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3 Extremely Complicated Steps to a Customer Journey Map that Actually Works

Customer Journey Map

Customer journey maps have the potential to be the best tool your marketing department has – or a colossal waste of time. There are plenty of articles out there that will tell you how to build a customer journey map in “3 easy steps.” Those don’t work, at least not by our standards.

If your customer journey map isn’t moving you towards more conversions and awesome retention rates, it’s a waste of paper.

The way most people do customer journey maps looks like this: Bring your ‘best and brightest’ into a room for three hours, play “this is who we think our buyer personas are,” “this is what we think they’re feeling,” and follow it up with “these are where our touchpoints are.” In other words, it’s “brainstorming” with insufficient research. You’re not creating a map, you’re having an office party. And the customer journey map is the party game.

Lame.

Do I sound harsh? Good. Because customer journey maps done wrong really burns my biscuits.

They have so much potential to be useful.

Actionable. Energizing. Even inspiring.

But to be truly useful, you have to approach them from the foundation of research, grounded in real, verifiable customer data. And that’s the step too many people miss, because it’s just not as much fun.

Forget fun – this is marketing strategy.

When a customer journey map does its job, it becomes a tool that lets you (and your marketing team) visualize your relationship with your target customer from first eyes-meeting-across-a-crowded-room encounter to mutually fulfilling partnership.

It shows the most likely places to meet your target, what they need there (depending on which stage of the sales funnel they’re in), what they get there currently, and where mismatches in expectations and desired outcomes may be losing them.

If this sounds like I’m describing more than just a customer journey map, you’re absolutely right.

This definition is much simpler:

“a customer journey map is merely an illustration or diagram of all the places (touchpoints) your customers come into contact with your company online or off.”

To make your journey map actionable, it can’t be merely an illustration of touchpoints. It has to illuminate the relationship, in its entirety. It has to pay attention to not only where prospects are, but what they need – and how to give that outcome to them in a way that moves them closer to your desired destination.

This journey map will become your visual cheat-sheet to understanding your customer on a deep, meaningful, actionable level.

It’s not simple. But there are three steps.

Step 1: You wouldn’t plan a road trip without research…

Research is where we always start; and if you’ve created your Buyer Persona (the right way) already, you’re mostly there. You’ll want to base persona research on your current ideal clients: Those who’ve bought from you, love what you do, and recommend you to their colleagues and friends.

The persona creation process answers these questions:

  • Who is my ideal customer?
  • What do they want, in life, at work, at home?
  • What do they need?
  • What are they trying to accomplish?
  • What goals drive their behavior?
  • What are they looking for that I can provide?

You’ll get those answers through qualitative research – voice of customer data – that gets to the heart of behavioral drivers, concerns and expectations.

Oh, did I forget to mention the standard demographic data points? Age, sex, marital status? No, I didn’t forget. They’re just not as important unless you’re selling Viagra. Focus on what matters for your customers.

Qualitative research can be done a number of ways, but each method has its limitations, which is why I recommend using several. Not just surveys, mining user reviews, or recording customer service chats and conversations – but those in addition to customer interviews whenever possible.

As Genuinely founder and CEO Mack Fogelson explains about their own customer journey development process:

“Most companies are making assumptions about their customers based on what they think they know vs. actually talking to their customers 1:1. Their maps then become an accumulation of biases and inferences vs. what their customers actually need.

What they’re missing is the underlying motivators that cannot be seen in demographic or psychographic data. Our customer journey maps open up the Thinking/Feeling/Doing in each stage of the customer journey, across the sales funnel.

Customer journey mapping requires you to actually speak with your customers. Not just digitally through surveys or other methods of collecting data. 1:1. Face-to-face.

Good customer journey mapping requires collection of all of the data you have about your *actual* customers, not just a stereotypical persona.” – Mack Fogelson, Founder & CEO, Genuinely.co

Whichever method you use, when questioning current customers (always a good place to start), ask about early stage touchpoints they experienced, with questions like:

  • Where did you first see our brand? (And give them options, depending on where you’ve placed advertisements)
  • When you first saw our ad, what did you think we could do for you? (Open ended question)
  • What initially prompted you to visit our website? (this is where you’ll uncover potential influencers and other touchpoints you might not even be aware of)

And any other questions you can think of that will give you an idea of not only where they first find you, but also what they want when they do.

We’re pulling double duty here. It’s not just about finding the “where” but also the “why?”

We also want to start to piece together a timeline that takes us from that first touch point to first conversion. This may be difficult for people to answer (memories just aren’t that good), but to get a ballpark answer, ask:

  • “How long did it take you from first seeing our brand to making your first purchase?”

You may want to give them a multiple-choice response option and a free response option, just in case they’re kind enough to expand on exactly what their journey looked like.

But this is asking a lot. If you’re going to ask your customers to take this much time with you, you’d better offer them something good as incentive.

From this research, you can build out your buyer persona into a genuinely useful tool that points you in productive directions for future marketing decisions. And from there, you can widen the scope of your research to people who fit within your target parameters. Cubeyou is particularly good for finding early touchpoint opportunities (ie. where specific consumer demographics hang out – including what they read, watch and do in their spare time).

Using all of this information, you can begin to place markers on your map.

“Customer journey maps get a bad rap, much like personas. That’s unfortunate because when done properly, they can be very enlightening in terms of your customers’ needs and pains. Journey mapping helps articulate information in a simple, memorable way so that everyone is on the same page about: customer goals and expectations, customer experiences, optimization opportunities, and internal ownership.

When proper research is conducted (the narrative needs to be fact, not fiction), having up-to-date customer journey maps for your various experiences can be useful, especially for large companies. It’s meaningful to visually map out phases of the buying cycle, emotions, touchpoints, channels, etc. along each journey.

That said, be aware that linear funnels are idealistic. Most customer journeys are much more complex and, well, messy. Be sure you’re mapping accurate journeys instead of your idealistic linear funnel.

Overall, customer journey maps range from helpful to totally useless, depending on how data-driven and realistic you are.” – Shanelle Mullin, Shopify

Qualitative research tools for you to consider:

Step 2: Charting the course to conversion

We’re going to start our chart with a goal: Move the customer down the sales funnel. No, we’re not mixing metaphors (map? Funnel? What?), because we’re using both at the same time.

Don’t be afraid to add dimensions to your customer journey – it can make it an even more useful tool. Georgiana Laudi, Digital Strategist says she adds KPIs at each stage, and doesn’t stop there:

“At Unbounce, I reorganized the entire department to match our customer’s journey, and called it the Customer Journey Tribe. It’s not something usually done in marketing, but it’s a popular approach for structuring dev teams.”

And, from my Customer Success perspective, I’d also recommend adding Customer Success milestones, so you know exactly where, when and how prospects and customers are finding value with your brand (yes, Customer Success is typically associated with SaaS, but believe me, e-commerce customers have to be successful too!).

But let’s not overthink this right now. Let’s just start by drawing your map in the shape of a funnel.

e-Commerce Customer Journey Map
e-Commerce Customer Journey Map

This is, clearly, simplified for the sake of explanation. But what you see is a customer journey map with touchpoints overlaid onto your typical sales funnel.

The Target Customer doesn’t know who you are, until they reach a touchpoint – but because you’ve done your Buyer Persona research, you already know what they want and need (maybe even before they do). This gives you the power to make that first touch point count by making them problem-aware (at the earliest stage) or solution-aware (their pain can be fixed!).

That first touchpoint might be an ad on Facebook, a banner ad on their favorite niche blog, the recommendation of a brand advocate or influencer, etc. Some of those you have direct control over, like ads. Others you have indirect control over, like providing great user experiences to guarantee yourself positive recommendations from your customers on user review sites.

The target customer then becomes a prospect. They’re interested. You’ve given them a reason to think that you can provide what they’ve been wanting, searching for. They come to your website – the next touchpoint possibly – and what do they find there?

