Over the past year, Symphony has re-launched wide range of ecommerce websites. Depending on which platform the brand migrated from, we typically see 10 – 50% increase in conversion rate. How is Symphony able to achieve such consistent results? Here are the five key areas that we focus on to improve the customer experience and drive more sales.
Page Load Speed
Everyone hates to wait, and impatient consumers can’t be bothered to wait for your slow website to finish loading. Every second counts – especially for mobile shoppers. In fact, 40% of consumers will abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Speed up your site by cleaning up code bloat, use image compression, defer non-essential scripts, and cache locally.
There are so many benefits to responsive design like improved SEO, consistent site experience on mobile and desktop, and faster load speeds due to the streamlined codebase. In the last year, we’ve seen a massive shift away from desktop shopping. In fact, across our brands, we typically see 50% or more visitors shopping via a smart phone or tablet. Bottom line, if your site –especially your site’s checkout – isn’t optimized for mobile, you’re leaving money on the table
Expand Catalog Navigation
Symphony’s robust catalog navigation ensures that describe search, filtering, tagging, and pagination all work together with shareable links and without refreshes. When we released this for a large apparel brand we saw an immediate 30% boost to conversion rates because shoppers were able to find the products they want in the sizes they need.
Sticky Shopping Cart
In A/B tests, sticky carts provided a visual nudge that gets customers to make the transition from shopping to buying. Simply displaying the contents of the shopping cart (instead of allowing the shopping cart to roll back up) increased the likelihood that visitors would begin checkout by over 35%, with the biggest increases happening on mobile and tablets. Best of all, average order value (AOV) and shopping cart completion rates remained constant: more people starting the checkout resulted in more people completing checkout which translates to more revenue for our clients.
Exit Intent Technology
According to a recent benchmark study, many conversion rates (from visiting a page to checking out) are less than 1%. “Exit intent technology” has emerged as one of the most powerful ways to re-engage the other 99% of visitors on your site. Exit intent technology detects when a user is about to leave your site, and triggers a pop-up ad with an incentive or promotion in exchange for an email address. This works on two levels:
- Instant coupons such as “save 20%” or “free shipping” are powerful incentives to buy now.
- Email capture arms brands with an inexpensive way to follow up with the visitor after the session with additional offers and promotions.
Sites that employ exit intent pop-ups garner up to 400% higher email opt-ins than sites that don’t use exit intent pop-ups.
At Symphony, we’ve developed a streamlined approach to boosting conversion rates for new clients. First, our technology is built with speed in mind so visitors enjoy blazingly fast load times and site navigation. Second, all of our sites use responsive design to leverage mobile and tablet traffic. Third, best in class catalog navigation helps customers quickly locate the exact product they want. Fourth, we launch all brands with sticky shopping carts which have been proven to increase the number of shoppers who start checkout. Finally, we include exit intent technology to offer promotions to defecting visitors, and capture emails for targeted marketing follow up. This culminates in significant conversion rate improvements for our clients across all verticals.
Anyone who runs a business knows that there are two key drivers for additional revenue: either increase conversions or increase customer engagement. Put another way, sell more to your existing customers and/or sell to new customers.
If your marketing efforts are bringing sufficient traffic to your web store, then conversion rate optimization is the key to unlock additional revenue. Are site navigation, searching, and filtering features helping customers find the right product? Are cross sells effective at showcasing more products to customers? Is your checkout flow encouraging or discouraging purchases?
But once you’ve solved these major problems, the next step is to identify small tweaks that can cause big changes in customer behavior. By testing what works for your customers, you can gain an edge over competitors and deliver a more enjoyable checkout process to every customer.
This is where the concept of the conversion funnel comes in. You’ve probably thought about this already. How many site visitors are coming from my marketing efforts? How many people completed checkout?
Once you get the results and see the drop off in numbers between the users coming into your site and the users actually buying from your site, you’ll see that many potential customers drop out at various stages of the conversion funnel.
In order to maximize the effectiveness of the conversion funnel, Symphony Commerce breaks it down into ten steps. This allows us to set granular goals and accurately gauge performance against them. For example, improving engagement doesn’t directly impact conversion. If the only thing we track is conversion, we’ll miss any engagement improvement. Likewise, if we only track conversion rate between the first and last steps, then any improvements at earlier steps of the funnel will be diluted at the end. A visitor to shopper ratio of 100% will only result in approximately 1% increase in revenue, because of the attrition throughout the rest of the funnel.
