A look at what matters most in the shopper’s mind when it comes to buying online, and what it takes to drive conversion.

I’m struck by how many of the basic elements of selling online continue to prevail when it comes to conversion. Digital Commerce 360, in conjunction with Bizrate Insights, surveyed 1,108 online shoppers in January 2022. We asked what makes them complete a purchase on a website, mobile device or app and what might prevent them from making a retail purchase.

To digest this information in the spirit of conversion, I decided to cull the results in the context of 10 elements. This meant taking various aspects of each question and synthesizing them to tell the story of what matters when it comes to conversion.

  1. Free
  2. In-stock
  3. Fast
  4. Trustworthy
  5. Informative
  6. Convenient
  7. Customer-centric
  8. Mobile-minded
  9. Marketing-mandated
  10. Personalized

 1. Free

A range of “money-oriented” conditions must be in place to foster conversion. From a dollar-and-cents perspective, the critical tactics appreciated by online shoppers and integral to retailer selection include free shipping (76%) and the right price (73%). I’m taking the liberty of moving beyond free to other money-saving tactics that resonate and help convert or keep shoppers from abandoning their carts. Of course, other promotions beyond free shipping are welcome, though they don’t have the same impact level at 45% penetration. Email with an enticing promotional offer still gets shoppers’ attention, as 34% cited it.

The cart is an important location where high or unexpected costs can drive shoppers to abandon their selections quickly. High on that list of reasons was the 47% of online shoppers who suggested shipping costs made the total cost of the order more than expected. 41% exited when they didn’t qualify for free shipping. Unexpected additional expenses (tax, white-glove delivery, etc.) also caused abandonment for 25% of shoppers. 24% of respondents abandoned shopping carts after a promotional code wasn’t accepted or was too hard to find. 21% added items to the cart to compare prices, reinforcing the idea that consumers are sensitive to prices.

Free does not only apply to the order. Increasingly, online shoppers have expressed a preference for free return shipping, 60% of those surveys cited.

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An up-and-coming factor driving retailer selection is the ability to finance an order paying with installments, which 13% of respondents cited. And from the cart abandonment point-of-view, it took place when a shopper’s preferred payment option was unavailable for 15% of online buyers.

 2. In-Stock

53% of survey participants focus on product selection, which is often their first step in the buying journey. If ever there was a year when being in stock was important, 54% of the shoppers suggested that being in stock mattered when selecting retailers. From a cart perspective, shoppers typically do not want to wait when products are out-of-stock, or delivery dates are uncertain. Specifically, 30% indicated they would abandon a cart if the items were out-of-stock.

3. Fast

Remember, the user experience is an evolution. The overall experience garners interest among 45% regarding retailer selection. Many of the higher-ranking elements of that experience revolve around “speed,” as online shoppers tend to be on a mission and appreciate saving time. When asked, “which attributes or conditions are most likely to lead you to place an order on a retail website when shopping online,” one can’t

help but see efficiency underlying many of the answers. 29% of respondents cited a fast-loading site. 25% cite site search that returns relevant results, which saves shoppers time, particularly if they have a more complex search. Even a fast checkout with a pre-populated customer profile is a factor for 20% of shoppers surveyed. Reinforcing that sentiment was a checkout process that was too long and/or confusing, which led to abandonment among 14% of online shoppers.

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Of course, fast was also critical when it came to shipping. Online shoppers expect fast shipping and desire guaranteed delivery times. The retailer’s ability to ship fast may matter most in the selection, as 66% of survey respondents identified. 43% also desired guaranteed delivery times as certainty became more critical amid supply chain woes.

From a fast perspective, cart abandonment took place for 24% when the delivery date did not meet their needs. 15% abandoned their carts when they found no guaranteed delivery date.

4. Trustworthy

Shoppers have long memories, and past experiences with retailers are important. Trust in the brand drives retailer selection for 53% of online shoppers surveyed. That trust most often comes from one’s experience with a retailer, as 58% indicated. More specifically, 41% factored these experiences into completing an omnichannel transaction. Additionally, as retailers take more active political and social stances, supporting causes important to shoppers seems to rise in importance, as 14% suggested. Also, 10% abandoned carts when they didn’t trust the seller.

5. Informative

Customers are focused on information and imagery that educates them about products of interest. They have come to appreciate both the quality and quantity of product reviews. Most respondents (51%) identified both as important to retailer selection. Additionally, 39% expect that retailers will provide ample product information and imagery. While videos, including product demonstrations, were important to 14%, they can be essential in categories such as home, beauty and toys.

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6. Customer-centric

Customer-centric has many connotations, and my focus is on customer service. More specifically: customer interactions. One of those is a straightforward/easy return policy, which 46% of shoppers saw as a factor in their retailer selection criteria. Easy access to onsite customer service should be a given, though only 25% cited it.