Hopefully something that brings them closer to their ideal outcome.

If you’re an e-commerce site selling wine, maybe that’s a quiz they can take that leads them to wines they’d most likely love (BrightCellars does this brilliantly).

e-Commerce Customer Journey Map - BrighCellars
e-Commerce Customer Journey Map – BrighCellars

In fact, quizzes are a great way to immediately raise engagement, and it can be as simple as having the lead fill in their measurements and filtering results by what clothes will fit best. Use your imagination!

This touchpoint is very important. They may have heard of you before, but this is where they finally meet you and form a strong impression. That impression either bounces them off the page, or leads them further down the funnel towards conversion.

At each of these stages, using your customer research, chart:

  • What they know (ie. what funnel stage they’re in).
  • What they want (ideal outcome).
  • How to bring them closer to that ideal outcome using the touchpoint you have.

“For me, it’s about identifying my customer’s motivations, desires and intent and using that knowledge to build a better customer journey. I use_their_words, I optimize the colors, font, copy, images and entire content according to what I learn from customer interviews, surveys and emotional targeting research (emotional SWOT, customer awareness mapping, competitor research, etc.)” – Talia Wolf, GetUpLift

Your customer journey map can also show you where problems in your funnel are happening – because problems tend to happen around touchpoints.

If you find that customers are falling “off the map” around a specific touchpoint, it’s time to bring out the customer journey map again to help you find the reason why.

  • Perhaps they’re dropping out during the post-opt-in email campaign.
  • Or, perhaps you notice that your website pageviews are high, but as soon as they find your product page, they bounce out.
  • Or it could be that they do buy, they convert, but then they call your customer support and never buy from you again.

The question becomes: What aren’t they getting – that they need – to move down the funnel?

And this is where conversion optimization practices like customer surveys, UX research and A/B testing can really help to demystify the situation.

Step 3: Confirm your hypotheses

Even with research, your customer journey map is really a series of educated guesses – aka. hypotheses. And hypotheses are made to be tested.

Once you have your map, you’ll start finding potential opportunities to optimize experiences at each touch point. And this is where you can confirm your guesses about your user, and about what will move your user, with A/B or multivariate testing.

And that’s a whole other post – or five – which you can read here.

Learn more about A/B testing.

Conclusion: Customer journey maps are great – unless they aren’t

Customer journey maps, when done well, serve multiple functions. They:

  • Empower you to identify and understand customer needs, so you can improve customer service, experience and UX.
  • Save money on touchpoints/ads that don’t work, and show you where to spend money on touchpoints that work best.
  • Unearth opportunities to differentiate products.
  • Increase conversions drastically.
  • Improve retention and build your brand reputation (because customers are getting what they need).
  • Create brand advocates who create even more touchpoints and conversions!

But when we talk about customer journey maps, we have to acknowledge that most aren’t used this way.

Too many customer journey maps (and their respective “How to” articles) focus more on what the company wants customers to do, rather than on helping customers achieve their ideal outcomes (even if that ideal outcome is finding a gorgeous prom dress that makes a 17-year-old feel like Cinderella). They tend to be too focused on acquisition, and not enough on retention (did you notice how my sample funnel went beyond conversion? Brand advocacy and retention is important for every business!). Essentially, they’re focused on the company’s success, and not the customer’s.

I come from a Customer Success background. I believe that if you lead the customer towards achieving their ideal outcome, and don’t disappoint on delivery, you will win their loyalty.

To do that, of course, you have to know your customer really well.

And that’s not nearly as simple as “X marks the spot.”

Customer Journey Map

e-Commerce customer journey maps have the potential to be the best tool your marketing department has – or a colossal waste of time. There are plenty of articles out there that will tell you how to build a customer journey map in “3 easy steps.” Those don’t work, at least not by my standards. If your customer journey map isn’t moving you towards more conversions and awesome retention rates, it’s a waste of paper.

How to Find All the Qualitative Data You Need for CRO Testing (In Unexpected Places)

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Customer Research As An Enhancer For Ecommerce CRO Efforts

Numbers and words — or quantitative and qualitative research, as optimizers think of them — are two of the most important parts of thorough conversion research. The results are the basis for CRO testing. But while locating conversion improvement opportunities through quantitative data is relatively easy and straightforward (simply compare your numerical results to your expected results!), implementing qualitative feedback for better conversions (CRO testing) just isn’t as simple.

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Customer Research As An Enhancer For Ecommerce CRO Efforts

Numbers and words — or quantitative and qualitative research, as optimizers think of them — are two of the most important parts of thorough conversion research. The results are the basis for CRO testing. But while locating conversion improvement opportunities through quantitative data is relatively easy and straightforward (simply compare your numerical results to your expected results!), implementing qualitative feedback for better conversions (CRO testing) just isn’t as simple.

Conversion Research: 6 Treasure Troves of Qualitative Research You Can Access Right Now

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Customer Research As An Enhancer For Ecommerce CRO Efforts

Qualitative research isn’t just about visitor surveys and user testing. While both of these methods give us the opportunity to directly observe visitors’ behavior and get a glimpse of the thought process behind it, surveys and user testing suffer from a serious limitation: visitors and testers are aware that they are being observed.

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Customer Research As An Enhancer For Ecommerce CRO Efforts

Qualitative research isn’t just about visitor surveys and user testing. While both of these methods give us the opportunity to directly observe visitors’ behavior and get a glimpse of the thought process behind it, surveys and user testing suffer from a serious limitation: visitors and testers are aware that they are being observed.

User Survey Guide: If You’re Not Conducting Surveys, You’re Losing Conversions

User Surveys
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Customer Research As An Enhancer For Ecommerce CRO Efforts

When you run a user survey, you’ll post direct questions to your visitors with the goal of discovering their perceptions of specific issues. For conversion optimization, you can also use user surveys to identify the most common sources of anxiety and friction. To get the most useful results, pose open-ended questions, like “What do you look for when you shop for bath products?” This type of question allows users to voice concerns or opinions freely, and they may bring up points you hadn’t even considered.

User Surveys
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Customer Research As An Enhancer For Ecommerce CRO Efforts

When you run a user survey, you’ll post direct questions to your visitors with the goal of discovering their perceptions of specific issues. For conversion optimization, you can also use user surveys to identify the most common sources of anxiety and friction. To get the most useful results, pose open-ended questions, like “What do you look for when you shop for bath products?” This type of question allows users to voice concerns or opinions freely, and they may bring up points you hadn’t even considered.

User Testing: Why You Should Be Testing Your Website And How to Start

User Testing
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Customer Research As An Enhancer For Ecommerce CRO Efforts

No matter the product or service you sell, the best way to see if your business is actually viable is to expose it to your target audience and see how they react. Often, this process can reveal unexpected insights or offer helpful guidance to the seller. It’s why developers deploy “beta” editions of software before launching their product, so real users can catch the bugs before the product hits the marketplace.

User Testing
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Customer Research As An Enhancer For Ecommerce CRO Efforts

No matter the product or service you sell, the best way to see if your business is actually viable is to expose it to your target audience and see how they react. Often, this process can reveal unexpected insights or offer helpful guidance to the seller. It’s why developers deploy “beta” editions of software before launching their product, so real users can catch the bugs before the product hits the marketplace.

How to Use Customer Research to Amplify Your CRO Efforts

Customer Research To Amplify CRO Efforts
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Customer Research As An Enhancer For Ecommerce CRO Efforts

Because conversion optimization deals with improving website performance, and because websites are primarily technical constructs, it’s easy to lose sight of one simple fact: websites exist to draw customers, and customers are real people. This is Article 1 in a series that will examine the process, tools, and analysis of performing customer research for conversion rate optimization.

Customer Research To Amplify CRO Efforts
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Customer Research As An Enhancer For Ecommerce CRO Efforts

Because conversion optimization deals with improving website performance, and because websites are primarily technical constructs, it’s easy to lose sight of one simple fact: websites exist to draw customers, and customers are real people. This is Article 1 in a series that will examine the process, tools, and analysis of performing customer research for conversion rate optimization.

