February 01, 2005
Case Study

How to Improve eretail Home Page Conversions 96%: Get More Visitors to Start Actively Shopping

SUMMARY: 72% of Carrot Ink's online ad-driven traffic was sliding off the eretailer's home page within seconds. This wasn't a problem when traffic was cheap. But these days media buys are getting more expensive, so you have to work extra hard at converting your clicks.

By the way - think this Case Study doesn't apply to you? Check your site logs. According to our averaged stats, at least 50% of your incoming visitors are bailing in under 10 seconds. Discover how Carrot Ink reduced their home page abandonment rate (our favorite idea is the Big Orange Box):

"We grew from about $2.2 million to about $6.8 million in a year, through pop-unders," says John Howard, Founder and CEO of Carrot Ink.

For a while, he says, "we were making 50% ROI in a month, it was insane. And these were ugly pop-unders. I was doing the creative myself." But in the past 18 months, getting a decent ROI got harder:

o When Carrot Ink launched in 1998, it didn't have a lot of competition, but now there are 130+ sellers of ink cartridges online.

o Although the site sells ink at discount, the prices are slightly higher than some of the other discount vendors. This means Howard's target demographic, the "Harvard professor kind of guy" is narrow, so the number of sites on which he can successfully advertise is smaller.

o 20% of all pop-under ads are now blocked, while ad rates are rising. The cost of getting visitors to the Carrot Ink site increased 100% in two years.

However, 72% of people who clicked through from ads were leaving Carrot Ink's home page in a matter of seconds, without even clicking on the navigation or searching to find the right ink for their printer. "You can't evaluate my proposition until you get to a page that has prices," Howard says.

In order to stay profitable, Howard needed a higher percent of visitors to actively shop for and purchase ink. How could he reduce his clickthrough abandonment rate?

First, Howard and his marketing team reviewed their home page (which was also their main landing page) from the point of view of the typical pop ad clickthrough.

Let's face it, shopping for print ink is not a highly engaging process. It's something you want to get done and over with quickly. Plus, anyone clicking from a pop-ad isn't a highly engaged shopper. It's an impulse click, and it's just as easy to impulsively click away again. Which is exactly what 72% of visitors were doing.

The team decided to redesign the site from stem to stern, with the single uniform goal of making it blatantly obvious to impulse clickers that:

o This was a super-easy place to shop.
o The process would be super-quick and safe.
o They didn't need to think about it, just convert already!

-> Step #1. Rewrite the tagline

Howard wanted what he called a "boom, boom, boom": three important points in quick succession designed to explain the value proposition to visitors who wanted to read as few words as possible. After "a lot of copywriting," he came up with the following tagline:

100% Satisfaction Guaranteed: Low Prices. High Quality. Fast Delivery.

-> Step #2. Super-easy navigation

The team didn't want to put featured products on the home page because it was just too hit-or-miss. No one ink cartridge has enough market share to be a safe bet for a high percent of visitors.

However, with over 2200 different combinations of products and printers, getting people to a page to add the right one to their carts was a complicated process. These impulse shoppers certainly wouldn't have the patience or interest to read over long lists of brands or other categories to find what they needed.

Navigation had to be entirely above the fold, and blatantly easy to the naked eye.

So the marketing team invented what Howard calls the Big Orange Box. (Link to Carrot Ink homepage below.) With its simple series of three drop-down boxes, the Box helps visitors quickly find ink either by printer or part number. Plus, it looks friendly and fun.

The team added it to every page of the site (except for checkout of course).

-> Step #3. Refine checkout

Next, the team focused on reducing cart abandonment in two ways:

a. "Submit order" button

Coremetrics reports a 10% decrease in abandoned carts if the "submit order" button is above the fold on the last step of the checkout process (just after entering payment information). "But it's counterintuitive, because if people see that before they put in the credit card info, they click that first," Howard says. "We at least put in a line that says, 'Your order is not complete until you click Submit Order.' "

b. Ease of use for returning customers

As you might expect, when it comes to ink cartridges, customers tend to repeat their previous purchases. So, Carrot Ink shows returning customers their previous orders, which they can then simply add to or subtract from. Then they're taken to the Express Checkout, which stores their payment information. They can literally shop and place their order in seconds.

-> Step #4. Refine the creative with multivariate testing

Once they had a control site they were fairly pleased with, the team invested in multivariate testing to determine which of a wide variety of copy and graphic tweaks could help them gain incremental conversions.

For example, they tested these three different home page headlines:

o Welcome to Carrot Ink!
o Save 30-70% on printing supplies
o Ink shouldn't cost more than your printer

Plus, they tested three different images on the sheet of paper that was pictured coming out of the printer featured on the home page:

o a photo of a bunch of carrots, with no text
o a $20 bill with the headline, "Save so much money you'll feel like you're printing it"
o a picture of an oak leaf with the headline, "Prices so low your kids will think ink grows on trees"

And, of course, they tested the headline copy on the Big Orange Box

o Shop for ink
o Find your cartridge

-> Step #5. Ongoing clickstream analysis

"It's something you have to have," says Howard. Even if it's only a few times in a year that you find spots where "ants are falling off into the river," fix those spots and the analytics package pays for itself.

For example, 12% of Carrot Ink return visitors were failing at log-in. Of those, 80% were requesting to have their passwords emailed to them -- but the process for the passwords was batched at five minute intervals. In other words, visitors requesting their passwords sometimes had to wait 5 minutes to receive that email -- an eternity in the online world.

"Your ecommerce package won't tell you that, but you analytics package will," Howard says.
The Big Orange Box increased visitors converting to active shoppers by 78%, and then multivariate testing tacked on another 18% shopping conversion lift. So overall 96% more new visitors are poking around, getting engaged by the site, instead of leaving within seconds.

"The insight is, you've got great design, the copywriters are cool with the copy, but you don't know until you test it," says Howard.

Individual test results:

o In terms of home page headlines, the middle-road version, "Ink shouldn't cost more than your printer" beat the very specific discount offer and the very general welcome.

o On the home page, the graphic showing the printer printing a picture of carrots beat the shots with graphics and headlines, probably because it was simpler and didn't distract as much attention away from BOB.

o In the Big Orange Box itself, the "Find your cartridge" headline outperformed the less specific, concrete headlines. This makes perfect sense, because specificity would tend to work better on an order form, where you intend to look for an actual product, than as the headline to a homepage, where it may distract from the ordering process.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Carrot Ink:

Resource Interactive - the interactive agency that helped with the site redesign:

Offermatica - the testing firm who performed the multivariate tests and analysis for Carrot Ink:

Coremetrics, the Web analytics software Carrot Ink uses:

Carrot Ink:

Note: Carrot Ink is a member of Shop.org, a forum for retailing online executives to share information, lessons-learned, new perspectives, insights and intelligence. More info at http://www.shop.org

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