The rules for conversion optimization are different for ecommerce websites. Here are actionable tactics gleaned from a homepage analysis of the world’s top 8 ecommerce companies.
Conventional conversion optimization tactics can’t be generalized to boost ecommerce conversion rates because the purpose of an ecommerce homepage is unique. Specifically, the advice to have one call to action, having a single succinct headline, and reducing content run counter to the practices of the world’s top-performing ecommerce websites.
To help print on demand, custom merchandise, and other ecommerce businesses optimize homepage performance, we’ve analyzed the top 8 ecommerce websites in the world. After all, the easiest way to cross a minefield is to follow in someone else’s footsteps.
The criteria for selecting the top 8 ecommerce websites is based on SimilarWeb’s rankings in November 2018 for websites in the “Shopping” category under the “General Merchandise” segment.
We eliminated country code top level domains (CCTLDs) from the same company. For example, Amazon.com, Amazon.de, and Amazon.co.uk count as one entry because the user interface is the same across all CCTLDs.
Then we took screenshots of every section of the homepage, identified frequently occurring design and user experience (UX) elements across every homepage, and distilled our findings into the following strategies.
What defines a conversion on your homepage?
AdRoll notes that 98% of first-time visitors to an online store do not convert. For AdRoll, a conversion is defined as a purchase. However, there are multiple conversion points between a website’s homepage and an executed order. Thus, it’s worth defining what it means for a homepage to be high-performing in the context of the role it plays in a consumer’s purchasing journey.
On examination, every single homepage had more than 10 clickable links and calls to actions in their above the fold area alone. This shows us that the goal of the homepage is actually to get people off of the homepage and into product offerings.
If the goal of your homepage is to lead visitors to choose their own adventure across the terrain of your ecommerce site, then a good metric would be click-through rates and the number of user interactions on page.
While a high time spent on page is a positive metric for most web pages, for ecommerce businesses the faster you can get a visitor from your homepage into your products listings, collections, and storefronts the better.
Carousels Take the Spotlight
While the debate for carousels versus a static image continues across the web design space, every single one of the eight top ecommerce websites in the world uses carousels on their homepage.
Again, the rules for increasing ecommerce conversion rates are different from tactics for product or informational websites. While the principle of not overwhelming visitors to the point of departure still applies, ecommerce websites tend to have more liberty to use dynamic content to catch attention, create a sense of urgency, and boost click-through rates to product pages.
One reason carousels are widely adopted for ecommerce websites is because it maximizes the above the fold real estate to present a variety of product offerings and discounts. Given that even niche ecommerce websites offer multiple product lines and cater to diverse visitor preferences, a rotating carousel give users a broader exposure to all that a company has to offer.
At the time of writing, eBay had only two images in its carousel while TaoBao had 12. The average number of carousel images is six and the mode is five (Amazon, Allegro, and Walmart).
In terms of content, six out of the eight homepages featured time-limited deals exclusively in their carousels. The only two to feature a mix of seasonal deals, collections, and products are Amazon and Walmart. We recommend that you A/B test carousels, carousel speed, number of slides, and content to optimize your homepage for a wide range of visitor interests.
Center Search (Literally) to Meet Diverse Visitor Intents
Another unifying element is the centrality of the search bar. While every website had variations for layout, offer placements, and registration prompts, the search bar is the single component that is in almost exactly the same position with the same size across all eight homepages.
Putting the search bar front and center reflects the necessity of ecommerce homepages to support easy site navigation for all visitor with a variety of search intents. Some visitors are looking for gift inspiration, others are comparing products, and still, there are people who land on a site knowing exactly what they want to buy. The search bar immediately caters to visitors with clear purchasing intentions so they can land on the product page to make an immediate purchase.
Improving search times and product discoverability on your website can dramatically increase revenue because it allows you to catch visitors at the prime moment when they’re ready, able, and willing to pull out their credit cards for a purchase.
