What you get out of this
How to launch a Shopify store that converts
There are three basic parts of running a successful Shopify store: Build. Sell. Grow.
We’ll go through each of these in detail in this playbook, with one goal: optimize for conversions.
We focus on purchase conversion—getting people to buy from you—because it translates directly into revenue. It’s critical for startup growth.
In a 2021 survey of about 2,800 Shopify stores, the average conversion rate was 1.6%. That means less than 2% of the people who visit online stores wind up purchasing.
- If yours is higher than 3.5%, you’re in the top 20% of stores.
- Higher than 5.1% means you’re in the top 10%.
We’ll aim to get you there. In this playbook, you’ll learn:
- How to set up a high-converting online store
- How to optimize the on-site user experience for increased conversion
- How to retain customers and optimize for LTV (lifetime value)
We’ve helped thousands of startups accelerate their growth. And many of the ecommerce brands we’ve grown are built on Shopify.
Context on Shopify
If you’re experienced in Shopify and understand exactly who it’s for, skip this section to jump right into building your store.
Why use Shopify
Shopify is an ecommerce platform where you can build a custom site and sell products online. More than one in four ecommerce businesses uses it.
The number one reason for its popularity? It makes both selling and shopping easy. It’s intuitive, agile, and user-friendly—and it integrates with different payment methods.
Plus, unlike marketplaces like Amazon or eBay, on Shopify, brand is front and center. You have more control over how your brand is presented and how it makes shoppers feel. One way we’ve seen it put: Amazon’s success came from putting the customer first. Shopify’s came from putting the merchant first.
Brooklinen is an example of a startup that found success on Shopify. In 2014, the bedding brand got started after launching a Kickstarter with a $50,000 goal. By 2020, they were raising $50 million in funding—and making nearly $100 million annually.
They succeeded because of a smart growth marketing strategy centered on customer insights and data, and because their product has strong word of mouth. But if they didn’t have a site built to drive conversions, nothing else they did would have mattered. They’d be a stat, like so many other ecommerce ventures that never got off the ground.
We’ll go over the site elements that stores like Brooklinen use to grow sales, so your own brand can try them out too.
How Shopify has evolved
Shopify has been around since 2006. Now it’s used by 1.75 million merchants in 175 countries.
The pandemic accelerated the shift to ecommerce, and Shopify’s revenue jumped 86% from 2019 to 2020. The rise in ecommerce is great for startups in the D2C sphere, but that trend comes with two caveats:
One, the competition is getting tougher. There were 165,000 Shopify merchants in 2015. From 165k to 1.75 million is a 1,000%+ increase.
This quote from Naval back in 2012 sums up what tech companies like Shopify have enabled:
Two, cart abandonment is also increasing. Pre-pandemic, ecommerce shoppers abandoned their carts about 70-80% of the time. For some industries, that number rose to nearly 95% with the onset of Covid. One theory is that our online shopping style now more closely resembles our pre-pandemic window-shopping habits. We look, we make a mental note, we move on. But with online shopping, that mental note takes the form of a soon-forgotten "add to cart."
What that means is that it’s not enough to launch a site on a whim and see what happens. Given the rise in competition and cart abandonment rates, starting a Shopify store is only worth it if you build, optimize, and market strategically.
Who it’s for
Guess which of these brands and people have Shopify stores:
- Fashion Nova
- Justin Bieber
- Kanye West
The answer is all of them. Shopify is typically thought of as a platform for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and direct-to-consumer (DTC) businesses. That’s true, but billion-dollar and Fortune 500 companies are on there too. And it’s used by both strictly ecommerce brands and brands selling through ecommerce and brick and mortar.
Companies of any size can use Shopify, from just-starting-out small businesses to global enterprises.
As for product categories, pretty much anything physical has the potential to sell on Shopify. The team at Shopgram crawled 700k+ Shopify sites and found the top categories to be, in order: clothing, jewelry, home & garden, fashion accessories, and health & beauty. Shopify themselves provided a list of trending products to sell in 2022. The top ten are: toys, shoes, pens & pencils, decorative bottles, drills, cutters, GPS systems, bras, car parts, and office chairs.
