Live From eTail: Clearing the Path for Conversion

Baltimore – Kevin Ertell, vice president of retail strategies for customer satisfaction surveyor ForeSee Results, says that about 20% of all e-commerce customers go to a Website with the intent to buy. The problem is the conversion rate for e-commerce is about 3% to 4%.

So why the massive gap between what people came to do and they actually did?

“We are way more intimate with our sites than our customers are,” Ertell said Wednesday while introducing a session at eTail 2009. “We know the path to purchase, but our customers don’t. The reality is, it’s self-serve, and we’re seeing customers do things that we don’t expect them to do.”

Ertell compared Website usability issues to someone taking a tree stump and putting it on a conference room table. Someone may ask why it’s there, and the person who put the tree stump there may have a compelling reason for doing it.

“Over time you no longer notice it, but it’s still a problem,” Ertell said. “But customer doesn’t know the reason, and frankly doesn’t care.”

While customer surveys can help open the door to some of these usability issues – especially with questions that can spark a conversation – there’s one trick Ertell recommends that he particularly likes.

If you’ve got the bricks-and-mortar channel, bring a laptop to a store and ask your customers to use your e-commerce site.

“For multichannel retailers, this is a great strategy,” Ertell said. “Even if you don’t have a store, you can bring out a laptop and watch people use the site. Let people do what they specifically do without giving them a specific task.”

This is something Ertell, a former vice president of e-business at Borders, did shortly after the multichannel bookseller broke away from and launched its own e-commerce site in 2008.

Ertell also found out that the new site didn’t have a problem with functionality, but rather a collection of little things – 48 of them – that customers disliked.

Like a search box that wiped out previously-entered terms, and an add-to-cart button that brought customers directly to the checkout even if they weren’t done shopping.

“We put all those changes into a release three and a half months later,” Ertell said. “And literally overnight, conversion almost doubled.”

The moral of the story: Find your tree stumps and remove them. That’s because a satisfied online customer is 44% more likely to also buy in your store, Ertell said.

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