Fear Factor: How Fear & Uncertainty & Doubt Undermine eCommerce Conversions

eCommerce Conversions

Fear, uncertainty and doubt accompany every transaction we make, to some degree. They all influence ecommerce conversions in various degrees. We expect that when we exchange our hard-earned cash for a product, we’ll receive something of equal or greater value in return. But we’ve been fooled before (and if we haven’t, thousands of online reviewers have, which is enough to make anyone jumpy).

Fundamentally, the e-commerce customer fears they will be giving up something they know is worth (money) and may not receive the same value in return. They are uncertain whether they will be satisfied with the choice they made. Maybe something else might have been better, but they missed out on it (FOMO isn’t just for millennials). And finally they will doubt (until proven otherwise) whether they need the particular product/service at all.

You are competing against all of this, and as an e-commerce store, you are guilty until you prove innocent.

And then there’s the process of paying, which involves the buyer leaving some of their most sensitive data in the hands of people they don’t know. You are asking them to take your word for it that their data will not be abused and that they’ll receive the product as advertised.

As you can see, in online world there are a lot of obstacles one must overcome to make a positive decision on whether to buy at all.

Factors influencing the decision to buy

Who is the seller?

It’s a lot easier to sell something in person than it is to sell over the internet. Why? Because when you have a brick and mortar store, your customers can walk in, meet you face to face, see, hold, and maybe even try out the product immediately, and if once they buy anything goes wrong, they know exactly where to find you.

E-commerce stores come with none of these luxuries.

When customers reach an online e-commerce website, they are keenly aware that they only see what you want to show them – about yourself, and about your products. And they don’t trust you to tell them the good and the bad. They arrive in a state of doubt.

eCommerce Conversions Doubt and Fear Sign
eCommerce Conversions Doubt and Fear Sign

From there, website visitors are left to wonder whether the e-commerce site is legitimate – and they make this first impression very quickly, in less than 5 seconds. This impression is based almost solely on the store’s visual presentation. Does the website look modern and professional? Or does it look like it hasn’t been updated in 20 years? Having an out of date website sends a red flag to already suspicious customers that this is a fly-by-night operation.

If you make it past that first impression, visitors will continue to look for clues that will confirm or invalidate their initial observations. They’ll look for professional photos of products, testimonials and reviews from customers, and security badges – and they will form a strong impression based on how easy your website is to use, and how well you’ve ironed out your user experience.

Brands that are strongly established have a strong advantage over newer or smaller brands, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of the running. You don’t need to be Amazon to make a sale.

How do you establish trust on your homepage?

To bridge this first five seconds you need to include the following:

1. Clear information who you are

When you give your prospects clear info of who you are, preferably with pictures of employees (contextual photograph tend to work the best – ie connect your employees with your product), office space and other info that unambiguously shows there is a real business behind your website. Include phone numbers, office addresses and other info that shows your business is legitimate.

2. Provide an up to date website design

Modern and up to date design has very good chance to woo your visitors and make them trust you more. Which does not mean you need to include novelties that look good on paper but have unproven effect on user experience.

3. Prototypical layout of the ecommerce stores tends to help a lot

Your website layout has the best chance to make your visitors convert if it feels and looks familiar to other sites in the same business.

“In a study by Google in August of 2012, researchers found that not only will users judge websites as beautiful or not within 1/50th – 1/20th of a second, but also that “visually complex” websites are consistently rated as less beautiful than their simpler counterparts.

Moreover, “highly prototypical” sites – those with layouts commonly associated with sites of it’s category – with simple visual design were rated as the most beautiful across the board.”

Tommy Walker from Shopify in his blog post for Conversion XL

4. Perfection

It goes without saying, but is worth repeating – your copy should be absolutely free from any grammatical or other errors. Paying attention to small details like that enhances trust and credibility of the website and helps reduce doubt.

If you successfully negotiate this step and get people to pay attention to your actual offer and products, you encounter the next big step.

Gaining trust on your product pages

Congratulations – your visitor has made it past your home page and trusts you enough to click onto a product page! Unfortunately, there are many more obstacles ahead. This is where you can make or lose the sale, and much of that depends on whether you can eliminate the fear factors that would prevent your visitor from purchasing.

Hopefully you’ve created a great product page (not sure? Check out our guide). In the sea of photoshopped images, false advertising and similarly questionable methods, you need to convince your customer that your product image is real, accurate, and delivers the information they need to make their decision. Once again, you face the issues of doubt and it needs to be minimized.

eCommerce Conversions - Product Page
eCommerce Conversions – Product Page

This is a nice e-commerce product page – but take a careful look at the product images. Yes, they’re professional and appear to be accurate in color (a frequent problem since every monitor shows color a little differently), but they are missing vital information for the target buyers to make a decision.

There is no picture of the inside of the purse.

How is the buyer to know if there’s a cell phone pocket, hidden zipper pockets, or any of the other little conveniences that separate a bag from a really fine, useful, purse? There’s not enough information.

Physical stores have this advantage over online business. When a visitor walks into a store, they can see the actual product and test it right there. When you can’t deliver that experience, you have to invest in giving your visitors the next best thing – which is lots and lots of information.

  • Pictures that show multiple angles and interiors of the product, as well as pictures of the product in use (it would be nice to see that purse on someone’s arm to get a better idea of its size)
  • Testimonials from previous purchasers who can report back on how the product feels and functions
  • Promises of customer support and easy returns should the product arrive flawed
  • Promises of fast shipping

Many sites prominently show things like same day shipping guarantees, money back guarantees if the item is not delivered within some reasonable time, and offers of shipping tracking. If your store did a good job in establishing trust at the outset, visitors will be more likely to believe you at this stage.

Social proof on your product pages is golden – literally, it will make you money.

Make sure you have credible testimonials and/or user reviews on the product page itself. Visitors won’t trust you to tell them what your product is really like, but they do trust their peers, especially if the reviews you show seem authentic (ie. not all completely, 100% positive).

If you can, let them know also that they’re getting the best deal (to combat FOMO – fear of missing out). Booking.com does this in a very clever way: If you open their home page, you will see their “Best Deal Guarantee. We match any price you find online.”

You can also offer added incentives at this stage, like free shipping to customers who spend a minimum amount. Often, sites will offer their first customers some additional benefits, to encourage them to purchase a product. SaaS companies offer demos or freemium versions of the software they sell, so the potential customers can try it hands-on. That might not be possible for product-based e-commerce stores, but the principle is the same – give them an offer they can’t refuse.

Eventually, given enough persuasion, at least a few of the visitors will take a dip and put the product in their cart.

Hooray!

All they need to do now is to give you their money.

Hah! Like it’s that easy.

Because this is where fear really takes the wheel.

Transaction

“Your greatest dreams are all on the other side of the wall of fear and caution.” – Unknown

The real test of your website is whether the visitor will trust you enough to give you their money. Unlike in the brick-and-mortar world, paying online requires giving away some of the most sensitive personal information we have – our bank accounts. To expedite paying online, visitors must provide you with a way to charge their credit cards.

There are so many horror stories about identity theft that visitors are rightly concerned about passing around their private information. If they are not 100% confident that you are trustworthy, they’ll change their minds and leave. In case you missed it, here is an excellent post about shopping cart abandonment on our blog.

Fortunately, there are ways to earn their trust.

This process begins long before they reach your shopping cart – you’ll need to provide a number of trust indicators, including design, content & copy (this starts right on the homepage), social media and social proof throughout your website and online brand presence.

Those alone will probably keep your bounce rate down.

Conversions, though, are somewhat more complicated beasts. To make people give you money, they not only need to trust you, they must feel safe too.

