Shoppers want to pay the lowest price, have it delivered yesterday and expect a highly sophisticated shopping experience. But there are also less obvious reasons shoppers commit to a purchase with an online retailer, writes Lauren Freedman, consumer insights analyst at Digital Commerce 360.

The usual suspects remain the same when talking success stories regarding conversion online and off. Shoppers want to pay the lowest price, have it delivered yesterday and expect a highly sophisticated shopping experience. Digital Commerce 360’s 2021 survey of 1,047 online shoppers, completed with Bizrate Insights, reveals many of the findings one might expect. Instead of covering all of those, I instead want to share some of the hidden findings that should be of interest to retailers and why they matter. Two of the survey’s questions combined with five of their subsequent answers warrant your attention.  Some may be trending up like the interest in the environment while others like curbside pickup have resulted in behavior shifts likely to be pervasive.

Question #1: What conditions are most likely to lead you to place an order on a retail website when shopping online?

Answer #1: Supporting causes important to me (environment, politics): 13%

With climate change a politically charged issue and a feeling that this is a “now” issue, shoppers are increasingly paying attention to the actions of the companies they might want to do business with. And so are retailers with both traditional companies and digitally native brands addressing this topic. As I host webinars and peruse the web, the messaging is more aggressive than ever and Allbirds is just one example. It has announced its new plant leather, which it will be debuting in December 2021 and shoppers can sign up to be alerted when it is available. Caring for the environment matters more than ever.

Answer #2: The ability to finance an order by paying in installments: 13%


2020 was a challenging year and not all shoppers had the wherewithal to pay for their purchases. The option to finance a purchase took on new meaning. According to Salesforce, the use of “buy now, pay later” for online orders grew 109% during the holidays. On Urban Outfitters’ homepage, shoppers are introduced to Afterpay. Clear instructions in how to take advantage of this financing option are articulated. Digital Commerce 360’s Top 1000 database finds that 40.7% of retailers use these payment options that also include companies like Affirm and Klarna.

Answer #3: Videos including product demonstrations: 13%

While videos saw more limited traction relative to order conversion, I might suggest that their value is much higher due to their niche nature. Video investments should be approached on a category basis to ensure its value is forthcoming where products and category can benefit from the education and inspiration of a video. They serve the shopper well as they both evaluate products and serve as a post-purchase tool. This do-it-yourself (DIY) example from The Home Depot is an excellent display of how shoppers can receive a complete experience and how it might be a differentiator for that brand.

Answer #4: Exclusive products: 17%


Exclusive products benefit retailers as they tend to have higher margins built in. Exclusive products cause 17% of those surveyed to place an order. I would also argue that having unique products always bodes well for retailers as 33% of the retailers surveyed in Digital Commerce 360’s 2021 Performance and Conversion survey shared that exclusive products were very important to optimizing their conversion. This win-win and differentiation should always be on the retailer’s agenda as avoiding commodity products eliminates consumer comparison around price and can result in heightened conversion rates. Neiman Marcus identifies exclusive products at the product page alerting customers at this key juncture.

Answer #5: Easy access to onsite customer service information: 26%

Shoppers appreciate when a retailer makes it easy to get their questions answered. I am one of those people, and Nordstrom delivers a destination to help me do just that. From tracking to returns to paying one’s balance, shoppers can accomplish just what they need. I am pleased to report that the retailer is not afraid to share its toll-free number or to have shoppers contact it via live chat, making it customer-centric in what is often a cold shoulder when it comes to customer service.

Question #2: Beyond the site experience, which of the following are most likely to lead you to place an online order?


Answer #1: Interactions with customer service reps including virtual appointments: 7% 

While a low number of shoppers report conversion today, I believe this will be a transformational tool for retailers. Over the past few months, I have tested these appointments at more than 10 retailers and found my experiences mostly positive. The service levels were high, and I was able to make a connection to the brand that I might not otherwise have received in a busy store or when interacting with a store associate who lacked knowledge. The information shared tended to be focused on my needs, and should I have been conducting these beyond test purposes, I certainly would have been a conversion statistic. Some of the associates even suggested I keep their contact information on file, going the extra mile. REI’s virtual outfitting allows shoppers to book online with a knowledgeable sales associate to expertly guide them through their shopping scenario. They were one of my best experiences.

Answer #2: Social media ad that features products I am interested in: 9% 

Social media advertising is a growing opportunity and especially ripe for younger audiences who frequent sites like Instagram. When asked which advertising locations will most likely result in completing an online purchase, Instagram was selected by 14% of our survey respondents. In perusing Instagram, I came across this sponsored ad for the Mirror. It caught my attention particularly as I had previously viewed this product on the lululemon site. Digital Commerce 360’s 2020 Digital Marketing survey, based on 105 retailers, indicated that 76% of retailers found email the most effective on a 5-point scale, followed by social media at 61%. So conversion acceleration is likely on the social front.


Answer #3: Email that reminds you of items left in your cart: 16%

97% of those surveyed suggested they have abandoned a shopping cart. Retailers have long tried to reach out to these customers in hopes of converting them. While they are not often successful, personally I find it serves as a reminder as 28% of shoppers indicated they got distracted and 44% wanted to save the cart for later as a convenience. This weekend, I had placed a “reserve” order for some replenishment products at Sephora. I was planning to pick them up the following day when I received this clever email, “This is a message from your basket-still want these.” I am not sure why it did not capture my order but perhaps its channels are not integrated. What caught my attention was that I could use my Beauty Insider points against my order. In the past, I was always able to cash them in for products but never able to apply like a gift card. When I went to pick up my product, it took the new associate some time to get it to work. I was happy for the discount and the email reminder while Sephora was happy for the order.

Answer #4: Live chat interaction: 16%

Live chat may not be in the top reasons why shoppers place an order, but I am confident having access to real-time information is invaluable. When I am in a hurry, there is no better way to reach a retailer in hopes of making a final decision, including understanding how and when a promotional code can be accepted. This Aldo example is refreshing as it is proactive in recommending its live chat and letting shoppers know that it is the “fastest way to get in touch with them.” The verbiage also speaks to the two-way respect it expects from its customers and its forthright nature is to be commended.


Answer #5: Option to pick up the order curbside: 19%

While only one in five shoppers suggested that this omnichannel option led them to place an order, its presence was particularly important during COVID-19 and has trained shoppers in a new way to buy. Petco is a perfect example as I typically go to Menards for pet-friendly salt. The retailer wisely incentivizes its shoppers to test out its curbside pickup with a hefty 25% off and I did.  We can only expect that more retailers will continue to offer curbside in the months ahead and that it will be a retailer staple enjoyed by many time-starved shoppers like me. Digital Commerce 360’s Top 1000 database indicates that among the 398 retailers with stores, 40.7% offer curbside pickup.

Of course, the fundamentals like price and delivery will always rise to the top when it comes to convincing shoppers to convert. I would also encourage retailers to keep tabs on everything from customer service to robust content as their impact can be felt as well. Additionally, monitoring some of these elements finds behavioral shifts might be seen with environmentally friendly products, a desire for a virtual appointment or the convenience of a curbside pickup. Today’s low impactor from the conversion perspective may still prove to be important and a revenue-driver tomorrow, so be on the lookout for these hidden opportunities.