E-Commerce Practices That Are Costing Conversions

Are you inadvertently turning customers away? Contributor Tim Ash outlines simple fixes that can make all the difference.


With the proliferation of conversion-centric tools, technology and consultants these days, there’s no shortage of advice and best practices for website optimization.

And nowhere is this more true than in the e-commerce space, where even the smallest website tweak could add (or subtract) millions from a company’s bottom line.

Visitor behavior and expectations are changing, and it’s easy to see how yesterday’s “best practices” can become today’s conversion killers. So before your holiday shopping season enters full swing, check your site for some of these common practices that just could be costing you conversions.

Interrupting The Visit With A Giant Pop-Over

Have you ever visited a site where the active window is covered with a giant pop-over promotion within the first few seconds? The practice has become very popular over the past year, and I suspect the results are mixed, especially for e-commerce sites.

One of the most common pop-overs used in e-commerce is a promotion offering a discount off the visitor’s first order in exchange for email opt-in.

I understand the notion behind this concept: if the visitor doesn’t buy, then you’ve at least gotten their email, and can remarket to them more easily based on the products they viewed while on your site.

But from a usability perspective, it can be dangerous to interrupt visitors who have come to your site to shop. It’s the virtual equivalent of having perfume sprayed on you as you enter a department store.

The Childrens' Place couldn't stop at just one popover. Within the first second of being on their homepage a visitor is bombarded with this discount popover (which ironically covers two other discount offerings). Visitors who stick around long enough to visit a second page are then hit with a survey pop-over.

Implementing a successful pop-over campaign requires an in-depth knowledge of your visitors and their intentions — and lots of testing. Here’s a short list of some of the pop-over variables that can kill your conversions:

  • Displaying the pop-over too soon in the customer journey
  • Displaying the pop-over to the wrong types of visitors (for example, people entering your site from long-tail keywords are further down the funnel and less likely to be promo-code oriented than someone clicking from a banner ad)
  • Presenting the wrong offer at the wrong time

In short, pop-over technology is easy to implement but tough to get right.

Focus on streamlining the conversion path based on key customer tasks first, and slowly test the inclusion of pop-over messaging in lower-risk areas such as at cart abandonment instead of interrupting shoppers when they first arrive at your site.

Not Using Title Tags Wisely

When it comes to comparison shoppers, your Title Tags can be your secret weapon. More than just ensuring clear listings on search results pages, Title Tags are the default name for any page that is bookmarked on your site.

A visitor shopping around may bookmark several product options on different sites, and a descriptive Title Tag will help them more easily return to your site to complete their purchase.

bookmark title-tags

Take a look at these bookmarks for a recent comparison shopper on boys puffer jackets. The top line – Amazon’s listing – isn’t bad; but if one selected several different jackets on that site, it would be difficult to distinguish one from the other based on the bookmarks simply because the product names are preceded by “amazon.com.”

Given that the Amazon icon is adjacent to the bookmark, I’d suggest Amazon could make better use of its Title Tags by listing the product detail first.

The bookmarks for Kohl’s and Target are good – with all the product detail up front. But then look at The Children’s Place: “puffer vest US Store.” You can see how such a simple thing as a Title Tag can make or break the sale for people that are shopping around.

Distracting Ready-To-Buy Shoppers With Promo Code Boxes

Everyone loves a deal. And nobody likes missing out on a deal. Such is the challenge with promo code boxes.

Imagine going online to buy your son a puffer jacket. You’ve done your comparison shopping, evaluated different merchants and looked at dozens of options before finally deciding on one to buy. You add it to the cart and begin the checkout process when all of a sudden you’re stopped dead in your tracks with one of the biggest roadblocks a conversion path could have: the promo code box.

Suddenly, the price that you had already decided was worth paying seems too pricey, as some innate reflex in your brain sends you back out to your favorite search engine in search of the promised code. There must be one out there, you reason, or else the merchant wouldn’t have included the box in the first place.

Promo code boxes can be real conversion killers. Once a customer thinks it’s possible to pay a lower price, he or she is no longer content paying the price that just two minutes ago seemed reasonable. If you’re offering promotional discounts, test different options for reducing the friction caused by the big promo box, such as:

  • Pre-populating the field with the promotion that the customer is eligible for, clearly showing the savings amount on the subtotal for the cart. This is easy to do when the customer has visited your site after clicking through from an email or ad offering a discount or if they’ve qualified for the discount based on the items selected or total amount spent.
  • If it’s not possible to pre-populate the box, remove it altogether and replace it with a more subtle text link reading “Got a promo code?” Customers with a discount code can click the link to enter their code, but those without a code won’t be so distracted by that big empty box.

Cleaning Out Carts Too Early

The researchers tell us that about two-thirds of shopping carts are abandoned, and one study by SeeWhy noted a mind-blowing 97% of mobile shopping carts are left behind. Those are shockingly high figures — but it starts to make sense when you think about why people leave their carts.

Forrester Research found that 24% of cart-abandoners intend to come back later and finish shopping. Maybe their phone rang or they had to click away to answer an urgent email. Another 27% want to put the purchase on hold while they do some price comparing.

In either case, you’ll want to have their shopping cart ready and waiting for them if and when they decide to come back. After all, this is one of the big advantages online stores have over brick-and-mortar retailing: a customer can walk away from their cart and trust that nobody is going to come along and swipe their stuff while they’re gone.

Getting User Reviews Wrong

According to research by Deloitte, 84% of consumer decisions are influenced by recommendations. And most e-commerce marketers believe that the power of recommendations underscores the necessity of product pages having user reviews.

But star ratings and user reviews can also be a conversion killer if not implemented appropriately. If you roll out user reviews on all your product pages, all you’ll have at the beginning is a set of pages saying “no user reviews yet,” and pages averaging the first user review. It’s just bad marketing.

To implement user reviews well, think about setting a minimum number of reviews before you present the average. Customers may be turned off by a product’s one star rating, not realizing that it’s just based on a single review. So, pick a threshold (20 to 30 reviews) and do not display averages until you reach that threshold.

At a glance, this Aeropostale tank top seems to have received low ratings. However, the product page shows that the average is only based on 1 review.

If you can’t do that, take the Amazon approach and list the number of reviews in parenthesis next to the average. Then visitors can decide for themselves when they feel a rating represents enough opinions to sway their decision.


Ad retargeting is definitely a powerful tool, but there’s a fine line between reminding people to come back to complete their check-out and being creepy.

Retargeting is not unlike building a relationship face-to-face: it involves timing and relevance. Showing occasional ads for the products someone viewed on your site or left in their shopping cart is OK, but you don’t want to show up on every page your user clicks.

To stimulate conversion rather than annoyance, put a frequency cap in place so you can be sure that no visitors feel they can’t shake loose of you. And don’t keep pushing product ads to visitors that have purchased from you. Insert a “burn code” in your post-transaction page that untags users once they have made a purchase.


Remaining competitive in the e-commerce space is difficult enough. You can’t afford to lose conversions due to simple design mistakes. Consumer habits and expectations are changing fast, and what worked for your site last season may kill your conversions this season. Use your analytics data and usability studies to continually ensure you are delivering the best customer experience while efficiently getting more of your visitors to buy.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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