Since a top pair of binoculars can cost $1000, it is not like selling discount DVDs online. Jonathan Thralow, Binoculars.com' CMO knows his customers are shopping around and doing research before they hand over their credit cards. It is not an impulse buy.
Plus not all that many people shop for binoculars. The site only gets about 3,000 unique visitors a day. Is it even possible to build a multimillion dollars business on a few thousand visitors a day?
Thralow knew the key would be to maximize conversion rates by making shoppers feel extremely comfortable buying from Binoculars.com. How to you achieve extreme customer comfort online?
First Thralow tried gathering lots of Best Practices and ideas from around the Web and pulling them together as a major site revamp. Sales dropped.
He could not believe it, so he tried again, twice. No go.
Thralow explains, "It's never worked. We'll think it's a beautiful site, we put it up and our sales drop by 30%. We've done it three times in the past and three times it's been horrible."CAMPAIGN
Now he favors a graduated approach: Changing one element at a time, measuring the results and then rejecting or keeping the modification. Here are his top six tests:
Conversion test #1: Exit pop-ups
Thralow uses two different pop-ups based on when a visitor leaves his site. The goal is to drive subscriptions, gather customer feedback and let the company engage visitors in conversation. Says Thralow, "A customer might say they've found a better price on another site, and we can get back to them and tell them we'll match that price."
A. If customers browse a product page but do not order anything, they see a "Not finding what you want?" pop-up on leaving the site. This includes:
- An invitation to call customer service for help (giving the number and office hours)
- A form to send in an email inquiry
- A $5 coupon offer if visitors sign up for the site's monthly opt-in newsletter
B. If customers enter the checkout process, but never complete the transaction, they see a different "Leaving us before you complete your order?" popup. This features:
- An invitation to tell Binoculars.com why they've abandoned the purchase, for which the customer gets a $5 coupon, and to request assistance if required
- An invitation to sign up for the newsletter
- A "continue shopping" button for those who are not actually leaving
- The Hacker Safe logo (see later)
Conversion test #2: Hacker safe certification
Last year Binoculars.com took their hosting in-house, but had server setup trouble initially. They signed up to the ScanAlert security testing service simply to make sure it was not hackers that were causing the problems (they were not).
The service scans the web server on a daily basis to monitor security vulnerabilities, and reports any problems to the owner, together with suggestions on how to solve them.
Safe sites may display a "Hacker Safe" logo hosted at ScanAlert and marked with the date of the last scan (i.e. the current date). If any new vulnerabilities appear, merchants have 72 hours to address them, otherwise the logo no longer displays.
Initially Thralow was only interested in checking his server and continued using the service just for peace of mind. Then ScanAlert asked him if he would display a Hacker Safe logo on the site and see if it impacted on sales.
Thralow's reaction, "That's the last thing I want to do, put somebody else's logo on our website."
He agreed to run a site test on around 25,000 visitors. Half saw the Hacker Safe logo displayed above the fold on the right-hand side of the page (and on any subsequent visit), half did not (nor on any subsequent visit).
The results (see below) were convincing enough to make the logo a permanent presence, now featuring prominently on all pages.
Conversion test #3: Bestseller lists with a bonus
OK, so bestseller lists are not new, but most people shopping for binoculars are not familiar with the product range. So bestseller lists act as reassurance that they are buying the right product.
Thralow also wants to keep inventory management as efficient as possible; he only keeps the top sellers in stock, so has a vested interest in having customers pick those.
His home page's focus is a list of top selling items, plus each brand category displays the brand's top seller at the top, and gives prominence to other popular items in the rest of the listings.
Last but not least, Thralow gives customers an incentive (a free lens cleaner) to buy the very top selling items.
Conversion test #4: Souped-up merchandising
Notable features on each SKU's product page are:
- Large image(s) of the product (we have heard from other retailers how important this is for conversion)
- Real-time inventory status (ditto!) This is linked dynamically to the back end, so as soon as the last item is sold, the product page switches from "in stock" to an estimated shipping date for that product. Thralow says, "It reassures people that the product they're ordering is really there."