Here is where security seals come into play. Common examples are Google Trusted Store certificate, Symantec (previously known as VeriSign) SSL certificate, and PayPal.

eCommerce Conversions - Security Seals
eCommerce Conversions – Security Seals

Using trust seals and certificates, you can alleviate a large part of the fear visitors may have about the online transactions.

Here’s how this works: Many users will be reluctant to provide their credit card numbers to you directly. In this case you can use third a party service, such as PayPal or AmEx Express Checkout, etc. Using these services, your visitors can authorize payments to you without revealing their personal information.

Sometimes visitors are not willing to reveal their information because they think you will clutter their inbox with promotional emails, or do not want to fill in forms for any number of different reasons. In this case, you might also consider offering a “guest checkout” option, so visitors don’t need to create an entire account before purchasing at your store.

Guest accounts are useful for establishing first contact and getting your customers to try your service out. Once they buy, they will most likely return and create an account. But that trust must be earned.

And nurtured. And maintained.

Nurturing and maintaining trust

There are numerous studies, such as Business Insider Intelligence research, that show that returning customers have higher conversion rates and spend more time on websites.

eCommerce Conversions - Returning customers have higher conversion rates and spend
eCommerce Conversions – Returning customers have higher conversion rates and spend

It’s clear that once you sell something and turn your visitor into a customer, the odds are good that they’ll return and purchase more and more – if you don’t disappoint them.

Returning customers are much more likely to trust you and with each new transaction, this trust will grow. It is your task to keep up the good work and keep the customer satisfied.

There are a few things you can do to stay in your customers’ good graces.

Personalization: This is also one of heuristics that we mention in our blog post on heuristic research. Personalization is how you make each customer’s visit to your website seem like a familiar and welcoming experience, like walking into the bar at Cheers (everybody knows your name).

One of the world leaders in personalization is Amazon. Once you establish an account, they will track all your actions, purchases, reviews, product views and wish lists and try to show you the merchandise they believe will interest you the most. This approach is one of the things that made Amazon into what it is today. It may not be warm and fuzzy, but it gets top marks for being relevant.

Reliability: This is another feature your website must have to retain the trust of its customers. Your service must always be of the same high quality. If you make one slip up, you may get away with it, but you may also experience adverse effects. One negative review or blog post on your service may be all it takes to bring your website to failure.

Consistency means maintaining the experience of your website as roughly the same, or at least similar, over time. Unless you really need to change, keep the website design, content and navigation familiar so the returning customers can recognize it and use it easily.

Think of this in terms of your favorite grocery store. If they kept changing the isle where they keep the bread, it would be quite annoying.

Friction – not quite fear, but just as bad

To fully grasp the concept of friction, we will borrow a model that can be very useful for visualization purposes. It is called a persuasion slide.

eCommerce Conversions - Persuasion Slide
eCommerce Conversions – Persuasion Slide (Source: NeuroscienceMarketing.com)

The main elements of the model are nudge, gravity, angle and friction. Nudge represents your call-to-action and value proposition. The force of gravity is the constant and represents the motivation of your visitor. Angle represents the elements such as ease of use, content consistency and other motivational factors you provide. Finally, friction is any hurdle or difficulty, real or perceived, that may dissuade your visitor from purchasing.

In terms of a model, friction is a generic term denoting everything that creates an obstacle or hurdle in the path of conversion. While the process of buying something will always have at least some friction, it can be minimized using the right methods .

Those methods include:

  1. Increasing motivation through offering additional benefits
  2. Limiting the amount of information a visitor needs to provide (especially private information)
  3. Increasing trust and confidence (as we discussed above)
  4. Easing the way the visitor interfaces with the site (improving the user interface)
  5. Offering social proof

While overcoming friction may be difficult, and reducing it to zero impossible, your website must make conscious and deliberate effort to smooth the slide’s surface enough to make the really motivated visitors convert. Failing to convert the motivated visitor, who has reached your website in search of a solution to their problem, is a sure sign that no other visitor will convert either.

Useful methods to further increase trust to increase ecommerce conversions

Using content marketing you can demonstrate your customers you know a lot about the products you sell, you are up to date with the business area your site operates in or simply offer them useful advice related to the issues you products solve.

The best way for content marketing is to maintain an active blog for example. Or you could use videos to present your products. Interactive content can be the best way to foster trust and gather some data on your customers too.

Interactive content such as quizzes, assessments or trivia, as well as calculators and similar, can be used to provide useful information to your prospects and also gather information on them, they volunteer to provide.

While not providing any direct benefit to your website, providing content will increase your credibility and reduce doubt and uncertainty with you prospects.

There’s nothing to fear – but fear itself

Convincing the customer to make the first purchase is what every e-commerce website struggles with. As you have seen, there are many obstacles you need to overcome. Every one of them is in a certain way influenced by doubt, uncertainty and fear.

Using methods such as social proof, trust seals and authentic and honest copy can go a long way towards alleviating fears and doubts with your visitors. Of course, it is impossible to make fears and doubts totally go away. But, all you have to do is to minimize them enough so the visitor’s motivation is a more powerful force. This will increase ecommerce conversions for sure.

You can achieve this by easing the way the visitor interacts with the site, giving benefits (deals, special discounts or coupons), allowing instant transactions (think ‘Buy with one click’ at Amazon) or expediting delivery. Furthermore, make sure that your website design is modern, simple to navigate and clear.

Relevance and clarity go a long way to earning your visitors’ trust and grabbing their attention. Make sure that you have both areas covered.

eCommerce Conversions

Fear, uncertainty and doubt accompany every transaction we make, to some degree. We expect that when we exchange our hard-earned cash for a product, we’ll receive something of equal or greater value in return. But we’ve been fooled before (and if we haven’t, thousands of online reviewers have, which is enough to make anyone jumpy).

Ecommerce A/B Testing: How To Fail Your Way To Success

e-Commerce A/B Testing

The website’s landing page wasn’t converting as high as the owner had hoped, so he decided a revamp was in order. He changed the images, and more importantly, the copy. But he didn’t just switch from old to new (he was smarter than that!). He tested his old copy against the new copy.

After sending 10,000 clicks to the new landing page, he found his shiny new copy resulted in an 82% bounce rate (and only 100 visitors pressed the buy button, but none of them purchased). People left as soon as they arrived.

It turned out that his original copy wasn’t bad after all – though it could benefit from a little polish (with changes A/B tested). But with this “failed” experiment, he learned a lot about his audience, what they look for, what they value, and the ideas that speak best to them. It wasn’t a wasted effort at all.

A/B testing never is.

Your E-Commerce Website is a Workhorse – A/B Testing Ensures You’re Ploughing in the Right Direction

Any eCommerce business owner has had to make a change, an update, a re-brand or refresh at some point, and committing to a change can be quite traumatic. This is especially true if you already have a reasonably well performing website.

You don’t want to “rock the boat.”

You don’t want to risk revenue.

 You should be willing to test, even if it fails you learn something

You should be willing to test, even if it fails you learn something – image source

But at the back of your mind there’s this voice whispering “No risk, no reward.”

Don’t listen to that voice – it doesn’t know what it’s talking about. Because when we test proposed changes, the risk becomes minuscule and the reward is so much greater because we can tweak, monitor, and change until a landing page, product page or sales page takes off like wildfire.

But they key to reducing risk and reaping those rewards is to stop guessing – and start testing.

Without testing – if you just make changes blindly – you risk decreasing performance and even alienating your existing customer base.

“Experiment” Sounds Risky – But it’s Riskier if You Don’t

If you make a change and it results in worse performance, like the example above, not only could you lose revenue, but you will lose prospects who won’t come back. The stakes are high. And within your company, you may have to fight vested interests and perceptions of wasted effort that went into designing and implementing the new elements of the website. After all, without testing, the appearance and elements of your website are up to individual interpretations and tastes, which means you’re working with opinions over facts (and people are opinionated!).

But let’s look at the best-case scenario of making a change without testing.

Let’s say you knocked it out of the park – the change you made had a positive effect.

