Build Your E-Commerce Store: Converting Window Shoppers


This is the fourth installment in the “Building Your E-Commerce Store” series. Check out the intro here, part two (on payment gateways/merchant accounts) here, and part three on building a better shopping cart here.

We all know the pleasures of window shopping online. We covet the latest release of the latest laptop, spend hours researching the features of smartphones, and can’t resist reading about kitchen appliances that promise to make our lives better.

When we browse products we’d like to purchase, we’re often doing so on sites that have them for sale. For the operators of e-commerce stores, these browsers are particularly frustrating. They know that consumers are interested in their products, but they seem to have trouble closing the deal. While it’s nice to have a popular website, one that window shoppers seek out to learn more about the products they want, if you fail to convert your browsers into customers you’re not doing your job.

If you’ve set up your website, tested your shopping cart and payment gateway, and asked a few friends to confirm that they can find your site and purchase a product, you know that you’re ready for customers. Now you just need to figure out how to make your browsers click the “pay now” button. Here’s our guide to converting your e-commerce window shoppers into purchasers.

First Things First: Use Analytics

This might be an obvious point, but it’s hard to convert window shoppers into customers if you don’t know what your site visitors are doing in the first place. Web analytics software can give you the information you need to know about your customers in order to improve your sales performance.

Google Analytics is a popular, and free, tool for web analytics, but there are also some good paid alternatives out there, including Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud and Adobe Marketing Cloud. Regardless of what approach you decide to take to increase sales, you’ll need good analytics in order to support and improve your efforts.

The Old Approach: Converting with Funnels and A/B Testing

The tried-and-true way of increasing the conversion rate—analytic speak for turning browsers into buyers—is based on two concepts. The first is the notion of the funnel, or a way of structuring traffic reports so one can track how your customers interact with your site. For example, you can see just how many customers who click on the “add to my cart” button then click “check out,” and then click “pay now.”

Funnels make it easy to explore, and even answer, question you have about your customers. Are the customers who arrive to your site via Facebook more likely to make a purchase than those who come from Twitter? How do mobile customers experience your website? What stage of the purchasing process tends to drive away the most customers?

One of the easiest ways to improve your conversion rate is to focus on the areas that your funnels suggest are particularly problematic. If, for example, you find that many customers get to the check out page, and then leave your site, you should do something about your check out page.

While some of your site’s problems are easy to diagnose (see this great guide to making a better shopping cart (, for more advanced issues you might want to try A/B testing. With A/B testing you set up two, or more, versions of the same website, with a slight variation. For example, you can see if a red or blue checkout button is more effective at delivering sales, or if it’s better to ask your customer’s email address or credit card information first. Google’s content experiments make it easy for you to set up and measure A/B tests.

Used in tandem, funnels and A/B tests can help you make your site your more effective. While you’ll still need to get help with figuring out how to improve your site, these two techniques will give you the data you need to ensure that your site is working.

A New Approach: Customer Focused Conversions

The old approach to increasing conversions was focused on improving processes. Improve your product listings, shopping cart design, and checkout process, and sales will surely follow. While you might have personal relationships with your customers on social media, when it came time to analytics everyone was just a number.

Recently, though, there’s been a push to rethink this funnel-and-testing approach, as it neglects those customer relationships you spend so much of your time building. Instead of ignoring the customer data you have at your disposal, you can use it to your advantage, increasing sales in the process.

For example, instead of worrying about cart abandonment as a design issue, you can reach out to customers who abandon their carts by sending them an email reminding them that their item is waiting for them. You can also do things like turn regular, but anonymous, visitors into named customers by asking them a question or two, like what they’re looking for, the next time they visit the site.

If you keep track of these behaviors in your site analytics, you’ll be able to apply some of the same methods you used to improve your site performance to set up targeted behavior marketing. By focusing on your customers, you’ll be able to devise more effective marketing techniques than those that pretend that individual customers don’t matter.

Winning, and Keeping Customers

If someone’s visiting your site to look at your products, you’re already in a very strong position. You know they’re interested in learning more about your products, and could probably be prodded to make a purchase. By making small modifications to your site design, you’ll put yourself in an even better position to win over customers. And, by finding ways to reach out to individual customers you’ll make it easier for you to close the sale when it comes time for them to make a purchase. After all, even the most reluctant purchasers go from window shopping to buying something all the time.


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