Size doesn’t matter. Product categories run the gamut. But what is fixed and definitive is the need for product-market fit. No startup will succeed on Shopify without first knowing that what they’re selling has an audience.
How to build a high-converting store
Let’s start building your store.
We’ll cover three critical pages: your homepage, product pages, and checkout page. Then we’ll walk you through additional conversion tools and help you optimize your store for conversion.
But before we dive into pages, we’ll cover a few basics: domain names and Shopify themes.
Set up a discoverable custom domain
By default, your Shopify URL is a combination of your store name and “myshopify.com”: storename.myshopify.com. When you’re ready to launch your new store, we recommend using a custom domain to remove that tag and draw attention to your brand, not your platform.
If you don’t already have an existing domain, you can buy one directly through Shopify, or you can use a third-party domain registar. One option isn’t drastically better than the other, but here are two points to consider:
- The upside of buying a new domain through Shopify: It’s easy. You can buy a domain directly through your Shopify account, and it’s automatically configured to be what customers see in their address bar.
- The downside: It’s often slightly cheaper to go with a third-party registrar. Plus, if you ever decide to move your store off Shopify, it’ll be a bit more of an effort to transfer your domain (but it’s doable).
Should you get creative with your URL? Generally, no. Your URL isn’t the place to ignore the rules, ditch your business name, and add a cute pun. That’ll hurt your store’s SEO and discoverability.
But you might have to get creative if an exact-match domain name isn’t available. If that’s the case, here are some options:
- Add a verb, like “get,” “shop,” or “try.” After all, your goal is to inspire site visitors to take action—you want them to buy.
- Add another word. Examples: packagefreeshop.com for Package Free or shethinx.com for Thinx.
- Use a top-level domain other than .com, like .org, .shop, or your country code (e.g., .ca).
Figure out how to pitch and visualize your products with Shopify themes
Shopify themes are pre-built templates with different layouts and styles.
When you’re building your store, you have two options: Use a premade theme or create a custom store.
Which should you go with?
Short answer: You should probably use a premade theme.
Premade Shopify themes are easy to use and affordable, ranging from free themes to $350 for premium themes. Their fonts and color schemes can be altered to fit your brand.
They also work right away, and best of all, good ones are designed for conversion.
Take this product listing page from the Avenue theme. Its conversion features include a promo banner, product badges, customer reviews, and quick-view shopping.
If you lack the technical skills to develop your own custom site, and if you don’t have an engineer on your team, a premade theme is your best bet.
The downside of premade themes is that they’re less customizable than custom-built sites. If you do have developers, they’ll be limited feature- and functionality-wise. If total ownership of your site’s front- and backend is more important to you than speed to launch and budget conservation (for both site launch and maintenance/updates), a custom build may be best for your startup.
Note that “premade” doesn’t have to mean “cookie cutter.” You can still customize your site. Menswear retailer Ledbury and olive oil brand Diaspora are both built on the Debut theme. They look and operate very differently.
Your copy, images, and on-site flow matter more than the theme you pick.
Using themes for research
Before picking a Shopify theme, scroll through them in the Shopify Theme Store to conduct research. Filter by industry type and catalog size to get a sense of the range of layouts and styles. Just absorbing the different options can give you insights into how your products should be displayed for visual and clickable appeal.
Look at how themes display on both mobile and desktop. Nearly 75% of ecommerce sales happen through mobile.
To see which themes your competitors are using—along with any other Shopify tools they’ve installed—enter their URLs into BuiltWith. You can then click “download list of all websites using Shopify [name of theme]” to see who else is using it too.
You may want to hold off on purchasing a theme until you’ve read through the rest of this playbook, since we’ll get into specific conversion features in a bit.
How to structure your store homepage
Your homepage should be your most trafficked page. It’s what orients site visitors to your brand, and it creates a highly influential first impression.
As we go through the elements of a high-converting homepage, bear this formula in mind:
You want to emphasize what makes your product desirable, whether it brings pleasure or soothes pain. At the same time, to convert prospects, you’ll need to minimize the amount of effort they have to put in and maximize their understanding of what you offer. Keep your homepage simple, clear, and motivating.