With mobile commerce comprising more and more of our clients’ revenue, we noticed a gap between mobile traffic and mobile conversions. Some clients were already accruing more than 50% of their traffic from mobile and tablets, yet the conversion rates on these devices was less than 30%. Specifically, mobile shoppers were 50% less likely than desktop shoppers to start the checkout process.
Conventional wisdom suggests that shoppers are using their phones to look up information with the intention of purchasing the item later on a computer or in person at the store. According to Google, 90% of smartphone shoppers use their phone for pre-shopping activities.
But we wondered: could we nudge some of those mobile shoppers to actually start (and complete) their order on their phone?
Our hypothesis is that visual prompts will encourage checkout engagement. Symphony’s “Sticky Cart Split Test” was designed to see if we could increase sales and enhance the shopping experience by changing just one aspect of our standard checkout flow. Specifically, will consumers be more likely to start the checkout process if the shopping cart is more visible?
We designed an experiment to show some customers a stickier shopping cart banner after they added a product to the cart. The experiment was conducted across several client sites where we could accrue enough traffic in a short amount of time to achieve statistically significant results.
To eliminate any effects of seasonality, we created an A/B test where 50% of site visitors were our control group, and would experience the original checkout flow. In this flow, when a shopper adds an item to the cart, the shopping cart drops down and then rolls back up after 5 seconds.
Here’s what the sticky cart looks like on a desktop or tablet browser. The cart does not roll up after 5 seconds; it stays visible until the customer clicks away.
Here’s the smaller version of the sticky cart that is seen on mobile.
The remaining 50% of visitors were shown an altered flow. When the shopper adds an item to the cart, the same shopping cart drops down. However, it remains static until the customer takes an action (such as tapping elsewhere on the page).
We ran the test for 20 days in early June with 134K visitors.
- Tablet N = 7,188
- Mobile N = 51,630
- Desktop N = 75,076
Because the customer experience is dramatically different across web, tablet, and mobile, we tracked results separately to see how each group performed.
- Mobile users who were shown the new sticky cart drop down were 92% more likely to start the checkout process: a HUGE change resulting from a small UI change.
- Tablets users also were 85.6% more likely to start the checkout process.
- Desktop users were 8.1% more likely to start the checkout process.
Overall, the consumers who were exposed to the extended shopping cart were 35% more likely to initiate check out.
CONCLUSION AND NEXT STEPS
Sticky carts, it seems, really do provide a visual nudge that gets customers to make the transition from shopping to buying.
There were two additional considerations for further down the conversion funnel. First, if we made it easier to check out quickly, will it prevent people from browsing and adding more products to their cart? Second, if we dramatically increased the number of checkouts started, would we observe an increase in abandoned checkouts because some of the new shoppers were less qualified?
Our concerns were unfounded. Expected revenue for the test group and the baseline group were almost identical, so we did not encounter any erosion in AOV. Likewise, there was no statistically significant difference for conversion rates. Thus, by encouraging more shoppers to initiate checkout (with the same AOV and the same conversion rate), the sticky shopping cart increased our clients’ revenue.
Thanks to our cloud-based infrastructure and agile ecommerce platform, Symphony Commerce implemented Sticky Shopping Carts across our entire network with minimal friction. Clients did not have to manually upgrade, opt-in to a program, or pay extra for this feature. Symphony – a company dedicated to democratizing commerce – implemented this newly confirmed best practice to every client. When we get the data in hand, Symphony will continue to innovate and experiment in order to deliver the best shopping experience and induce greater ROI.
With the holidays rapidly approaching, retailers are focused on product development and marketing planning to prepare themselves for the busiest season of the year. But what about your sales tax strategy? Making sense of complicated tax jurisdictions may not be much fun, but it is a critical compliance requirement to avoid fines and costly audits.
Byzantine sales taxes have been around since the end of the Great Depression. State coffers were bankrupt, and the sales tax was introduced in an attempt to collect much needed operating funds. Fast-forward to 2014, and states are still losing an estimated $23 billion a year in uncollected sales taxes from Web retailers.
Amazon’s explosive growth galvanized states to implement local laws to try to force the online retailer to pay sales tax for items sold to its residents, even if Amazon wasn’t based in that state. Called “Amazon Laws,” states sought to place the burden of sales tax collection firmly on Amazon, not the consumer.