For print on demand and custom merchandise companies integrated with the Shutterstock API, they can tap into Shutterstock’s advanced search capabilities to improve the search experience on their website.
Leverage the “F” for Intuitive Navigation and Product Discovery
Nielsen Norman Group reports that web users tend to scan content in an F-shape. That is, users begin with a horizontal scan at the top of the web page, move down and conduct a second horizontal scan that is generally shorter than the first scan. Then, users would slide down the left side of the content vertically.
While Nielsen Norman notes that the F-pattern is a consumption pattern that businesses should interrupt with design (since the F prevents users from getting the maximum content exposure), AliExpress, TaoBao, and Tmall make use of this tendency instead of disrupting it.
The particular above the fold layout of AliExpress, TaoBao, and Tmall contains:
- A colorful banner at the very top of the homepage with special promotions
- A prominent carousel that is slightly shorter than the top banner
- An expanded drop down list with product categories
Interestingly, these three companies chose to take advantage of users’ instinctual consumption pattern by adapting their homepage design to fit the F-shape. Additionally, although Amazon, eBay, Mercado Livre, Allegro, and Walmart don’t provide an expanded categories list, they all have recognizable icons and text to indicate a drop-down menu of categories on the left-hand side.
This shows us two things:
- Disruption and adaptation are both valid ways to use human behavioral patterns to encourage engagement and increase content consumption.
- Top ecommerce companies prioritize categories lists to support user navigation and improve product discoverability.
The primary function of an ecommerce homepage is to help visitors visit another page that brings them closer to purchase. However, the homepage can only do this successfully if site navigation is simple and straightforward.
To improve your site navigation, A/B test the placement of your categories drop-down list to either align with the F-shaped consumption pattern or use color and layout to disrupt the pattern in such a way that you bring attention to your existing categories.
Offer Curated Collections
Among the top eight ecommerce homepages, TaoBao is the only one that didn’t offer curated collections by theme. Instead, TaoBao has opted to highlight shops and products as a way to provide guidance for site exploration.
However, all other websites highlight multiple collections based on season, lifestyle, consumer interests, and more. Collections help organize product offerings into digestible packages that allow visitors to self-segment based on their interests.
In fact, the practice of offering curated collections has been rapidly expanding beyond the ecommerce domain into other business models and products. For example, Amazon launched collections in August 2013 and Yelp recently announced collections in May 2018 to surface the most relevant options for users.
Leading print on demand companies curate collections from Shutterstock’s 225 million images via a Shutterstock image API integration with the added benefit of flexible A/B testing.
Additionally, Art.com, CafePress, and Zazzle all utilize Shutterstock’s collections and custom curation to expand their offerings quickly. With these additional collections in their repository, our partners can provide users with more options that allow them to express themselves fully.
Conventional recommendations for ecommerce conversion rate optimization fall short because ecommerce websites have specific goals that deviate from other types of websites. While most websites exist to inform unaware or problem aware visitors and capture contact information for solution and product aware visitors, ecommerce websites need to maximize the rate of purchase for each visitor.
In order to make it easy for as many visitors as possible to purchase, ecommerce homepages must take on the responsibility of directing traffic to the appropriate pages that will prompt visitors to buy. Since ecommerce websites need to cater to a large range of visitor intent and interests, they meet visitors needs by:
- Aligning the appropriate KPIs to establish goals for homepage performance and gauge success of A/B testing
- Exposing more product lines and discount offerings with dynamic carousels
- Placing the search bar front and center to catch the low-hanging fruit of visitors who are ready to purchase
- Using natural consumption patterns to foreground high traffic product categories to make it easy for visitors to self-segment based on interest
- Offering curated collections to inspire visitors, eliminate decision paralysis, and cross-sell related items
While these are the ubiquitous practices of top ecommerce websites, we encourage you to conduct A/B tests on these elements to find out what works best for your audience.
Also read: 5 Simple Ways to Boost Conversions