7 habits of highly successful websites #7 Exposing a few ecommerce myths


It’s actually easier to open a store in a Shopping Mall and make money than it is on the internet. Neither can survive without an audience. It’s all about the numbers. For example:

  • Department Stores – approx 6% of all traffic turns into a sale (A lot of people do a lot of window shopping. It’s why windows are so important for High Street shops.)
  • Supermarkets – approx 98% of all traffic turns into a sale (You do not go to a supermarket to “shop”, you go to buy, so here the experience is about optimising the sale. That’s why Milk/Dairy case is always at the back so you move past a lot of options.)
    So how does this translate online? There are a few things we need to take into account to see why the following figures make obvious sense
  • The internet is a great evaluation medium. The best there ever has been. So it’s a great place to start. It why classified advertising has moved there so easily.
  • It’s a lot easier to visit a dozen different “Shops” online than it is in the real world. You don’t have to get in the car, find a car park, rush to meet opening times; you just need a couple of clicks.


I have asked a number of friends I know who manage/managed eCommerce sites.
One figure continually kept coming up. It’s the 1% rule. Most websites have approx a 1% conversion rate against traffic. For example:

  • (Car Insurance) Esanda conversion rate is approx 1%
  • (Health Insurance) Australian Unity is approx 1%
  • (Health Insurance comparison site) iSelect is approx 1%
  • (For Department stores) Wishlist.com.au varied between 1 – 3% depending on promotional activity
  • Even the great Amazon.com has a conversion rate of 1%. However, Amazon has an estimated audience of approximately 63million unique visitors per month, so a 1% conversion is still a phenomenal rate. And it all happens with little change to the online site.
  • So, here is the real deal; you need to raise your audience numbers. In the most basic sense, the more numbers you get through the site and engaged the more chance you have of selling a product that is fairly generic in a market that has a lot of competitors.


Ever seen a really good sales person at work? Have you noticed how they “work” the customer, making them feel comfortable, making them feel in control, and ultimately making the customer feel like they have made the decision?

I have never seen a good salesman say to a Customer, “Oh, you’re looking for a mobile phone? Great, here’s a load of brochures for you to go through. I’ll come back in a few minutes.” What you notice is they are driving the Customer down a path that will lead to a transaction. They promote, they filter, they suggest the most appropriate, eliminate the least appropriate, always working to that sale.

  • The experience online should be exactly the same.
  • In the end, I would say 80% of customers purchase 20% of products in the Catalogue. The aim is to quickly figure out the customer goal, and then present the most relevant products.
  • The customer should feel like they are in control and have access to a number of options, but ultimately the solution is driving down a funnel that leads to a decision.
  • Too many eCommerce sites leave this bit to the Customer: “Here is our entire Catalogue, tell us what you would like to buy.” That is just abdicating your responsibility.
  • This stuff is not new. It has been recognised for eons, why should it be different online? Go to any retail outlet; note how they place their best sellers, or most interesting products in front of the Customer.
  • I once spoke to a Computer Retailer who had 10 different configurations to cater for different demographics. “I have never sold a configuration exactly as advertised. Each hits the demographic and from there they configure to fit their needs. This may be more ram, bigger hard drive, larger screen etc.”
  • An eCommerce site is a Sales Tool, NOT a tool in which to display the product configuration. You may only get one chance at doing this.


An eCommerce solution should understand the difference between a first time user and one that has been back two or more times.
Again, think about the Sales person. Imagine if they were working in a Car Dealership and saw the same Customer return two, three or more times, (once by himself, then with his wife, then with family), would that Sales Person go through the entire spiel again?

  • Provide the same consistent approach?
  • Or would you move from engagement to trying to close the sale? You would be making an offer, suggesting “We can throw in metallic paint if you buy right now!”
  • Why don’t eCommerce solutions act this way?
  • The answer is they can. Yes, they can.
  • It’s just that we don’t think that way, because we are not Sales People. We spend too much time on other matters rather than optimising the sales experience.
  • What we should do:
    • Find the most successful sales person in the organisation
    • Get them in a room
    • Give them the product
    • Then ask them to sell it to you
    • Listen to them carefully. Use them as a sales tool. Build that sales process into your eCommerce experience.