ECommerce Conversion Killers
Find Them and Fix Them

After spending significant company resources on your ecommerce website, you want to make sure you get the best return on your investment. There are some common ecommerce mistakes that can kill your conversion rates. It is really important to be aware of these, find them on your website and fix them as soon as you can. The purpose of this session is to help you do that. On an existing eCommerce website, this session will tell you what to look for. If you are in the process of building a new website, then this can be used as a guide for what not to do. The caveat to this, is that every business is different and each of these points needs to assessed within the context of each individual ecommerce website. Due to the nature of the products being sold, there may be a case to be argued in favour of some of the things mentioned in this paper. If they are working for your business, then we are not suggesting you change them based on this session, but only that you consider the effectiveness for your individual website.

You probably already know it but if you don’t, the first thing to do is find out your abandoned cart rate. Google Analytics will tell you how many site visitors have abandoned carts or bounced out of the checkout page. You need to know this number of course, as painful as it is but once you know then what can you do to reduce it? What changes can you make to prevent these last-minute abandonments and increase your online sales? Based on our experience and research we have identified the 6 top conversions killers and provided suggestions for how to fix them.  

1) Nasty Surprises

Be upfront about shipping, handling or any other costs associated with the purchase. Don’t try and slip them in at the end, no one likes it when you think you are getting a bargain only to be hit with extra charges at the checkout stage. Unexpected charges are the single biggest culprit for abandoned carts.  A Forrester report commissioned by UPS revealed that shipping costs are the biggest contributor to cart abandonment with 56% of abandoned carts being due to unexpected shipping. An eCommerce statistics report commissioned by VWO in 2014 claims that 28% of shoppers will abandon their cart if hit with unexpected shipping charges. A survey conducted by eConsultancy in 2011 noted that 74% of abandoned carts was due to unexpected shipping or other charges.

What’s the fix?

Where possible, offer free shipping. There are many studies to prove it, people just love getting something for nothing, or even the idea that we are. Giving away something for free can even increase your sales. If the business has to charge for shipping, then make sure that this is clearly articulated early in the buying process.  If it is possible to offer free shipping then this can be used as a competitive advantage, free shipping is very popular with online shoppers. 86 % of online shoppers say free shipping is “either important or very important” to them when making a purchase online, according to a poll from the National Retail Federation (2015).

ecommerce conversion killers - remove surprises
ecommerce conversion killers - don't force users into creating an account

2) Compulsory Account Creation

Forcing users to create accounts can be a barrier to purchase. According to VWO in their 2014 eCommerce Survey 23% of users will abandon their shopping cart if they have to create a compulsory user account. The decision to force account creation depends on the type of business and product being sold. 

What’s the fix?

A guest checkout option will allow your customers to purchase your products and move quickly through the checkout process. You will still collect the basic information which can be used for future marketing and communication purposes. Opinion is divided on the benefits of guest accounts so it does depend on your situation, the type of online business and the kind of customers you are targeting.

Compulsory accounts may be a necessary evil, and could benefit your customers as much as your business, assisting with such things as customer service, order tracking or repeat orders. In this case keeping the account creation process as streamlined and smart as possible will really help. For example,  Colliers Canada designed a wizard that alters the sign-up form depending on the choices made by the signee. That means the user is guided through the sign-up process and is only required to enter data relevant to their criteria choices. This clever design has the effect of making the account creation process a lot more efficient and appear easier to the signee.

3) Design Confusion

If the path to purchase is unclear and the user doesn’t know where to go then they will quickly bounce out of the site and on to your competitors. Carefully consider the User Experience of the website with solid testing from multiple groups and carefully consider the feedback and results. Visitors to your website should never get to the point where they have to ask “where do I go now?”. 

What’s the fix?

Call to action buttons such as Buy Now should be distinctly contrasted by colour or shading. Good cart or ‘basket’ (as they say in the UK) design is key and there are best practice recommendations for this. Asos has done a particularly good job with this. Small changes here can make a big difference. One great option is to have a cart that changes shade or prominence when new items are added.

ecommerce conversion killers - ensure path to purchase is clear
ecommerce conversion killers - be good at customer service

4) Poor Customer Service

Customer service is important before, during and after your customer purchases your product. If you want them to come back, then it is important to ensure the customer has a positive experience. Focusing on your customers and making sure their expectations are consistently met is critical to your website’s success,” says Buffy Simoni, president, Paper Mart  

What’s the fix?

