How to Increase Ecommerce Onsite Conversions, Part 1: Strategy

Nearly every ecommerce retailer wants to increase onsite conversions. Even a one percent increase in completed online sales can make a huge difference in a company’s bottom line. Because the rewards are so great, too often retailers chase higher conversions without a well-defined strategy. Without a strategy in place, ecommerce merchants won’t get the best ROI for their money.

In this episode of Recommerce, Command C Founder, Sara Bacon, and Sales & Marketing Manager, Nicole Reed, talk about how retailers can get a strategy in place to gain higher onsite conversions. You’ll learn:

  • Why retailers should plan their site strategy first–and then their tactics
  • How to determine the very first step in strategic development
  • The most common types of strategies merchants use to increase site profit
  • The value of concrete, specific details for conversion rate optimization
  • How to ensure your site strategy is implemented

Full Episode Transcript

Sara: Welcome to another episode of Recommerce. I’m Sara, and today I’m here with Nicole.

Nicole: Hi, everybody.

Sara: Today we’re going to talk about how to approach onsite conversion rate optimization from a strategic perspective. In a future episode, we’re going to talk about how to approach it from a tactical perspective, but I always like to separate out these two things because I think the strategy can easily be overlooked.

Nicole: Absolutely, but I like the way that we’re going to look at the strategy, and then also the tactics. But I have to admit I’d love to hear exactly what you mean as the difference between these two things.

Sara: We talk to a lot of merchants and they’re pretty aware of what’s not working on their site, at least in those initial conversations. It’s really easy to focus on what’s not working and just want to fix the problems that you’re aware of. Makes a ton of sense. What I often see is lacking though is having a firm strategy about how you’re going to approach CRO or conversion rate optimization, underpinning every decision you make.

As a merchant or any business in today’s landscape really, but as a merchant, it is challenging. As a business owner, it is challenging for me to stay focused on my priorities. I have so much coming at me all the time, that I’m constantly having to remember these are our goals, these are our values, this is our ideal client, because I can easily get pulled in any which direction all day long.

I really just identify with this from a merchant’s perspective, a merchant to business owner. I think it’s very similar. There’s just so much being thrown at you all of the time, that without being very close to, again, your goals, your strategy, your values, it’s impossible to not get distracted from those things.

Nicole: I think that’s a great point, and I also just would add, particularly in ecommerce. I mean, retailers today have such new technical innovations coming at them all the time. It’s very tempting to want to try it all at once. Or feel like if you’re not implementing new stuff all the time, you’re getting left behind.

Sara: Totally.

When it comes to ecommerce site optimization, order is everything. 

Nicole: It just makes me think of, as you always say, order is everything.

Sara: Yeah, and that’s what I come back to all the time. When we’re having these initial conversations, we really want to drive home the idea that the order in which you invest, because from my perspective, it’s really about guiding clients to making wise investments. I think because, in this world, it’s so easy to invest in something that might not be a bad thing, but you might not get the same ROI on that investment that you would on another investment. These are decisions that you have to make hundreds of times daily, literally.

Nicole: Absolutely. I think a great example that I’ve heard you share is this idea of, as a retailer, for example, wanting to drive traffic to a site and maybe spending, let’s say, $10,000 on a Facebook campaign and then, sure, you get more traffic. But when the traffic gets to your site, there are problems built into the site where they’re having a hard time checking out. Or they can’t find what they’re looking for or whatnot. And this idea of order being everything, getting your site glitch-free and streamlined first, in terms of talking about ROI, right? Is that what you’re talking about?

Sara: Well, I mean, I think that’s a good point, and my theory does apply there, yes. But I’m even starting earlier in the so-called funnel. I’m saying that if you don’t have your strategy in place before you start working on optimizing your checkout – I would call that a tactical implementation, and I would say that the decision making for implementing tactical things – even though we know, okay, optimizing checkout is best practice, might not be as firm as if you were really clear on your strategy. Maybe if I talk to some of these foundational steps, it will help clarify what I mean.

Nicole: Right. Exactly how does a retailer set their strategy? How would you guide a retailer doing that?

Sara: The first, most important step is to identify your current growth stage. Command C’s methodology for this is called Challenge, Equilibrium, and Growth. With every retailer, we can put you in one of those silos, and those silos have different criteria associated with them. If you email us, I can get you a full list of those or you can also find them on our website. But just a few from each silo. Challenge is really identified by low conversion rates. If you have an upcoming build or migration, consistent site bugs, there are issues that you need to confront, then you are in challenge mode.

Nicole: You’re hearing from customers that they’re having a hard time with your site, that would be a Challenge site?

Sara: That would be a Challenge site or you’re on a platform where you’re performing tasks six times because it’s not optimized to work for you, right?

Nicole: Okay.