The quality of customer interactions counts toward subsequent conversion, according to 27% of those surveyed. Email’s likelihood of resulting in conversion is high at 49%. A phone call follows close behind at 33%. Newer touch point conversion likelihood with text is formidable at 20%, while 22% of shoppers use social media. Tweeting to customer service had little impact on conversion at 4%.

I want to call out live chat and the fact that interactions with human beings impacted conversion at 43%, with bot-related interactions only seeing conversion relevance with 14% of survey respondents. In-store interactions have an important ability to aid conversions with a rousing 30% conversion incidence. Appointments more specifically saw more limited conversion results with in-store appointments, with associates at 8% and virtual appointments at 5%, respectively.

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7. Convenient

When it comes to selection, the convenience dynamic was formidable. Omnichannel flexibility initiatives that would most likely lead to orders started with the option to pick up in store. 25% cited buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), and the 17% have embraced curbside pickup. Another 19% expressed a preference to purchase from a local retailer. Convenience also means channel switching; 15% of those who abandoned their carts decided to buy at the store instead.

Looking in-depth at factors that drive omnichannel purchasing, product availability tops the list of conversion elements at 66%. Beyond that, it’s all about location, location, location. The No. 2 conversion factor was proximity to store location, at 60%. The type of pickup location is important to 27%. And 16% cited weather, the size of the store footprint or the number of designated parking spaces.

Logistics and conveniences also propel omnichannel purchasing. The retailer’s ability to quickly turn around orders is critical as the time when an order can be ready for pickup was a factor for 54%. The number of stores with inventory availability was of lesser importance but still provided choice for 24% of shoppers. Communication options can enhance the experience, and it’s always convenient to have the option to notify the store that you’re on your way as 24% suggested, all serving to streamline their visits. Geolocation also can speed things up for omnichannel shoppers, as 12% noted, as the technology detects the proximity to the store.

Lastly, another element of convenience is how shoppers choose to use the cart. There, 44% want to save it for later, and 25% who are like me got distracted and forgot.

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8. Mobile-minded

More shoppers are using mobile to research and buy. According to Adobe Analytics, 43% of online sales in the 2021 holiday season came via smartphones, coming in at $88 billion overall. But there are more growth opportunities.

Inhibitors to mobile usage are all about slow load times (33%), too much scrolling (32%), and too many steps to buy (26%). Meanwhile, 31% of users find the desktop easier or faster.

Mobile phone users require efficient shopping experiences that consider the user experience (UX) needs of the device to convert.

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Problematic issues that limit the shopper’s ability to convert include:

  • Cumbersome navigation: 31%
  • Difficult checkout: 26%
  • Poorly laid out information: 25%
  • Mobile site not optimized: 24%
  • Imagery does not render well or is too small: 23%
  • Content does not appear properly: 21%
  • Navigational button size: 16%

Not all shoppers wish to complete their shopping on a smartphone, so abandonment rates shown may not have been a selection criteria. Regardless, 4% still wrote in “Don’t own/use smartphone to shop” as their “other” response.

The app is a capability that can be appealing to online shoppers. Other conversion-related findings included a quality mobile app, 19% cited in selecting a retailer. A retailer that doesn’t have a mobile app was in play for 18%, while from an omnichannel point-of-view, the sophistication of the retailer’s app factored into purchasing for 8%.

9. Marketing-driven

Marketing initiatives such as abandonment email, retargeting and social media have more limited effectiveness when it comes to conversion.

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The numbers were as follows:

  • Shopping cart abandonment emails: 15%
  • Retargeting: 11%
  • Social media ad products of interest: 10%

Amazon is the powerhouse in terms of clicking on ads and converting orders (45%), with sponsored ads not as influential (10%). Facebook tops the list of social advertising that drives conversion (33%) with Instagram (19%), YouTube (16%) and TikTok (9%) following their lead. Email still captures shopper attention and drives conversion, according to 39% of participants, while TV advertising remains relevant at 19%.

10. Personalized

Personalizing the site experience should be a priority, given its potential to drive conversion. From a site perspective, the homepage presentation makes 44% of shoppers more likely to convert. Recommendations based on prior purchase behavior run close behind at 41%. Meanwhile, those based on browsing come in at a comparable 39%. Just focusing on these three elements should help drive conversion.

From an email/advertising perspective, cart abandonment emails should be activated given their ability to remind shoppers of past browsing. That makes 29% more likely to purchase on a retailer’s website. Additionally, there are opportunities with post-purchase communication emails based on prior behavior (18%) and retargeting ads (16%).

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Conversion Charts 

The following charts support this story and provide insights on both conversion and abandonment.

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