How can you be sure that doing something else wouldn’t have resulted in even bigger benefits?
Maybe you increased revenue by 4% and are feeling pretty good about yourself. Until you realize that you could have achieved a 6% increase in revenue if you had done something just a bit different.

When you commit to testing – not just testing one change, but evolving into a “testing culture,” you’ll find that every decision you make is grounded in research and objective data. There are so many tools available to help you find out how visitors arrive to the site, what pages they find more interesting, what content is the most influential to their decision to purchase, and so on.

Strong research is where we always begin – but it’s not enough in itself. Frequently, the data we collect leads to a number of solutions and a nearly infinite number of possible variations you can try to improve the performance and conversion rate of a web site.

How can we decide which one is the best? How can we find the variation that delivers results faster? The answer: Experimentation through testing.

When you want to find the best way – not just a better way – to improve your website, that is why we do split testing.

Some things you can test include:

  • Placement, prominence, shape and color of CTA or “Add to Cart” buttons
  • Color scheme of your website
  • Size and readability of font
  • Different types of images (or video) on product pages
  • Placement of reviews or testimonials
  • Landing page/product page copy

And so much more.

Each of these could be changed in any number of ways. And you can change a single element, or a combination of elements.

Sure, you could implement a change and see how it goes, accepting any positive outcome as a success.

Or you could expose your visitors to multiple versions simultaneously, compare the results, and then choose the best performing one.

AB Testing to Optimize Conversions
How testing looks like

Clearly, this is a better option. But it’s easy to make a change and see how it goes. Showing multiple versions to different visitors? How does that even work?

How Visitors See Different Versions of the Same Website (we are truly living in the future)

Split testing enables you to direct different parts of your audience to two or more versions of the same website element (a page or even a path) simultaneously so you can compare the results.

In real time.

You start by forming an educated guess (a hypothesis) for what change will yield a positive result. Then you test that guess against the existing version – or another guess, if you’re doing multivariate testing (ie. more than just two options).

Coming up with a strong hypothesis is a science by itself (and we’ve written a post explaining exactly how to construct a hypothesis to get the best results here).

Once you have a viable hypothesis, next step is to transform it into an actual design. This design is then turned into an alternative version of the web page that you want to change.

The decisive part comes next. In order to test the proposed variation and compare the result, the two versions need to be presented simultaneously to equal, random portions of visitors to your website in order to tell which performs better. Then you run the test until it reaches what is called statistical significance, which means that enough people, over enough time, have been to the site to yield a decisive result.

When you do it right, coming up with the hypothesis is, by far, the most demanding part of the conversion optimization process.

The rest is easy – there are so many tools available for split testing. The hard part is figuring out what tests to run and when to call the results conclusive.

But, you do have to have a little knowledge of statistics to really understand your results.

Statistics 101: What you need to know

Testing is actually a statistical term. While running the tests themselves does not require an advanced knowledge of statistics, it is important to identify the right conditions that enable you to run statistically meaningful tests.

The first thing to keep in mind is that a statistically significant test requires a large enough sample size of visitors. Even a simple A/B test requires a sample of at least 100,000 visits a month to yield statistically significant results. The more variants you test, the larger sample you need (because you have to send equal numbers of people to each one). For multivariate tests, the required sample size increases exponentially.

The sample size required for significance depends on three main elements:

  1. Baseline rate
  2. Minimum detectable effect
  3. Significance level

Baseline rate

The baseline rate is the current value of the indicator we aim to improve, for example the conversion rate. It’s the existing number we’re comparing the variant against when we test.

Minimum detectable effect

The minimum detectable effect is the minimum improvement over the baseline that you are willing to detect in an experiment. We use minimum detectable effect (MDE) to prioritize experiments based on ROI because it functions as an estimate of the effort involved versus impact of an individual experiment. It’s basically a way to see the relationship between effort and impact (or cost vs. value).

Usually, the improvement we’re looking for is in the conversion rate of our web page. For example, when we set up the test, we will postulate the expected increase will be at least 10% relative to the existing conversion rate. The test will be conducted in an effort to find out the increase within the tested sample.

The objective of sampling is to provide you with as accurate representation of general population as possible
The objective of sampling is to provide you with as accurate representation of general population as possible

The larger the effect is, the smaller sample we require to have a definitive result. The lower the effect, the larger the sample size needs to be to detect a significant change.

To put this in practical terms, let us examine what happens if we conduct an experiment on a website that has a conversion rate of 2%. After conducting a research, we detect that the design of a product pages is harming conversions, by not having prominent enough add to cart button, product images are low quality and product descriptions are too long and incomprehensible to prospects. Due to all these reasons, the conversion rate suffers.

To solve these problems, we hypothesized solution in changing the page layout, shortening description copy and providing high quality images of the products. The new layout is due to be put to the test. However, before starting the test, we need to decide how many observations we need to make the experiment valid.

After we surmised the quantitative research, we realized that in addition to 2% of visitors who bought the product, there was at least 1% more who said the major impediment to their conversion was lack of clear information on the product. Therefore, we hypothesized that improving the product copy we would increase the conversions on the website for 1% or 50% total lift.

That means that the minimum detectable effect we aim for is 50%. This information enables us to make the sample size calculation.

There are many sample size calculators you can find on the net and Evan Miller’s is just one of them. When you provide the data from our example, this is what you get:

A sample size calculator output
A sample size calculator output

As you can see, we need 3,292 observations per each variation (for a total of 6,584) to reach the significance level of 95%, usually the minimum acceptable significance level. And with that we reach the subject of significance level, another major factor in sample size calculation.

Significance level

Significance level represents the percent of certainty that the result we are seeing (an improvement, hopefully) is the result of the change we made and not pure chance. Generally, 95% is considered minimum acceptable for this value. The higher this value is set, the larger sample size that will be required.

Conducting a test

In order to conduct a test, as we have already mentioned, you need a properly formed hypothesis. Only a valid hypothesis can lead to a meaningful test.

Proper hypothesis creation requires a great deal of work and we have already covered this in one of our previous posts.

So let’s cover some basics of how to conduct a successful test.

Once you have decided what to test, created the basic design(s) and calculated the sample size you need for the test, it’s time to actually DO IT.

This will involve creating an experiment in your tool of choice (one of the most popular is Optimizely, but there is also Visual Web Optimizer, SiteGainer and Google Optimize), and launching the experiment. The experiment will run within the tool until the specified conditions of sample size and statistical significance are reached.

To ensure that your tests are effective, we recommend letting them run for full weeks and at least two buying cycles to eliminate any outliers. You don’t want spikes or slumps in traffic due to weekends or holidays to affect your tests. And, of course, if you don’t have high enough traffic, that’s also going to affect your timeline (and whether you’re ready to take on A/B testing at all).

As a rule, the vast majority of tests should not run for longer than one month. The test results depend upon the randomness of the sample and many people (up to 30% according to this study) delete their cookies, causing them to be recounted as unique visitors. This results in sample pollution.

When your sample is no longer random, without you or your testing software knowing it, the results will not be reliable and you may get a false positive. This would render your test a failure because the result is not a true reflection of the actual performance of the variation you tested.

Once you have a conclusive result that has been tested with sufficient sample size and duration, you will have either confirmed or disproven your initial hypothesis. If the proposed variation performed better than unchanged page (the control) we call it a winning test. You can implement it immediately, but you may want to phase out the old page gradually, if you are not 100% confident in the result.

We recommend directing all traffic to the winning variation, since leaving any part of the traffic on the original page will likely result in conversion being lower than it could have been (with loss of revenue as the ultimate consequence).

Conclusion: Testing isn’t something you do once – it’s how you grow

You can make a change by guessing. You can make a change after research and gathering qualitative and quantitative data – but even that’s still guessing (though better guessing) unless you actually test your results.

Testing brings the scientific method into optimizing your e-commerce site, which comes with a long list of benefits.

You can explain why you’ve implemented each change and prove that it works.