Before Amazon Laws, sales tax was computed based on a complex set of rules based on a business’ “nexus” for retailers operating in multiple states. Nexus is a tax law term to describe a situation in which a business has a presence in a state, whether it’s a main office, a branch, or a retailer outlet. If a business has a nexus in a state, it’s subject to that state’s income and sales taxes.
This is why it’s important to ask questions like: Do you hire marketers or sales people that operate outside of your HQ? Do you attend trade shows in another state? Do you operate warehouses across the country? If you do, you’re operating a nexus in those states, making you subject to local and state tax laws.
How do the Amazon Laws impact online retailers doing business in multiple states? In addition to nexus, if you sell goods in CA, NY, FL or TX, you are legally required to pay sales tax on orders shipped to those state, regardless of where your company is physically located. And more states are implementing similar legislation to try to hold online retailers responsible for sales tax collection and remittance.
There are 11,000 tax jurisdictions in the U.S. alone; each state and municipality has their own tax rules. Not only that, but different products are taxed differently in different jurisdictions. For example, take food and beverages. Beverages should be tax-exempt, right? Not if it’s soda pop, which bizarrely means “fizzy water” needs to be taxed.
What if your customers place an order with both still water and fizzy water? What about wholesale orders? And if you ship internationally, does that mean you have additional tariffs to deal with as well? It’s important to figure out the right way to apply sales tax to your products, because businesses that don’t get it right can face stiff penalties.
One of the most difficult and time-consuming parts of implementing sales tax software is connecting each product category, and in some cases individual product SKUs. Besides the complexity associated with trying to figure out taxes down to the product level, online sellers are at risk for time-consuming, expensive audits. On top of that, IRS audits are not limited to the current tax year: the IRS may ask for all of your sales tax records retroactively for the past 6 years. And as you grow, the IRS takes a more active interest in your business. Even if you’ve got your sales tax buttoned up now that you’re a $10MM business and you can afford an experienced accounting firm, will you be able to weather an audit into your first two years as a start up?
To get around this, many ecommerce platforms recommend that sellers increase the product price to bake in a flat rate tax buffer (“All applicable taxes included in the price!”) This way brands avoid being targeted for unfair business practices by the “Main Street” merchants and collect some amount of tax revenue. However, that pushes the heavy task of figuring out your actual tax liability until the end of the year.
Beyond that, charging a flat tax on all items means that some customers are paying too much tax, and some customers aren’t paying enough tax. If you’re overtaxing customers, it means that you are needlessly raising prices on your products, which puts you at a competitive disadvantage.
Without automation, brands have to manually reconcile sales tax at the end of the year. This can involve filing extensions, hiring expensive accountants, and due to the manual process, increased risk for mistakes that could trigger an audit. For the reasons stated above, even if you charged a flat sales tax on every order, you still could end up owing a sizable tax bill to the IRS that comes directly from your bottom line.
The benefits of sales tax automation are manifest. Automating sales tax calculation saves time, money and effort. Sales tax software should instantly apply the correct sales tax based on accurate product and locality taxability rules.
- Set the codes once, then let the software do the rest.
- You can relax if you don’t actually know the tax codes. Most software only require that you know how to properly categorize your products (shoes, umbrellas, soda, nutritional supplements, etc.)
- Enjoy automatic rate adjustments. If tax rates change for a particular tax, your customers will start paying the correct rate as soon as the software updates the database (which is often). Since they specialize in taxes, they can update codes across jurisdictions faster than most individual companies.
- Tax season’s less scary when you know you have your ducks in a row. Many software providers can pull all your tax info directly into your tax software.
- Going international? Many solutions come with VAT and International taxing built-in. So when you’re ready to sell overseas, you can do so without worrying about how to charge taxes.
Since taxes are not a revenue stream, we believe strongly that high growth brands should figure out how to use technology or outsource arduous tasks like these to maximize efficiency. For sales tax software, the name of the game is to minimize the chances of getting an audit, reduce the time required to file taxes, and focus core business resources on revenue producing activities.
After fighting Amazon Laws in multiple states, Amazon reversed its position, and now, along with Walmart, supports the Marketplace Fairness Act, which Amazon hopes will standardize the tax structure and avoid state-by-state laws for all internet retailers – not just Amazon. The key takeaway is that tax laws are changing to include all online retailers – not just the big guys.