Above the fold
What is the single action you want customers to take when they first reach your site? Whatever it is, make it easy to get started in the first section they see: the above the fold (ATF).
We wrote an entire playbook on ATF alone. Bookmark it so you can follow our step-by-step process when you’re ready to create your ATF.
Here are a few tips for using your ATF to hook and convert shoppers.
Header and subheader: Keep ATF copy short. But your header and subheader shouldn’t be so concise that they don’t convey what your brand is and why it’s the one to buy from. Visitors shouldn’t have to scroll to understand what you offer and how they’ll get value from you.
Imagery: Your products are the star of the show here. There are plenty of different formats you can try for ATF styling—from a static image to a slider to video—but no matter what you choose, keep your products at the forefront.
Even better: Show them in the real world, being used and loved. Photos with people have a proven track record of increasing conversion.
Original photos are better than stock photos. Shoppers value authenticity. But if you don’t yet have a library of product images, try Burst, Shopify’s stock photo database.
Because they let you display multiple images, sliders are a useful way to promote discounts, limited-time offers, seasonal specials, and new items.
Note about video: Although ATF video can be a captivating first look, it runs the risk of detracting from action-taking. That’s especially the case if having an ATF video means moving your call-to-action button (CTA) below the fold.
Only use video in your ATF if it’s critical to conversion. For instance, if prospects need to see how your product works, and video is the best way to demo it, an ATF video might make sense for your brand.
CTA: Your ATF is the most important part of your most important page, and your CTA here might be the most important part of your entire site. It’s what grabs attention and drives action.
Your CTA verb is very likely to be “shop”; ATF CTAs for ecommerce tend to be “shop now.” If your conversion goal pertains to a particular product or product line, use your CTA to drive traffic to it. Make sure your CTA is high contrast and unmissable.
Reminder about mobile: We’ll remind you about mobile throughout this playbook because we’ve seen how easy it is to overlook—especially since we build sites on our computers, not our phones. How does your ATF look on mobile? Are images cropped right? Is the CTA visible? Don’t launch without feeling good about the answers to those questions.
Below the fold
A portion of your users will scroll down on your homepage. Below the fold is where you can expand on the information you’ve already provided and continue to drive conversion-related action.
Some elements you might include below the fold are:
- Best sellers: Highlight your flagship and most popular items.
- Social proof: Share reviews, press, user-generated content (UGC), testimonials, and endorsements. Tip: Include social proof near your CTAs. When shoppers see your CTAs, objections will often pop into their heads before they click through. But if they see social proof nearby, it might be enough to handle objections and get more clicks.
- Content: This is a better place for video than ATF. It’s also a good place to share popular blog posts that will keep visitors on-site and intrigued by your brand.
- Brand info: You can use your below-the-fold space to discuss unique product features, special ingredients, brand values, and/or your startup’s mission.
- Footer: Include pages in the footer that you want to give visitors access to, but that aren’t critical to the conversion journey, like your exchanges and returns policy.
Choose and arrange below-the-fold elements based on your customer journey. What is most critical for prospects to see in order to convert? What will drive people to your main CTA?
The answers to those questions will vary by brand. A well-established retailer might not need to provide brand info and can focus instead on their flagship products. Anything else might be a distraction. On the other hand, a young startup might need to provide more background details or brand-related content.
Mosaic Foods does a fantastic job with their homepage. From top to bottom:
- They start with an appealing ATF: a happy family enjoying Mosaic’s product, alongside copy that puts the customer first (“you do you,” “entrees the whole family will love”). The ATF is a slider; other slides feature a new product and their flagship line.
- Next is a full-refund guarantee, addressing a common objection—what if I don’t like it?—right off the bat.
- This product requires some explanation in order to drive conversions, since many customers will be trying out meal plans for the first time. So they have a “how it works” section next, with as little text as possible to still convey what they do.
- Next: mouthwatering food photos to get you shopping, and ordering from, their menu.
