2010 has been called the year of Conversion Optimisation, in some circles even the new SEO (sorry guys but I’ve honestly heard it!). The process of turning visitors into customers however, has been around for much longer than the last few years.
The print industry has been split testing adverts for many years before websites came along. Serving different ads in their publications across different locations to gauge the effectiveness of alternative messages has been a trick used by newspapers for a very long time.
The agricultural world too has been in on the act for even longer; but instead of testing language or calls to action, they had to discover which combinations of crops, livestock and soil produced the most profitable harvests. Using a multivariate approach allowed them to reach this conclusion much quicker than trying a permutation each season.
Jump forward to the 20th century and it is the supermarket chains who really took the concept to another level. From loss leading products to self checkout tills, supermarkets have always been on the look out for ways to empower shoppers to part with their hard earned money. Have you ever noticed that when you walk into one of the big brand supermarkets you can smell fresh baked bread? Well it’s no coincidence; research proves that shoppers are more likely to purchase more stock when shopping whilst hungry. Fruit and veg usually at the front of the store right? This gives a healthy and fresh feel to the shop when customers walkthrough the door putting them in a more positive frame of mind.
This got me thinking; if the customer testing path has been walked before, what lessons can we learn from these real world pioneers for our conversion optimisation strategies? It started with websites taking the shopping cart from the real world to the online store so what else transfers?
Shelf Psychology – Real World
Supermarkets are very good at making us opt for the the most profitable items on a shelf. Using a concept called ‘Triangular Balance’, items that have a higher margin are placed at eye level on the shelf making them more prominent to the shopper. Karl McKeever, a visual merchandising consultant speaking to the Telegraph in 2004 says “Triangular balance is used everywhere and it’s very effective. It works on the idea that your eye will always go to the centre of a picture. Here, they put the biggest, tallest products with the highest profit margin in the centre of each shelf and arrange the other sizes around them to make it look attractive.”
Shelf Psychology – Online
The attention of the user is something websites should also pay great heed to. Of course not everyone can afford eye tracking units to see where users are looking, there are however cheaper alternatives. Tools such as Crazy Egg and ClickTale which allow you to evaluate which parts of your page real estate are attracting the most user attention. By placing items of higher margin from your inventory within these attention hotspots you stand to increase profitability for your site.
Store Layout – Real World
One of the standard tricks employed by supermarket psychologists that I wouldn’t recommend is putting essential items at the back of the store. In our experience of conversion optimisation, giving the user what they want as quickly as possible is the best way to help them convert. In supermarkets the essential day to day items go at the back so shoppers have to browse past luxury items on the way through. One structural crossover to notice is the aisle end offer; discounted goods placed prominently on the shopper’s route around the store. Again Karl points out their significance; “The aisle ends are the monthly engines of the business and the promotional calendar is driven by their performance,” says Karl. “They are in high traffic positions, so lots of people will see them.”
Store Layout – Online
Find key routes to conversion through your site and make sure they are stacked with USPs and special offers. A standard example of this is the white space often found along the sides of registration/purchase forms. All paying customers pass by this real estate so make the most of it. Replace the words “aisle ends” with either “hero banner” or “home page carrousel” from Karl’s quote and you can being to understand what I mean here. Effectively tracking these components is just as important so make sure all your online ‘aisle ends’ are tagged with event tracking or custom fields/variables to best understand which offers users are engaging with the most.
In Store Help – Real World
Companies like Asda take their in store customer service very seriously. Having that personal touch to help shoppers find what they’re looking for or enquire about a product is a great way to encourage spending. A ‘Happy to Help’ badge totting store assistant is not everyone’s cup of tea but these frontline representatives can be a a useful vehicle for feedback also.
In Store Help – Online
Live chat is a product that has become much more popular with websites who have online transactions. If used correctly they can act as your in-store representative; directing users towards their desired product or service. There are plenty of vendors in this space and several offer free trials or free limited services. A great trick for conversion optimisation is to deploy a live chat solution just for a few hours a day to actually have conversations with your customers. Speaking with users is something a lot of analysts fail to take into account, when it can provide insights that web analytics just can’t.
I would love to hear from any other analysts or retail specialists who are aware of other cross overs in this space. To which I’ll leave you with a quote from Marcus Tullius Cicero the famous Roman Lawyer and Philosopher
“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child”