Wish your site ranked higher on Google’s search algorithm? Starting last week, all Symphony sites do.
Have you ever noticed that some website starts with “HTTPS” instead of “HTTP?” That extra “S” stands for “Secure.” Essentially, it means there’s an extra layer of encryption in the data between the browser and the site (Forbes does a good job of explaining it). Google recently announced they’re starting to use HTTPS as a rankings signal, meaning sites using HTTPS will rank higher than sites using HTTP.
Symphony sites have always run on HTTPS, so they’ll automatically see a rankings boost. Our philosophy is this: while you dedicate yourself to creating the best content for your site, we’ll worry about security, stability, speed, and the rest.
Symphony is committed to providing best-in-class security across all our sites. On the Qualys SS Labs test, our sites achieved “A” scores in security when they followed our best practices. A rankings boost on Google is now a nice bonus. High fives all around
Wanderlust’s vibrantly dyed organic cotton lasts and lasts. Or does it?
Previous posts have stressed the revenue benefits of great product copy. Great copy increases conversions and reduces returns: it’s why brands choose names like “Va-Va Las Vegas” over “Red #471.” Great product copy also builds credibility: if your customer gets exactly what she expected, she is more likely to post a positive review, tell a friend, and most importantly, purchase from you again.
But what makes great product copy? Here are five tips to developing outstanding copy, with an eye on boosting sales.
1. Lead with the WHY?
The #1 mistake ecommerce sites make is wasting precious space telling a customer WHAT they’re buying. Remember, the most precious real estate in writing is the first two sentences: don’t waste that space with mundane descriptions like “Dark wash, denim, capri jeans” or “A set of cotton sheets, including 2 pillowcases, a flat sheet, and a fitted sheet.” These facts are largely self-explanatory, not very inspiring, and usually provide information overlap with your photos.
Instead, engage your customer’s imagination by sharing WHY she needs your product. Don’t be afraid to jump right in and tell her how you’re different from your competition.
“Roll up your hems for a day at the beach, or wear these jeans long for a night on the town. These babies were made to turn heads everywhere you go.”
“3 cents a night is all you’ll pay for the world’s best sleep on the world’s softest cotton.”
By using the most valuable space to showcase your brand’s narrative, you accomplish two goals. First, you create a more engaged customer who is more likely to like and trust your brand. Second, you turn every product page into a branding opportunity that helps your business gain a stronger market identity.
2. Speak to your audience.
While you’re brainstorming how to tell the WHY of your product, don’t forget to keep your audience in mind. You may want to spend some time and money figuring out who buys your products. Or, at the very least, you should sit down and think about who you WANT to buy your products. A target audience of 25-50 year old women is going to respond to a different narrative than 18-30 year old men.
“Don’t be surprised if your friends ask what your secret is! JavaPlus antioxidant-enriched coffee might just brighten your smile and put extra pep in your step”
“New job? Big presentation? Don’t blow your big day by running out of energy. JavaPlus antioxidant-enriched coffee can help you feel more energized and focused all day without the crash of sugary energy drinks.”
3. Exude authority.
You’re the expert on your product, so say it like you mean it! Customers who shop online often seek education and information, not just tangible products. If you make your site informative, engaging, and fun to shop, they’ll return time and time again just to read what you write. You may not make a sale every time, but you’ll gradually build a loyal base of long-term repeat customers and brand ambassadors.
4. Invite your customers to be your marketers.
Don’t leave product reviews to chance. Reviews from verified buyers can increase your trustworthiness or destroy your credibility. Imagine a product with the glowing promise of “Wanderlust’s vibrantly dyed organic cotton lasts and lasts.” Which of the following reviews would you want to appear on your product page
”My t-shirt faded after one wash.”
“Backpacked through Europe with nothing but Wanderlust T-Shirts, and they’re still going strong!”
One review basically calls you a liar, while the other helps dispel doubts about your claim.
Your ecommerce analytics should allow you to systematically follow up with customers and personalize your communications based on product and purchase date. The goal is to increase the probability of winning a positive review, and then prominently feature these reviews on product pages and across social media.
You can go a step further by actively seeking out your best customers. Invite them to share stories on a “Our Customers Love Us” page, be featured in a promotional email, write a guest blog, or post photos to your social media pages. The more customers you can encourage to participate, the stronger your branding and customer loyalty will become.