You have a rational, impartial way to decide on design and usability questions.

And, basically, you can eliminate a lot of back-and-forth around the conference table that is the inevitable result of guesswork!

The best part, possibly, is that unless you run your test the wrong way, you really can’t fail, because you will always learn something valuable to use in your next iteration.

In short, experimenting with content variations helps to reduce or eliminate many of the obstacles and risks inherent in changing an e-commerce website and allows you to optimize the performance using a sound statistical and scientific foundation.

But before you sign up for your new A/B testing tool, remember this: The process of testing cannot be conducted without first gathering and analyzing data on the current performance of the website. This combination of analysis and experimentation provides the foundation for managing and maintaining the constant long term growth and development of your business.

Testing is not a one off way to make more money or save some money. It is an essential ingredient for the long term growth of your company. Having a testing mindset in your organization will ensure your ability to adjust to changes in your business environment and client expectations.

Methodical testing has led many of the e-commerce giants like Amazon and Google to grow from small businesses to the colossal multinational companies they are today.

Amazon in june 2007
Amazon in June 2007

Ten years of constant improvement have made Amazon into this:

Amazon in June 2017
Amazon in June 2017

Is your company next? Also let us know if you require guidance and we’ll be happy to help you get started.

e-Commerce A/B Testing

Your E-Commerce Website is a Workhorse – A/B Testing Ensures You’re Ploughing in the Right Direction. Any eCommerce business owner has had to make a change, an update, a re-brand or refresh at some point, and committing to a change can be quite traumatic. This is especially true if you already have a reasonably well performing website.

Innovative Testing: How to continue growing revenue – even after you tested everything?

Innovative Testing

This isn’t your first rodeo. You started the conversion optimization process a while ago. You’ve analyzed your website, identified issues, and came up with a bunch of things to fix and hypotheses to test.

And you tested them.

Again and again.

And many of those tests you ran resulted in gains – maybe large, maybe small, but improvements nonetheless.

Finally, after you ran tests on every aspect of the website, you reached a point where the law of diminishing returns kicked in. You began noticing it in inconclusive results, and then perhaps even in tested variations producing negative results. You create a few more hypotheses to test, but to no avail.

No matter what you tried, it just seemed that there was no way to nudge your numbers up.

Have you peaked? Should you rest on your laurels, put up your feet and pat yourself on the back?

Heck no.

There is always potential to improve.

While the process of iterative (A/B and multivariate) testing is the best method to follow for long term, repeatable results in conversion optimization, it has one limitation. After testing every part of the website, you will inevitably reach the point where there is no way to further optimize your site.

Which means it’s time to step out of iterative testing and try innovative testing.

Innovative Testing Example

CrazyEgg had a pretty good website. User testing didn’t reveal any outstanding issues, the web page was relatively optimized, and there weren’t any real problems to fix. No obvious wins to be had either.

And yet, after doing research, the consultants decided that major changes were required. And no, they weren’t just trying to get more money! It was the only way to create a major lift in conversions.

The team decided, based on heat maps of the homepage, that a major redesign was necessary to remove a few distractions that they detected, and improve the copy in general. They implemented these changes and tested them – resulting in a 26% increase in conversions.

That was innovative testing.

How does this apply to you?

When you test and optimize everything you possibly can, the phenomenon you may encounter is called a local maxima.

From this point on, unless you change your initial assumptions and testing scenarios, you cannot expect a measurable increase in conversions. Graphically it is represented like this:

Innovative Testing - Local Maxima
Innovative Testing – Local Maxima

So what does this mean? It means that you are limited by a number of factors, which we call a paradigm limitation. Your current design, target audience, services and products have, essentially, hemmed you in. You’ve done as much as you can do with the paradigm as it stands you’ve reached your limits.

And you’re stuck – stuck in a box.

Of course, the solution to finding yourself in a box is to break out of it – which requires thinking outside of it. When you are so close to the project, or the business, this can be incredibly hard to do.

How to get out of the box

Paradigm limitations happen as a result of making choices. Each decision narrows the playing field. Which is good – that’s how we create valuable niches and develop followings who know what to expect from us. It’s how businesses are built. But, those early decisions also anchor you to your spot.

I’m not creating a fancy metaphor here – anchoring is a cognitive bias, one which influences people to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the anchor) when making decisions. Once an anchor is set, other decisions are made based on treating that anchor as unalterable fact.

Now we can get metaphorical – because we need to break the chains tying you to your anchor.

And that is going to require a substantial, possibly radical change.

“But won’t this ruin my business?”

Maybe. But here’s the deal: You can have what you have now, or you can risk it for something more.

Or, as Henry Ford put it:

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

(Clearly, taking a few risks worked well for him!).

In practical terms, this means that you might need to redesign your site, or at least a substantial part of it.

On a more strategic level, you may need to adjust your value proposition to appeal to a wider audience, or different target audience. Or you may need to expand your products or services, like when Starbucks began offering food. Whatever the eventual choice is, it will likely mean making a transition from one concept to another.

The choice of target audience, product range or target market is outside of the scope of the conversion optimization. These kinds of decisions can only be a business decision of the owner. But a radical redesign of the website? That is something that conversion optimization methods can help with.

How conversion optimization can help

Conversion optimization generally can solve the local maxima problem using two main methods:

  1. Innovative testing
  2. Radical redesign

Both methods mean taking bold steps forward and abandoning iterative testing.

Up to this point, conversion optimization took the safe route of incremental improvements that, over time, lead to significant growth in a gradual step-by-step approach. From here on, we’ll have to rely upon quantum leaps forward, which are risky, but, if successful, highly profitable.

Quantum leaps can deliver increases in conversions that are comparable to, if not better than, the early phases of low hanging fruit solutions (those quick and easy wins that I’m sure you miss!).

Innovative testing with conviction

Innovative testing means testing for larger changes on the website. That can mean changing multiple and/or major elements of design of a single page (a landing page, for example) or even changing entire portions of the web site.

These tests should be approached with caution.

Before you embark on them, you should ensure that ample research data is available. Most importantly, this is where the qualitative research will be the most useful.

Whereas iterative testing can produce many ideas for tests and improvements from insights yielded by quantitative data and a limited amount of user feedback, innovative testing relies heavily on user feedback.

The difference here is primarily due to the effort that must be invested to make substantial design changes. User input will enable you to design the website or parts of it to match with what your users expect and want.

User testing, interviews, live chat transcripts, surveys and polls can all provide insights into exactly what your visitors want, why they want it and how they want to achieve it. If you follow the voice of customers/visitors data, you will be able to serve them get them to really engage with you.

But don’t expect your users to deliver a new website design to you – they’re not designers. They may not even know what they want, or what’s possible to want. Not to quote Ford every time, but he did say “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

The man said a lot of smart things.

To overcome the “faster horses” conundrum, your job will be to not only gather their answers in surveys and interviews, but to verify those answers based on what they actually do and how they actually use your site.

And, you’ll have to use a little intuition.

As UI expert Anders Toxboe says:

You innovate through intuition. When we use our intuition, we make best guesses and rely on our previous experience. We study what others are doing and use best practices. An integral part of innovation is thinking experience, aesthetics, and flow as a whole. When innovating, we rely on designers, best guesses and discussion as instruments for deciding upon what is the best design. The goal of innovation is to maximize the potential improvement through optimization. Optimization vs innovation, blog post.

So the answer in successful innovation and breaking out of the local maxima lies in maintaining a delicate balance of intuition and a data driven approach. Keep in mind that the stakes are high – innovation is the only way to grow, and often, the only way to remain competitive and survive in the long term.

Alex Birkett of ConversionXL put it best:

Whatever the case, when the time comes to make bigger changes – when you decide to jump from your local maximum to another possibility – make the decision with conviction.

Radical redesign

Radical redesign is innovative testing writ large.

Radical redesign requires that you depart from the 100%-data-driven approach and allow the designers to freely create the features and layout that they feel comfortable with.