Sara: That’s Challenge. Equilibrium is essentially when you’re on the right platform for you and all mission-critical issues, low-hanging fruit issues have been addressed, and essentially you’re no longer able to identify your site issues. And now you might still want to grow, and you might not be hitting your revenue goals, but there aren’t glaring things that you know not to be working.

Nicole: The site is stabilized, it sounds like.

Sara: The site is stabilized.

Nicole: Gotcha.

Sara: Then growth is the stage you hit after equilibrium, where you have a clear growth plan in place. Whatever that means for you, it could be a combination of advertising and marketing mixed with ongoing user testing, AB testing if your site has enough traffic for that. But you’re actively increasing sales with the knowledge that you have a stable platform underneath you.

Identifying where you are is really important because going back to your example, you don’t want to start investing in advertising if the user flow to checkout isn’t optimized, right?

Nicole: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

The very first step in the strategic approach: knowing where you’re at. From there, you determine the strategy you’re going to use to help you prioritize optimizations.

Sara: That is the very first part of the strategic approach: knowing where you’re at. From there, you determine the strategy you’re going to use to help you prioritize optimizations. By this, I mean that, essentially, there are three base-level strategies, and these are high-level, basic strategies for increasing onsite growth. So we’re not talking about driving more traffic. We’re talking about how do you convert more users or make more money off the site that you currently have. Those three tactics are: 1) to increase conversions 2) to increase average order value and 3) to drive repeat customers.

Nicole: You’re saying that not every retailer is going to emphasize all of those equally, that there should be some thinking behind which ones to emphasize, it sounds like.

Sara: Not only is not every retailer going to put the same value on each of those strategic approaches, many retailers don’t even realize that they have to be aware of those three approaches in accordance with their business. What do I mean by this? For some businesses, really, all three of these things, all three of these strategies hold equal weight. For example, If you’re Target or Best Buy. You want to increase conversions. You want to increase average order value by upselling or bundling products together. You want to drive repeat customers, totally. May not even be a hierarchy there. Maybe there is, depending on your particular strategy. But for a business like that, all of those strategic approaches make sense.

Nicole: Okay. But what about, for example, if I’m a retailer who sells baby products, and let’s say… my feeling is people are probably only going to buy one stroller, for example.

Sara: Well, it’s an interesting example because they might only buy one stroller, and if you only sell strollers, you don’t want to drive repeat customers. But if you sell a plethora of baby products, you definitely want to drive repeat customers. Alternatively, if you sell pool tables, it’s pretty clear that you don’t want to drive repeat customers, but you do want to increase average order value and increase conversions. Possibly increasing conversions might be your number one approach strategic approach there because I don’t know how much upselling you can do with a pool table. You could certainly sell some extra sticks–cues maybe?– and some chalk. I don’t know how far you can take… maybe I’m not the right person to ask about pool table accessories, but-

Nicole: The repeat purchases. Like I’m not buying four pool tables.

Sara: Right. You’re only probably going to buy one table in your lifetime. Knowing that just helps you prioritize where on your site you’re investing.

Interlude: 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

Nicole: Let’s see here. We talked about how retailers need to identify their current growth stage. That’s the first step in establishing their strategy for onsite conversions. Then from there, we talked about how once a retailer knows their growth stage, then it’s important to build a strategy for optimization based on where they’re at, right? That’s what we’ve established here.

I guess, my next question is, what does that look like internally for a retail team? If you were leading an ecommerce team, how would you get everybody on board, in consensus, about what the plan is to do next, and in agreement about pain points and the vision for the road ahead and things like that?

Sara: It’s a great question and we work with merchants with all different size teams, from large to small, and this is a big one. Not having alignment, from the perspective of the agency, we can get a sense of how aligned this team is internally based on the feedback that we’re getting. If we’re getting concise feedback that’s consistent, or if we’re getting some kind of feedback from one team member that’s different from another team member. You can either do this well or not do this well. But I think the underpinnings are those first two steps and making sure that your entire team is aligned on those first two steps. I would even go as far as also really operating from a place of knowing your values as an organization because values also help drive decision-making processes.

Company values will drive a retailer’s decision-making process.

Sara: We talk often about staying proactive rather than reactive, right? In ecommerce, it’s so challenging not to just be reacting to the landscape in front of you or the latest fire that’s occurring. So what I try to recommend is something very similar to what we do internally as an organization, where you have to really make time to work on the business, and be aligned with your team. Either taking a retreat quarterly or setting time aside quarterly for goal setting is a really imperative thing to do as an organization. That schedule should work well with your sales schedule. If you’re a merchant who has an intense holiday season, you don’t want to be scheduling this in late November.

But getting your team together away from distractions is the bottom line. [You want to be] in team isolation. Then first reviewing those first two steps. It’s always easy to get away from what’s our strategy, where are we currently. And again, I’m going to make a plug for revisiting your company values and your company vision, because just reminding people, oh, this is the bigger picture does wonders for the minutiae of decision making, right?