In order to meet customer expectations, you need to understand what they are. Communicating with your customers is key and one way to do this by online chat. One essential tool that we use constantly is a chat box,” says Rob Boirun, CEO, Flagtopia.com. “Once we added this to our ecommerce store we saw a 245% increase in sales. What we offer typically needs customization, and by offering an easy entryway to start communication when the customer is needing it, we are now able to provide the expected customer service in real time. [Live chat is] becoming more popular these days and I would suggest that this is a required component going forward.” Online chat doesn’t work for every business. It is only applicable if there are dedicated resources available to support this tool. I have seen several companies implement live chat only to realise later that they simply didn’t have enough customer service representatives to support it. Then subsequently remove it. There other tools available and it’s about careful consideration and planning the right tool for the current resources available to each company. One example of a New Zealand online retailer company doing a great job with this is HealthPost.

5) Insufficient Information or Assurances

There are many different consumer purchasing models and the reasons why consumers buy certain products and not others, have been widely studied since the 1960’s. These studies are equally applicable to online retailers as brick and mortar outlets and we can leverage this information for ecommerce websites. The customer buying cycle is the most obvious one. There are 5 stages to the Customer Buying Cycle. (Engell Blackwell & Kollet).

  1.        Awareness
  2.        Consideration
  3.        Preference
  4.        Purchase
  5.        Repurchase

The amount of time that a customer spends on step 2 – the consideration stage of the buying cycle, is directly related to the value or ‘level of involvement’ of the proposed item for sale. Low value or low involvement products such as FMCG items involve low risk to the customer and they are less likely to suffer from buyer’s remorse or ‘post purchase dissonance’ after purchasing these products. The more expensive the item, the higher the level of involvement and, therefore, the greater the risk of buyer’s remorse to the customer. 

What’s the fix?

On that basis, it’s important particularly with higher value items, to provide all relevant information regarding the product to inform the customer and reduce the perception of risk to the purchaser. Online retailers can reassure prospective customers with, security logos, product warranty’s, options to exchange the product, recommendations from previous customers and other applicable guarantees. 

ecommerce conversion killers - guarantees and assurances
ecommerce conversion killers - use personalisation

6) One size fits all – (Not Really)

One size definitely does not fit all. Your online customers are unique and need to treated as such. Everybody likes to be recognized and to feel special. So how do you personalize a website users online experience? There are several ways to do this, usually most ecommerce retailers can split their customers into two groups, those with accounts and those without. It is possible to deploy personalization techniques for both groups so what are some of the options?

What’s the fix?

Personalised Content

Create content that is relevant and meaningful to your customers. Amazon is a great example of how to do this. Amazon provides recommendations based on recently viewed items, browsing history and previous purchases. If I have been searching books about ecommerce websites and marketing theory, then these preferences will be collected and future recommendations will consider them. Even though these companies have serious budgets and in house teams to develop the technology for these techniques, we can still learn from what they do well and try to adopt these techniques for smaller companies. James Gambrell, CEO of  Fits.me believes that personalization is “critical to current and future success”. 

Reward repeat customers

Customers that have purchase d your products have chosen your brand over your competitors. These customers deserve to be rewarded. The easiest way to do this is with some kind of loyalty program, however, the way these work in the future is likely to be very different to how they work today.

Discount abandoned cart items

Offer discounts to customers that leave products abandoned in shopping carts. 54% of shoppers have stated they would be interested in purchasing items that they previously abandoned if they were contacted and offered a discount.

Use Cookies

cookie is a piece of text that a web server can store on a user’s hard disk. Cookies allow a web site to store information (name-value pairs) on a user’s machine and later retrieve it. This allows the website to recognise your computer as you move around the website. The next time you go to the website, your previous activity will be stored and used to guide you around the site this time. In essence the website will see that you looked at information about website design books previously and offer you the latest books about your previously chosen topic of website design.


Retargeting or behavioral marketing is a form of marketing that attempts to get people back to your website if they have been there before. Have you ever noticed that you were searching for information about websites and then later on when searching for something completely different you see adverts from website companies? That is retargeting in action and it works best in conjunction with other marketing activities such inbound or outbound marketing as a component of a larger overall strategy.

Sharron Martin

Author: Sharron Martin
Published: 03/03/2017