Actionable tips, community conversations, and marketing inspiration.

E-Commerce: How to Convert Visitors Into Customers

Briar Tedesco

Partner Marketing Manager @ Searchspring

Topics Covered:

Why are brands more interested than ever in figuring out how to convert shoppers into customers? The year 2020 saw one of the biggest jumps in e-commerce since the birth of the commercial web. As COVID-19 closed many businesses and kept people indoors, that shouldn’t come as a shock. However, what is surprising is the total scope of this growth — 21% of retail sales happened digitally, a 5% increase from the previous year according to Digital Commerce 360

Even more notable is the sheer number of people who window-shopped online but didn’t make a purchase. These shoppers make up 80 to 90% of an e-tailer's traffic, representing the largest and most promising source of potential growth for most brands. It’s much easier to sell something to someone already there than try to convince a complete stranger to buy. But why aren’t these window shoppers making purchases?

Most often, the reason is simply that the bulk of these users aren’t looking to buy anything in general. Like doom-scrolling, digital window-shopping was a way for many to pass the time while sitting at home for months. And while these shoppers obviously existed before the pandemic, the tremendous growth over the last year has made engaging them more important than ever.

Taking advantage of this huge potential customer base requires catching their attention, which means e-commerce sites need to hold shoppers on-site long enough until they find something they didn’t know they needed but can’t live without once they see it. That means site owners need to engage visitors quicker, show them more targeted products, and keep them engaged until they find something they like. Here’s how to convert visitors into customers.

Categorize and Filter

Shoppers don’t always know what they’re looking for, so it’s not surprising that they aren’t heavy users of site search. Instead, they’re more likely to browse through the category pages. 

That’s why the first step to getting these users to buy is through setting up clear, engaging categories. Shoppers need to find something they’re interested in quickly and easily. As a bonus, even visitors intent on making a purchase are typically more likely to find a shirt, for example, by going to the “shirts” category than by typing “purple shirt” into the search bar.

Once shoppers get into the categories themselves, the challenge becomes giving them what they want without overwhelming them. This is where filters come in. Customers are more likely to stick around when they can narrow the products using effective and common-sense filters like price, color, rating, and size. Case in point: Doing nothing but adding clearly-titled category pages with simple filters can dramatically convert more visitors into customers.

Merchandise Intelligently

When physical stores decide what items go at the front of their store and which are on the racks in the back, we call it merchandising —  and it’s one of the most powerful engagement tools available to retailers. Not surprisingly, merchandising can be just as effective for digital storefronts. 

Consider what potential customers see when they land on your front page or when they click through to a category. Which products are displayed at the top? Which are emphasized? 

Digital merchandising can be handled manually, selecting the most appealing products by hand and setting the order your inventory appears in. This process is time-consuming and hardly scientific, though. Fortunately, an increasing number of tools and platforms exist that can do the hard work for you. These tools leverage big data, customer analytics, third-party databases, and AI to select which items should be moved up or down. Better yet, many can be set to dynamically rearrange your inventory for each individual shopper, giving customers a personalized experience based on their past actions and preferences.

For example, you can implement boost rules. These would immediately sort items as they are added to your site. Some examples could be:

  • Newness. Have your newest items be the first thing your customers see.

  • On sale. Shoppers always keep their eyes out for good deals, which is why discounts can be very attention-grabbing.

  • In stock. It’s a letdown when you spot a perfect item but see it’s out of stock — avoid this issue by elevating items that are in stock.

Don’t forget to add promotional graphics and flourishes for a finishing touch to get customers excited and engaged. Banners advertising sales, sashes over product images, reviews and ratings, and other information can all be used to direct attention and push shoppers towards specific products and, hopefully, into customers.

Keep Visitors On-site

Not every customer is going to fall in love with the first product they click on. Maybe the color isn’t quite right, the stitching isn’t the look they want, or it’s just not available in their size. The next few seconds are crucial — a disappointed shopper may just throw their hands up and move on to the next site unless they’re given a reason to stick around.

This is where product recommendations come in. Like merchandising, product recommendations keep visitors clicking through your site instead of switching to a competitor. These suggestions, present on individual item pages, are used to suggest other products a shopper may be interested in instead of, or in addition to, the product they’re viewing. 

Like category page order, these recommendations can be added manually, or through the use of automated tools and platforms. These automation tools are often more accurate, on top of saving a lot of manual clicking. 

Accuracy is important since recommendations are one of the best ways to keep shoppers interested and clicking until they buy. As a bonus, they can dramatically increase average order values if properly configured. 

Track What’s Working

No optimization plan can possibly work unless there’s a way to track and measure what is and isn’t working. Which products resonate with shoppers versus customers? For that matter, which visitors are buyers and which are simply browsers in the first place? And maybe most importantly, are any of the changes you’re making having an impact?

Answering those questions requires an analytics and data collection tool and some protocols for how the data you gather is evaluated. 

There are myriad tools available for keeping track of users as they browse your site. When selecting one, it’s important to look for a tool that gives you control of your data, allows you to create regular reports, and segment the data by behavior — otherwise, it’ll be near-impossible to figure out how your customers are different from your shoppers and what you can do to make the latter into the former.

The reporting you pull from your analytics tools should be an important part of your merchandising and promotion approach, informing the products you spotlight, the promotions you run, and the inventory you stock. That, in turn, will let you better identify shoppers, keep them on-site longer, and hopefully show them something that pushes them towards making a purchase. And if you use automated tools for pricing, merchandising, or recommendations, reporting will allow you to check up on these automations and make sure they’re really working.

Abandoned Cart Recovery

Sometimes, after adding products to their carts and heading to the checkout page, shoppers decide to close the tab. There’s no need to be disheartened, though. Similar to shoppers who tell cashiers, “Actually, never mind, I won’t be buying this,” abandoned carts are an inevitable part of ecommerce.

The good news is there are numerous abandoned cart recovery solutions aimed to re-attract those former shoppers and recoup lost sales. Here at AdRoll, for example, we offer a combination of retargeting ads and emails that you can use to fire off a series of “Hey, you left these goodies in your cart!” messages, hopefully enticing shoppers to complete the checkout process.

Pulling It Together

Getting new visitors to your e-commerce shop is expensive, time-consuming, and difficult — and even more so if up to 90% of those visitors bounce off without making a single purchase. So as more businesses move online or launch digital-first initiatives, it’s critical to tap into the pool of users who are already visiting your site but not converting. In other words, determining how to convert visitors into customers.

Stores able to engage these shoppers quicker and keep them on their sites longer will have a significant leg up on competitors in turning visitors into customers. Clearer categorization and filtering will keep visitors browsing, better merchandising will grab their attention, and intelligent product recommendations will help keep them interested longer. Plus, better data collection will allow you to make better decisions and ensure everything else is working. Keeping this in mind will help you convert visitors into customers — and increase sales.

Searchspring is an enterprise search and merchandising solution that arms e-commerce merchants with the tools they need to increase their conversion rates. Our specialty is converting visitors to customers by providing fast and relevant site search, customizable merchandising capabilities, accurate navigation, personalized product recommendations, and intuitive reporting. If you’re interested in learning more about how Searchspring can improve the conversion rates of your store, contact Searchspring via

Explore Next

Topics Covered: