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Is the focus on conversion rate optimization in online retail scaring shoppers away?

Mar 24, 2021


  • Online retailers expect visitors to know what they want
  • Online stores are too focused on increasing conversion rates. 
  • Your ability to attract visitors looking for inspiration is key to success

Not many articles about retail start with an Albert Einstein analogy. Nonetheless, this analogy holds the key to understanding why you need to reconsider if your online store is designed to take on the competitive retail space, and win more customers.

What Einstein shows is you always need to focus on whether or not your tactics and mindset are in line with how your consumers and competition behave. What might have given you a competitive edge last year is now a standard expected by consumers, which means you need to find different ways to win market shares. 

Albert Einstein had a conversation with a teaching assistant, when he was teaching at Princeton University. Einstein had just finished some administrative work for an exam, as the teaching assistant approached him with a question. “Dr. Einstein, wasn’t that the exact same exam you gave to the exact same class of students last year?” Einstein looked at the teaching assistant and simply replied "Yes, it's the same exam". The teaching assistant was perplexed "Why would you give the same exam to the same students two years in a row?" Einstein replied, "Because the answers have changed".

Is the focus on conversion rate optimization in online retail scaring shoppers away

The exam for retailers has been since the birth of consumerism to make sure your products are sold with a profit. But how you do that has changed a lot over the years. And new technology, global trends, competition from market places and other retailers is only making it more difficult for retailers to search for new answers to the same exam.

In this article, I'll pick the anatomy of an online store apart. I’ll highlight the missing ingredient that will enable you to stand out from the competition and provide the answer that will make you pass this year's exam.  

The focus on conversion rate optimization has killed inspiration

If you want to standout you need to do something else. That sounds logical. But still, looking at the world of online retail, breaking free from the common anatomy of an online store is difficult. Online stores seem to follow the same set of rules. They’re based on categories, search and filters.

Conversion rate optimization is a huge part of designing an online store. And some of the most common tactics and activities that play a part in conversion rate optimization, can be repeated and copied by everyone else. These five tips from Bigcommerce highlight how to increase your conversion rate on your online store:

  • Use high-quality video and images
  • Offer free shipping
  • Offer time limited discount coupons
  • Be competitively priced
  • Tweak and test your checkout process

Online retailers should of course do all of this. But if you only focus on conversion rate optimization on your online store, chances are you’ll fail at delivering a shopping experience that plants the seed for repeat customers.

These two pictures are from different online stores trying to get me to buy a pair of running shoes. If I removed the white space between the pictures, you would probably think you're scrolling the same online store.


running shoes 2


running shoes 3

The way online stores are designed today is an effect of consumers pushing retailers to remove all friction in the buying process. Speed is key and online stores are heavily focused on the transactional part of the shopping experience. And that’s great, but it’s also given us shoppers online stores that look more like beautifully designed warehouses, rather than creating a store environment you want to explore.

Online stores are too focused on getting the sale. They’re too heavily tailored to three steps; search, add to basket and checkout. Shoppers should know exactly what they want, add it to their basket and checkout as soon as possible. But today, there’s no way for online shoppers to look around and browse, no room to get inspired and no room for impulse buying. It’s straight in, straight out.

In other words, online stores expect visitors to know what they want, rather than trying to inspire them to explore their store.

What is the missing ingredient in todays online retail?

Not everyone looking at your products is looking to buy. In fact 46% of all online shoppers are just browsing. There’s a huge market of untapped potential if you break the unwritten rule of online retail and focus on improving how you engage the digital window shopper.

The battleground in retail now, and going forward, is not your ability to sell to consumers who know what they want. It’s your ability to create an environment people want to explore, that will give you a competitive edge.

JYSK is the largest Danish retailer operating internationally. In total, JYSK has 2,937 stores in 50 countries and over 22,000 employees. It recently presented a new strategy for the company. And a big part of that strategy is to make people want to visit their online platforms and stores to get inspired to take action. 

With clever strategic marketing we could show off our new quality standard, and encourage our customers to visit our stores and online platforms, which is where the real battle will be lost or won."

Mikael Nielsen, Executive Vice President Retail at JYSK

Jysk Catalog

We all know that increasing sales is the main goal in retail. But the thing is, retailers need to acknowledge that what they’re offering is not unique. They need to be able to approach shoppers in the inspirational part of their shopping journey.

The missing ingredient is simply focusing on inspiring shoppers. You need to restrain yourself from focusing on converting them into customers. They’ll convert as a logical step in their consumer decision journey once you’ve made it clear that you’re just the retailer they need to fulfill their desires. 

There were an estimated 2 billion+ online shoppers worldwide in 2020. And with around 24 million online stores in total, if you don't offer a stellar shopping experience, you'll lose out on customers in the blink of an eye. 

Start by having a critical view of your current setup. Look at it from the perspective of a shopper who just wants to browse your shop for inspiration. What kind of experience are you providing? Focusing on improving how you make shoppers want to visit your online store is going to be a main factor if you want to thrive in a world that involves Amazon.

Jesper Wilhelmsen

Jesper Wilhelmsen