It’s the riskiest approach of all.

The potential for a costly mistake is very real, as is evident from the debacle of Marks & Spencer’s website redesign in 2014. The trick is to submit the new design to some form of user testing. Select real users to see if the redesign works better and solves the problems that could not be addressed with the old design.

The best way to test a redesign is to release the improved version for limited user testing before going live to prove the concept.

One way to do this is to use a beta version of the site and offer a limited sample of users to opt in and analyze the performance of the variation. This can be a great way to engage your customers and make them feel part of the process.

Or, you can offer the redesigned version only to new users to see how they react.

If you have a large site with sizeable traffic, radical redesign can be evolutionary and phased in over an extended period of time, which allows you to test specific aspects of the new design separately.

Any way you choose to do it, make sure you are not alienating existing visitors.

But is it really absolutely necessary to redesign the entire site?

Nielsen Norman Group provides this list of reasons for radical redesigns:

  • The gains from making incremental changes are miniscule or nonexistent
  • The technology is severely outdated, making critical changes impossible
  • Architecturally the site is a tangled mess
  • Severely low conversion rates site-wide
  • Benchmarking research reveals your site is far inferior to the competition

Source: Radical Redesign or Incremental Change?

Before taking the leap, carefully weigh out the potential benefits of implementation of the new design and the benefits you expect to gain.

Innovative testing conclusion: Don’t try this unless you’ve tried everything else!

Innovative testing and radical redesign are the methods of last resort. They should be used only once you determine that the current website has reached its absolute limits and cannot be significantly improved.

Before you commit to the redesign, do a full spectrum of qualitative analysis to ascertain that redesign will not actually worsen the performance of your website. Every aspect should also be tested to ensure that the visitors will react favorably to changes. Your long-term customers may have negative reactions to change, especially if it is sudden and radical. The best way to deal with that is to retain some level of familiarity wherever possible. In order to be sure do customer research and testing. You know the importance of customer research?

But perhaps the biggest challenge you’ll face is inertia and that anchoring bias. The key here is to have a strong foundation in iterative testing already in place, so that the testing mindset is established. That way, the organization will have confidence in the outcome of the conversion optimization methodology and the expertise necessary to apply it in the process of redesign.

The innovative testing and redesign require not only boldness but also a certain amount of caution. Finding the right balance between these two traits will make the difference between the successful redesign and a costly debacle.

However, if your organization has adopted testing and conversion optimization and had success using it, you probably have what it takes to successfully conduct the redesign. Just keep in mind all the lessons of conversion optimization and always keep testing. The end result will transform the local maxima from the box at the beginning to an entirely new landscape.

Innovative Testing - Radical Redesign
Innovative Testing – Radical Redesign
Innovative Testing

While the process of iterative (A/B and multivariate) testing is the best method to follow for long term, repeatable results in conversion optimization, it has one limitation. After testing every part of the website, you will inevitably reach the point where there is no way to further optimize your site. Which means it’s time to step out of iterative testing and try innovative testing.

How to Write High-Converting (And *Gasp* FUN) Copy For Your Ecommerce Checkout Flow

Ecommerce Checkout Flow Copywriting

Yesterday, I walked into my improv troupe rehearsal and asked,

“When was the last time you bought something online, went through the checkout, and said, ‘Hey, this is easy and fun’?”

Every single person looked at me like I had just suggested kitten shish kebabs for dinner.

One guy said,

“Easy and fun? While I’m spending money?”

My fave thing to do on Friday nights TBH
My fave thing to do on Friday nights TBH

Soooo, while this might be a wildly unpopular opinion, I’m here to show you how to go through your ecommerce checkout flow copy step by step so it has a better chance of converting your customers and making them feel like they’re having a great time.

Because, at a very basic level, feeling good can increase conversions.

Don’t you want that? Yes. You want that. Keep reading.

Effective checkout flows are intuitive, quick, & low-friction

Obviously, Obviously, ecommerce checkout should be as easy and intuitive as possible. Here’s what to look out for (Amazon’s one-click checkout is the gold standard here.)

Assuming your ecommerce store isn’t a taped-together, virus-riddled piece of garbage, improving your checkout flow copy can be one of the simplest ways to assuage fears, overcome buyer barriers, and boost your conversions.

AND…

That high-converting copy can also be fun.

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting Google fun
Just in case you need a refresher.

Now, I’m not telling you to obscure your checkout and tank your conversions with clever, jokey copy all over the place.

You’ll know if you’re doing that from your test results.

I AM telling you to take a closer look at the words you’re using to persuade strangers to throw dollars at you.

Nota bene: Obviously the design of your website and funnel matter a whole heckuva lot to your conversion rate, too. But this isn’t an article about design, so I’m going to assume you’ve ironed out all the conversion kinks that poor design can cause.

First, map out your checkout flow & identify missed copy opportunities

The first step of improving your checkout flow copy is to map that shiz out. (Got a bunch of entry points tagged in Google Analytics? Here’s what to look out for.)

List out all the steps your buyers take to purchase once you’ve succeeded in imbuing them with intent to buy.

Your checkout flow probably looks something like this:

  1. Starts with “add to cart” or “purchase” button
  2. Then into cart to review items
  3. Then to “check out” button
  4. Register for account OR log in
  5. Then to billing and address info
  6. Then to payment info + promo code
  7. Submit/Make purchase Button
  8. Then to Thanks/confirmation page
  9. Then an emailed receipt

Every single one of these spots contains copy. I’m willing to bet you’ve thought about some of it… but have you taken a close look at ALL of it?

Some of the copy here might be “microcopy,” ex. an error message, a single word or line below a button, a form field’s explanation text, you know the drill.

Some checkout copy might be longer or more elaborate, like your purchase confirmation page or emailed receipt.

IT’S ALL IMPORTANT.

Now, depending on whether you’re using an out-of-the-box merchant checkout that allows limited customization, or you’ve built your own crazy-customized checkout flow, you may or may not be able to change or add copy in certain places.

Here are a few spots in the checkout process where you should consider examining, adding, or improving your copy, if you can:

Click triggers and objection-reducers

Below I’ve screenshotted one step of modern office furniture retailer Poppin’s checkout flow. Notice the tiny “?” round buttons.

When you click them, they offer objection-reducing copy. For example, lots of folks might say,

“Hey, why do you need my phone number if I’m buying from you over the Internet? Roar! Me annoyed!”

Poppin assuages that objection, should it arise, by cooing,

“Your digits are safe with us: we’ll only use your phone number for delivery purposes.”

Honestly, you could probably say anything here. I’d love to see the test results of using a totally illogical or fake reason, like subjects in that famous “May I go first? I have to make a copy for [TOTALLY NONSENSICAL REASON] study” did.

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting Poppin
“Your digits are safe with us, because we are building an alien spaceship and filling it with Beluga caviar.” Sounds good to me, Poppin!

Another example: T-shirt retailer Threadless points to its “Threadless Happiness Guarantee” as a way to encourage purchasers to add items to the cart.

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting
Does “complimentary neckline” mean the shirt tells me how nice my neck looks every time I put it on?

Point out how you’re making checkout quicker

If your product needs extra customer-provided info, you might decide to cut down on the friction added by all that additional time and effort by allowing customers to customize after they buy.

Here’s Indochino, a high-end shirt company, shepherding their customers through a quicker checkout.

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting Indochino
Keep going! We don’t want you to think about how much you’re spending!

If your store allows customers to easily add products directly to their cart without leaving the product category page, try making that process not just easy, but… FUN!

Like Tattly:

Ecommerce Checkout flow copywriting Tattly
Tattly screenshot

Clicking that red button puts these tats in my cart without taking me off the page.

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting Tattly added to cart
Tattly added to cart screen

And then this sprightly confirmation message appears! YAY!

Show customers they’re ALMOST done

Lots and lots of ecommerce stores include checkout progress bars.

