have no idea what’s not working on your site. Conversions are happening, but you’re really looking to grow. You’ve addressed the challenges associated with your site. Then what?

Tiffany Kuchta: I think that talking through some of the strategies that we would implement is a good place to start. I also think that at that point it’s important to take stock in the analytics and the data that you have, as well as understanding the type of business model and the goals that you have for the long-term.

Sara Bacon: Yeah. Then it’s time to really think about strategy. There are three main strategic avenues to site optimization. And let me clarify that. We’re talking about on-site optimization. We’re not talking about driving more users to your site optimization. But once a user’s on your site, there are three core buckets of how to approach optimization: increasing average order value, increasing conversions, and focusing on repeat customers.

Once a user is on your site, there are three core buckets of how to approach optimization: increasing average order value, increasing conversions, and focusing on repeat customers.

Now you really have to step back and think about your audience and which strategy is going to work best for you. Again, there’s a tendency I see in our clients to think about the tactical things without thinking about the strategy. “I want one-page checkout or I want to do bundled products.” But you have to step back and make sure that you’re identifying which of these three core buckets make the most sense for you. For some businesses, all three might be important, but you might find that there’s a priority towards which one to focus on.

If you’re selling kitchen tables, a strategy that’s based on repeat customers might not make the most sense for your business. And similarly, if you’re selling bikes, focusing on average order value might be your preliminary strategy. Bikes are a great example of a business that lends itself to bundled products.

Once a client is at equilibrium, really getting them to think strategically about what their approach to optimization is going to be is the conversation that we’re having at that stage.

Tiffany Kuchta: Yeah, absolutely, and understanding the approach to optimization, knowing that we’re moving forward with our performance issues and our UX issues resolved, it means that if you don’t know where to start, if your strategy is not super clear and you only have a limited amount of data, it always makes sense to start closest to the money. Start at the end of checkout, start at the point where the user makes the payment and work backwards and try to find optimizations that you can make from that point.

If your strategy is not super clear and you only have a limited amount of data, it always makes sense to start closest to the money.

Sara Bacon: Thanks for bringing up that point about starting closest to the money. That makes a lot of sense, especially if you’re not a client where A/B testing makes sense. For most of our clients, if you’re not processing at least a thousand transactions a month, A/B testing is probably going to be more expensive and provide less meaningful data than some other approaches to optimization. But a good rule of thumb when prioritizing what you’re going to do is making it easier for people to check out and to actually convert. That rule of thumb of starting closest to the money is the way to prioritize those things.

Sara Bacon: I think it’s also really important to remember that not everyone who’s coming to your site is landing on your homepage first. I hear frequently, “I want to do this, this, and this to my homepage.” I think we’re constantly talking clients through, “Well, why?” I mean I think, “why?” is our favorite question. When we ask that, it’s amazing either the reasons that people have or they think that they have and how quickly we can kind of cut through those reasons when we talk about some of these strategic approaches.

But lots of users are coming to your product catalog or a product page itself through a Facebook ad or an SEO listing or something like that. Just a simple thing that we see very often is a lack of telling your customers who you are on those internal pages.

Tiffany Kuchta: Yeah, absolutely, that’s such a good point. When your marketing is in place and it’s really firing on all cylinders, particularly if you’re using good segmentation and you’re using the AI or using the algorithms to get people to products that they’re going to be most interested in, you don’t want them to have to pass through your homepage first. So telling your story as a part of those pages, those products that you know that they’re landing on, is a really critical component of completing that particular conversion.

Sara Bacon: What are some ways that clients can tell that story?

Tiffany Kuchta: I see a couple different things that work really well. I mean one of them is including the same global banner or notification that you would include on every page of the site that either talks about a special or calls out a key value proposition of your organization, something that’s going to be easy to review once and then sort of goes into the users’ “brain cache” so they don’t get distracted by it every other page that they visit on your site, but something like that is a good solution.

Also, having product pages that incorporate storytelling, having category pages that incorporate filtering that’s based on your users’ real desire to shop and not just based on the taxonomy of your products. By that I mean you’ve paid attention to help people look for things. And they’re not just first picking a size, then picking a color. They’re first picking a sort of personality trait. When that’s the case, adjusting your product listing pages to facilitate that does a great deal to help the customer understand that you care about them and that you understand their experience.

Sara Bacon: Brain cache, you’re such a developer, and I love it. Well, thanks Tiff. That was a great chat. I hope it helped clarify where to begin with the business of optimization. We’ll talk again soon.

Tiffany Kuchta: Sounds great. Thanks.

Announcer: Thanks for listening. We hope you join us again for another episode of Recommerce.