5. Don’t forget the details.
At the end of the day, however, customers still need to know what they’re buying. Yes, sparkling product copy will sell more than boring descriptions. But after you draw customers in with the uniqueness and desirability of what you’re selling, they will want to double check that it’s a solid purchase.
That’s where traditional product copy comes into play. It’s still important to give customers information like size, color, materials, care instructions, etc. With fashion and apparel items, or big-ticket purchases, guarantees and clear return information can often make or break a purchase. Great product copy helps customers overcome their fears and minimizes the risks associated with online shopping.
Changing up your product copy is a quick, affordable and fun way to provide a better customer experience. Give it a try, you might just see an uptick in sales!
Fraud is a big deal. The average profit for ecommerce businesses is 2%, and the average fraud rate for the industry is 0.09%. In other words, fraudulent claims consume about 4.5% of industry profits: an estimated $3.5 billion lost to online fraud.
Small businesses are at even greater risk. Not only are small businesses less sophisticated in detecting fraud, but small businesses generally lack the resources – time and expertise – to do a good job of processing fraudulent claims. In fact, businesses under $5MM often do not bother tackling fraud at all, and swallow fraudulent claims as a cost of doing business.
But there’s good news, too. No matter what size your business, there are easy steps you can take to reduce the impact of fraud on your bottom line.
Watch out for these two main types of fraud:
- Credit card fraud, and
- Friendly fraud, returns, and credits requests.
If you’ve selected a reputable payment gateway (there are over 70 ecommerce gateways), chances are that your credit card processing company is already doing a pretty good job scanning for credit card scams. Standard features include asking for CVC codes, matching addresses, and validating numbers against their database to see if the card number has been flagged in the past.
The key here is make sure your business is working with a company that has a strong track record in fraud prevention, keeps your customer’s details secure, and gives your customers the confidence to transact with you online. So even though most people associate fraud with fake credit card numbers, credit requests actually comprise the majority (58%) of fraud claims.
In other words, the highest exposure to fraud is occurring due to subpar customer communications, not malicious intent.
Proactive merchants can take a more disciplined approach to combatting chargebacks to reduce profit-eroding claims. Typical examples include:
- Customer didn’t recognize the business name on their credit card statement, so customer reversed the charges
- Item isn’t what the customer ordered, or doesn’t work/fit/look as promised
- Return policy was unclear so customer did a chargeback instead of taking the time to return the item
- Item was damaged during shipment
- Customer couldn’t track the package in progress, so customer cancelled the order before it arrived
- Item was delivered, but customer was unaware of delivery (someone else signed for package)
Here are steps merchants can implement to immediately reduce the incidence of these types of claims.
1. Ensure the name and description on the credit card statement matches the name of the online store where the customer made the purchase (example: Dave’s Flowers or www.davesflowers.com, not DFCo.) This is especially true for small businesses that may not have high brand recognition, or are operating as a DBA. Customers are less likely to reverse a charge they recognize.
2. The easiest way to reduce returns is to start with great product descriptions, photos, videos, and reviews.
- Writing great product copy is an art form, but at its simplest level product copy must deliver an authentic and realistic description. Customers who receive exactly what the product copy promises are less likely to return items.
- Clear return policies (and ease of returns) might not prevent returns, but they will cut back on chargebacks. Admittedly, the business takes the hit on unpacking and re-shelving, but a modest return shipping fee (or better yet, free returns) encourages customers to “do the right thing” instead of a merely reversing the credit card charges.
3. Tightly integrate purchase data with fulfillment tracking. Customers who believe they have not received their package, or who can’t access shipment tracking are more likely to cancel an order. At a minimum, your shipping provider must provide package tracking to customers. Merchants must be able to quickly access inventory, fulfillment, and shipment tracking data to respond promptly and efficiently to damage or non-delivery claims.
Even if your business doesn’t have an API integration between your online store and all of your logistics partners, creating a well-defined plan to track your inventory as it moves from vendor to vendor to customer is a critical step to reducing time and money spent on claims. By focusing on these areas – select payment gateways with best in class fraud prevention techniques, use a consistent brand name across all customer communications, write great product and return copy, and tightly integrate your order and fulfillment tracking – your business can significantly reduce fraud occurrences.
Fraud will never go away, but you can reduce your profit loss and protect your business from preventable fraud claims.