Why? People hate leaving things unfinished. And in fact, we tend to remember the things we *didn’t* finish more vividly than the ones we did (it’s called the Zeigarnik Effect, and it’s why you still pine for your college boyfriend who moved away after graduation).

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting skinnyties.com
From skinnyties.com, where I have no business shopping

Use copy to upsell other items

Here’s furniture and home good companies Loaf doing not one, but TWO awesome things in their checkout flow:

  1. Reaffirming that I have excellent taste in sheepskin rugs
  2. Upselling me on a complementary product
Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting upselling
Dang, don’t mind if I do… Actually, wait, what is that thing?

Lots of ecommerce retailers upsell with the suggestion of “Related items,” “Accessories,” “Other people also bought,” and “Get free shipping by adding $X more to your cart”.

But I love Loaf’s elegant one-two punch of flattery and pre-selected item upsell.

This is by no means a complete list of copy opportunities that various retailers do and don’t take advantage of. Why? Because we’re trying to get to the nuts and bolts of actually writing the copy. Calm down.

If you want more ideas, just pay attention to the copy in the next awesome checkout you go through, and ask yourself, “Why is this working well?”

Next, match your copy to what your customer is thinking or feeling

Once you’ve identified all the places your checkout flow includes copy, it’s time to match the steps of that flow to what your customer is probably feeling or thinking.

Don’t *know* what they’re thinking or feeling, and don’t want to guess? Good. Don’t.

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting customer research
^^ Actual GIF of many ecommerce retailers when it comes to customer research.

Instead of guessing, mine your customer live chat logs or Hotjar poll results:

Quantitative data analysis suggests that sentiments or moods conveyed in online conversation are the most predictive factor of perceived satisfaction (Park et al., 2015)

Check out your customer research. You’ll learn what’s on prospects’ and customers’ minds.

Then, plug that data into this handy table I made you!

I’ve even pre-filled it with some common sentiments and objections that are good bets to address at each stage:

Step of Checkout Flow Customer’s Thought/Feeling What Do They Need to Hear Right Now?
Add to Cart Yes! I need this! EXCITEMENT/URGENCY: “Your items will be in your hot little hands in just a few short days!”
Review Purchase/Cart Does this look safe and secure? REASSURANCE: “What a good-looking cart you’ve got.”

TRUST: “Checkout secured with SSL. Your payment info is safe with us.”

URGENCY, if it’s true: “Looks like you’ve grabbed some of our most popular pieces. Snag these items now before they sell out!”

“Check Out” button Should I…? HOW EASY IT IS TO BUY AND/OR RETURN:

“Simple, secure 3-step checkout” and/or “Free returns/exchanges, so you always have the size or color you love!”

Shipping Info I wonder how long it will take to get here… CAREFULLY WEIGH WHETHER YOU NEED EXTRA COPY HERE. Don’t add distraction!
Payment Info Is this worth it? Will I regret this? Same as above
Submit/Complete Purchase Button Here we go… Same as above

 

Does your copy meet your customer where they are, in every stage of the process?

Are you taking advantage of every opportunity to address fears and objections and trigger excitement and urgency?

And… DO YOU NEED COPY in those final, crucial stages (shipping info, payment info, and complete purchase)?

Definitely *test* copy in these last few stages. For example, you could acknowledge in the shipping info section that no one likes waiting for their stuff, which is why you ship within two days, or something similar.

But carefully weigh — nay, test — the benefits of your late-stage checkout copy against its potential to distract customers from your ultimate goal of sweet, sweet revenue.

Other things to consider when you’re testing checkout copy

Branding

Ah, yes, branding. That nebulous thing that everyone loves to talk about, and very few are actually doing right.

The simple fact? You can examine and improve your checkout copy using these practices no matter your brand’s “tone” or “voice”.

But, if you want to add a little more fun (you know, the thing I live for) to your checkout copy, you should take care to match your tone to your brand.

Threadless does a great job matching its entire checkout flow, from design and copy, to its playful, irreverent brand:

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting Threadless funny
Your CARTY BELLY? I think I love you, Threadless.

But I can’t really imagine, like, Saks Fifth Avenue being playful in its checkout copy. So, grain of salt here.

It goes the other way, too. I’m always disappointed when I browse a store with dynamite product copy, decide to buy, and then all of a sudden, the checkout copy is Boring Default Sad Robot.

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting boring robot
Seriously, I think about this stuff and it bums me out.

Company size

EQUALLY sadly, most giant stores (think Target, Best Buy, Walmart, and other soul-sucking corporations WOOHOO CAPITALISM) generally play it safe and standard in their checkout copy.

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting Wallmart
If you happened to notice, I was buying Milk Bones. I don’t have a dog.

This might be for a bunch of different reasons, but I like to think it’s because big-box brands are bent on destroying us (and also because every good idea has to have the life sucked out of it by a series of marketing committees).

On the flip side, possibly because they have fewer committees, less to lose by testing, and more to gain from a building standout brand, smaller stores have more leeway to play around in their copy.

If you’re reading this, and you run a multiple-million-dollar MRR ecommerce store, and you’re thinking to yourself,

“Hey, maybe we should run a copy test to see if personable, warm copy could increase conversions,” PLEASE CALL ME. *

* Actually, email me. I hate phone calls.

Product variety

If you only sell one product, you might just decide to mash your checkout flow into the rest of your site. This makes it even easier to play around with your checkout copy.

OK Cookie is a great example. (In case you haven’t heard of OK Cookie, it’s Cards Against Humanity’s fortune cookie company. The fortunes are, naturally, horrific.)

Let’s look at a few pieces of OK Cookie’s checkout flow:

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting OK Cookies ad to cart
You can click “Add to Cart” right from the homepage, which is also the entire website.
Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting OK Cookies checkout
After I added one box of fortune cookies to my cart.

They gather shipping info in stages, one per screen:

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting shipping
OK Cookie Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting shipping
Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting shipping continued
OK Cookie Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting shipping continued

Notice how casual this checkout is, especially in the copy’s use of “we”.

The “we” word is generally something copywriters avoid at all costs, but it works here because this is a transaction where I want to feel like I’m buying from other real people.

Let’s fast-forward to payment info:

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting payment
OK Cookie Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting payment screen

Charming. Utterly charming. At least, if you have a thick skin.

OK Cookie continues to balance clarity with familiarity throughout the end of checkout, including a button that says “Close This Thing” once you’ve completed your order.

They also send a confirmation email that 100% fails on the “cohesive branding front,” * but is otherwise written in the same casually confrontational style:

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting email blackbox
Trolololo. BUT ALSO, if I didn’t know that Blackbox was the dropshipping company that Cards Against Humanity created, I would be very confused by this email about my cookies.

* Please enjoy this free branding advice, OK Cookie!

Product price

Consider the average dollar value of what you’re selling. Based on my purely anecdotal research, higher-end stores rarely have funny/personable checkout copy.

Now, this could be because pricey brands are aiming for sophistication, which means they don’t want to joke about what you’re buying.

Or it could be because they don’t want ANY potential distractions for people who are about to drop $300 on an orange chair.

Ecommerce checkout flow copywriting product price
I did not buy this. My chair is fine.

Whatever you do with your checkout copy, be intentional

Even if you read this whole thing and you decide not to change your product copy, PLEASE JUST SPEND 30 SECONDS THINKING ABOUT IT.

If you don’t think about your copy, you’re almost certainly missing an opportunity to test and improve. Even a tiny lift during checkout can have massive ROI implications.

And losing that opportunity to boost your ecommerce conversions — by simply failing to consider your copy — would be so un-fun.

Ecommerce Checkout Flow Copywriting

Effective checkout flows are intuitive, quick, & low-friction. Assuming your ecommerce store isn’t a taped-together, virus-riddled piece of garbage, improving your checkout flow copy can be one of the simplest ways to assuage fears, overcome buyer barriers, and boost your conversions. That high-converting copy can also be fun.