In a year marked by a global pandemic, digital shoppers ended their visits to retail sites by completing a purchase at a substantially higher rate than in 2019. The median conversion rate of merchants ranked in the 2021 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000 was 2.9% in 2020, up from 2.2% the prior year. That 29.3% growth in one of the ecommerce industry’s most important key performance indicators is significant, and much of the improvement can be attributed to COVID-19-fueled shifts in consumer behavior.

“It’s extremely difficult to move the needle on conversion rate,” says Rob Garf, vice president of strategy and insights at technology vendor Salesforce Inc. “As a retailer, if you’re seeing even a 0.1%-0.2% basis point increase or a 1% basis point increase, you’re doing backflips. But over the course of 2020, we all were looking for health, safety, convenience and trust, and that drove so many people online to not only browse and discover but to actually purchase at seriously elevated rates.”

What’s particularly remarkable is that the industry achieved the sizable boost despite…


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