Nicole: Yep. Absolutely.

Plan an offsite retreat for your team. Start with a list of what’s working and what’s not working on your site.

Sara: The first thing to do is get a big old white paper/whiteboard out and start with a list of what’s working and what’s not working. I think it’s really important to take stock of what’s working because in ecommerce, oftentimes things are connected, right? When you are trying to mitigate an issue on your site, you could inadvertently alter something that is working. Having clear stock of this is what’s working really well on our site, just having the whole team spitball a broad list of these things, what’s working and what’s not working, is a great place to start.

Nicole: I think that’s really interesting because it also makes me think both on the frontend and on the backend, right?

Sara: Yeah. Absolutely. Then, yeah, so I recommend breaking the working and not working down into frontend issues, backend and administrative issues, platform limitations, and duplicative tasks. Is there any room for automation? Or any other operations issues that you’re facing? Are there any security issues that you’re running up against? Then, do you have any ideas about feature enhancement or functionality enhancements? That again are in line with those tactics that we’ve mentioned above. Really this is just a brainstorming session.

Once you have these lists, step back, and prioritize them. Literally, put a number next to each one in terms of order of priority. When you’re revising and looking at the list and prioritizing things, think about what you want to achieve that quarter, and what can come at a later date. Make what you’re looking to do that quarter manageable for the size of your business, the size of the development resources that you have, your team, etc.

Nicole: I feel calmer just even thinking about that, versus the argument like everything needed to happen yesterday, you know?

Sara: I know. I take time to really flesh this out because we get merchants all the time who are like, “I need to do this and I need to fix this,” and I’m like, “Well, totally. I get it.” How can you make sure that you’re being really thoughtful and optimized with your optimizations?

Nicole: These are complex ecosystems.

Sara: Super.

Nicole: I really like what you’re saying about the idea of getting your team together off site, in a place where you can focus, and really discuss what is working and what isn’t both from the frontend and on the backend. Let’s say, okay, that process is done, you’ve prioritized what needs to happen. How do you make sure that those priorities indeed happen?

When making your list of what’s working and what’s not on your site, be concrete. And remember: open-ended tasks tend to get less traction.

Sara: Couple things here. First is, if you can come away from that time with your team with really concrete individualized “to-dos,” as we like to call them, you’ll be doing yourself a favor. Get concrete. Try to stay away from, “make checkout better”. If you can, within your own team, identify… checkout is a big word. What specifically about checkout isn’t working? You might not know, but even if you can further isolate what’s not working, that can be a way to help the team that you’re working with or your internal team back into the right solution. But open-ended tasks tend to get less traction than, “remove upselling from the checkout,” right?

Nicole: Right.

Sara: That’s a distracting feature. “Implement Shopify Pay” – that’s a feature that we don’t have to get into now, but it optimizes checkout. Get as concrete as you can with these takeaways. Then take that list back to your development team, or if you have an internal development team, take it… well, I assume they would be with you on the retreat, so let’s just keep it in the structure that we work, which is we partner with merchants as their development teams. Take that list back to your development team. Make it very clear that this list is in priority order. Make it clear what time frame you’re thinking about this list in. Some of the items on your list may be larger and some may be smaller, and that’s a conversation that you can have with your dev team.

When you’re clear on your priorities, it really helps plan the workflow sprints over the next quarter.

If you’re clear about your priorities and you can communicate that to your dev team, your dev team can come back and say, “Well, we could knock out items 1, 2, and 7 within the first week. Do you want us to do that? Or do you want us to address item 5, which is going to take the next month and a half?” That can be a further conversation. But as long as you’re clear on your priorities, that will really help the roadmap for the sprints over the next quarter.

Nicole: That makes sense. It also makes me think about what you said earlier about thinking about the ecosystem element of an ecommerce site. Like priority number 7 might actually affect something that you listed as number 3. So you really do want to work with the agency to get the overview of what moving forward will look like.

Sara: There’s the ecosystem but there’s also the development perspective, which is… it can be a lot more efficient to lump tasks together if they are either quick or they’re technically intertwined. We use Basecamp. We love the to-do’s in Basecamp. You can rearrange them. Jira’s also a great tool for this kind of thing, and there are others out there. Then anything that didn’t make it into this quarter, keep it in the backlog. Just keep that in a separate list that you know is on the roadmap, but it’s not a top priority for right now.

Nicole: Great. Great. All right. We have laid out the steps of establishing a strategy for onsite conversions. Thank you so much for talking this through with me. I really learned a lot.

Sara: Yeah, absolutely. I look forward to our future episode where we can get into some of the tactical steps that follow having this strategic approach in place.

Nicole: That sounds great. I look forward to it too. Thanks a lot.