- Product specifications with links for key terms. Clicking on a technical term brings up a popup with an explanation, often with diagrams. Again, it is to help people feel comfortable with purchasing decisions.
The site's FAQ is extensive, and based on what Thralow learnt customers needed when he was answering emails and telephone calls himself in the site's early days.
Conversion test #5: Souped-up tell-a-friend function
Each product page has a tell-a-friend link in the top right hand corner which goes beyond the normal tired format you will find on many sites in three ways:
First, the form itself is customized to display the name of the product the customer's recommending.
Second, once the customer hits the send button, the form reloads to let them send a message to a new address, and fills in the remaining fields based on the previous message.
Third, the actual email the recipient gets is HTML, and includes a large image of the product, its title and price, plus a link to the product page (see link below for example). Many tell-a-friend emails contain just a link.
Conversion test #6: Upsells from within the shopping cart
When customers look into their cart, the list of products they have selected is followed by a "Customers who shopped for this item also shopped for these items" list with an "add to cart" button next to each entry. The list features typical add-ons like lens cleaning fluid, binocular straps or gift wrapping.
You have to pass your eye down through these upsells to get to the shipping calculator form.
The site's revenues have been growing at 40% each year and in 2003 are set to break $6 million.
Thralow's conversion rates vary from 0.5% to 2% (which is pretty good in our opinion, given the nature of the product). Rates peak during the holiday season and just prior to Mothers and Fathers Days; and, the average order size is $225.
As we mentioned above, the site averages 3000 unique visitors a day. Its main traffic sources are an affiliate program (6,000+ affiliates drive 25% of online sales), search engines, type-ins, and bookmarks.
More site metrics:
- The two pop-ups have more than trebled newsletter sign-up rates and produce an estimated extra 5 sales a day. Which does not sound much, until you realize that it is adding around $400,000 a year in revenues.
Thralow says they have not picked up on any negative feedback about the use of these pop-ups. He also notes that people often use the forms to test out the site's customer service before making a purchase.
- In the ScanAlert test, the presence of a "Hacker Safe" logo improved conversion rates by 40%. The increase was so unexpected, Thralow's underplayed the results in the past because he does not think people will believe him.
He explains, "I was so skeptical when we started running it. I thought this is not going to make a difference and people are going to want to hack into our site just to see if they can. The total opposite happened."
Another impact of the logo was over 90% fewer fraudulent order attempts, which had been costing the company between $12,000 to $30,000 a year. The ScanAlert service costs $149 a month.
Thralow's observed changes in the feedback they are getting through the pop-ups since the logo went up, "Without the "Hacker Safe" thing people were saying 'I'm afraid to use my credit card online and that's why I'm not placing an order,' far fewer people are talking about credit cards now."
- Around 20 people a day use the tell-a-friend function, and Thralow says, "We get quite a few orders from it. When people come because they're recommended by a friend, they're 50 times more likely to buy than if they come from a search engine."
He says people are using the function to point others to gift ideas, either for themselves or a third party, e.g. "Hey mom, what do you think about this for dad for Fathers Day?"
- The upsells on the shopping cart page accounted for additional sales of up to $10,000 in Dec '02. Thralow says, "When you consider the add-ons are about $5 each, it tells you a lot of people were getting them."
He notes, "The website is a neutral thing. People buy the add-ons. There's no sales pressure, there's no initial negative reaction to the sell. The website upsells customers much better than the sales people on the phone, who have incentives to do it."
For the future, Thralow's developing a Spanish-language version of the site and is exploring other languages, too. The company also owns telescopes.com, pans.com and a sunglasses site, peepers.com. Thralow is fighting the urge to enter any new markets.
He says, "It's hugely important to stay focused, and we're focused on what's working, and what's working is Binoculars.com."Useful Links Relating to this Article: