Checkout, navigation menus, mobile and site search are four areas where online retailers can realize big gains, sometimes with modest tweaks. A quick re-design of these key site areas can have a major and immediate impact on the bottom line.

Rigel Cable, associate director of strategy and analytics, Fluid

Rigel Cable, associate director of strategy and analytics, Fluid

It’s no secret that checkout and navigation, two of the most important functional areas of retail sites, are often riddled with problems. From usability issues to technical bugs and poor visual design, a quick re-design of these key site areas can have a major and immediate impact on the bottom line:

1. Checkout: “Why is it so hard to buy something?!”

It seems fundamental, but a transactional site must be able to transact. Too often retail sites have cumbersome, multi-page checkout designs full of “glitch” form fields and inoperable buttons.

Checkout optimization is the most impactful place a retail business can focus on improvement, because every unit of improvement corresponds to an increase in completed transactions and sales.


The most important factors in checkout optimizations are simplifying steps are:

  • Mobile usability
  • Form field entry
  • Error messaging
  • Clear actions
  • Progress display
  • Payment validation
As a rule of thumb mobile conversion rate should be half that of desktop.

For this reason, designing single-page, mobile-first checkouts have swift and dramatic results for e-commerce brand clients. By adding a single-page, accordion-style design to its checkout page, John Varvatos saw an eight-point decrease in mobile checkout drop-off, bringing performance into the targeted benchmark range.

2. Navigation Menus: “Does Anyone Have a Map?”

E-commerce sites are often originally designed from the business perspective, or translated from a catalog. This means that the navigational structure and taxonomy of a retail website is often not designed with customer experience in mind. As a benchmark, 50% of shoppers should reach a product page—if that’s not the case, then it’s likely that shoppers are having trouble reaching products.


With the predominance of mega menus, expanding dropdowns, and multi-level “hamburger” navigation on mobile, organizing category and sub-category navigation requires data and user experience expertise. This means that the most common pitfalls with navigation are exposing too many subcategories that are not often browsed, grouping products in ways not intuitive to customers, and not surfacing key sales categories heavily enough.

In successful redesigns, it is important to first analyze the popularity of navigational links from the dropdown menu (hamburger menu on Mobile) and refer to the top-selling categories for the brand. This can be done by removing one layer of nesting across the entire site, and, as a result, shopping pages often immediately receive more traffic because they are easier to reach.

By taking these steps during a recent redesign of the John Varvatos site, Fluid saw a 300% increase in page views of Men’s Jackets, also receiving double- and triple-digit increases in other pageviews versus prior to launch.

3. Mobile: “Tiny screen, big fingers”


Mobile phones have surpassed desktop as the most popular browsing method for e-commerce websites—a pattern smart digital agencies observe across all clients. But, conversion and sales have lagged—mobile shoppers are believed to be on the go and browsing only, but as a rule of thumb mobile conversion rate should be half that of desktop (e.g. if desktop converts at 1.0%, mobile should convert at 0.5%).

The enhancements mentioned above both focus heavily on mobile ease of use—meaning, simplifying checkout and reducing taps to navigate. We have all experienced the frustrations of a bad checkout experience on mobile. But, mobile optimization is not just a one-stop fix, it often means re-factoring an entire site with breakpoints so that it is “responsive” across different screen sizes. It also means fixing mobile friction points like navigation and checkout.

For example, Mobile-first redesign drove a 55% increase in mobile revenue and a 22% increase in mobile conversion rate during the John Varvatos Memorial Day Sale.

4. Bonus: On-Site Search


On-site search can be the highest converting path for retail sites, because searching shoppers are often those who already know what they want to buy. The next steps after someone types in a search phrase on an e-commerce site are crucial to capturing potential sales.

For example, one client who sells apparel and accessories has an e-commerce site with on-site search enabled. Analytics revealed that most search terms received a conversion rate of 2% or better. However, a cluster of search terms related to product color had very low conversion rate, less than 1%.

A number of these low-performing keywords fell within the top 10 most-searched phrases on the site. Testing some of these keywords showed an obvious problem: searching for color phrases displayed a search results page where the product image shown was not set to the color being searched. In order to look at the desired color each product, the shopper would have to click on each product in the search results to go to the product page and switch the product color themselves.

Fixing search result rules to show products in the color being searched could have a fast impact on sales. With 3,000 searches for these color keywords in a short time period and a potential conversion rate of 2%, this optimization could have driven $4,500 in incremental sales.


So, there you have it—retail e-commerce sites must deliver a satisfactory customer experience in order to drive conversion. The problems affecting drop-off or decreased conversion rates may not be major, and might involve straightforward design and engineering fixes. Every e-commerce brand should focus on checkout, navigation, mobile experience, and on-site search. The proof is in the sales.

Fluid is a digital design firm whose retailer clients include The North Face, Benefit Cosmetics and Charlotte Russe. In March, Fluid merged with e-commerce implementation firm Astound Commerce.