- A social proof section (“Satisfaction guaranteed. Seriously.”) adds authenticity. We’d recommend placing a conversion-driving CTA right next to those great reviews.
- Two short paragraphs emphasize Mosaic’s high-quality ingredients and dedication to sustainability.
- Before the footer, the page closes out with an email form and logos from recognizable media outlets, for further social proof.
Because they make effective use of white space, the page never feels cluttered, even though it has a lot to offer.
Be sure to include CTAs throughout your homepage, so visitors don’t have to scroll back to the ATF to take the next step in their buyer journey: toward your product pages.
Deep dive on product pages
The main thing your product pages need to do is convey the value of your products. Right away.
Product pages are often where the “aha moment” happens for customers: the instant they feel the strongest emotional response to the benefits your product offers or the problems it solves.
Take advantage of the moment when shoppers navigate to your product pages.
Write product descriptions that paint a picture—not just of how great your product is, but of how beneficial it is to the people who use it. And showcase your product reviews, which can help on-the-fence shoppers overcome their hesitation and buy.
We’ll go through each of these elements below.
Product page layout
Quality product pages tend to look the same for a reason. There’s a conversion-backed formula behind them that’s meant to:
- Reassure and convert prospects who were leaning toward buying.
- Win over and convert prospects who were on the fence.
What that usually means is an “image at left on desktop, top on mobile” layout, with the “add to cart” CTA at right on desktop and under the image on mobile. Product details are either to the right on desktop or below the fold. You’ll see variations of this layout, but it’s the foundation that product pages are typically built on.
It works because it draws attention to the page’s two most important elements: the product image and CTA.
If your brand’s aesthetic is particularly unique or experimental—like Outlier—you might be able to break away from the standard formula. But when you’re just starting out, put your creative energy behind visuals and copy, not layout.
Reminder about mobile: Remember that your prospect is probably shopping on mobile, not desktop. If you’re designing your product pages on desktop, check their layout and assets on mobile before setting your page live.
Product page teardown
Here’s a product page we love, with a breakdown of why. Apply the takeaways to your own product pages.
Lunchskins’ images are bright and fun. Most are static, but one is a gif showing the product in use. Others feature the product in different “action” scenarios, like at a picnic or during reading time. Some have action-driven text on them—like “peel, fold, and GO!”—and a few convey benefits (“convenient,” “compostable,” “toxin-free”).
As you scroll through the images, “less plastic, more planet” is always present just below, reminding customers of a key value prop.
Takeaways: Your images are your product’s moment to shine. Showcase it in use, and keep visuals bright and inviting.
Product Title and Description
The product title highlights benefits—”recyclable” and “sealable”—and is peppered with SEO keywords. It’s followed by an impressive star rating, the price, and Shop Pay text.
Then we get to the actions: select a quantity, “add to cart,” and “buy with Apple Pay.”
Next are additional benefits (“recyclable,” “food-safe,” and “freezer-safe”), each accompanied by an icon to make them more visually appealing than just plain text would be.
The product description and details come next. These are hidden behind expandable plus signs, which works here because the imagery has already conveyed so many of the product’s value props. This also keeps the focus on the CTAs, instead of surrounding them with heavy text blocks.
When you expand the description section, you see text that starts off by centering the user, not the product: “a disposable sandwich bag you can feel good about using!” (emphasis added). It then talks up the many practical uses and benefits of the product, as well as an award it won.
The product details section features a bulleted list for easy skimming. Lunchskins then explains its refund policy, followed by a section dedicated to its sustainability-related mission.
Takeaways: Keep language actionable and user-oriented. Draw attention to your CTAs. Be transparent about your refund policy. And highlight your product’s benefits and brand’s value.
Below its images and description, the product page has a “You May Also Like” section with items that are related to the product. Even better: There are “add to cart” and “Buy with Apple Pay” CTAs under each one, cutting out extra clicks.
Takeaways: Adding related items to your product page increases upsell and cross-sell opportunities, for a higher average order value. But make sure the items you feature truly are related to the main one. Something off-topic might distract and dissuade.
The product page ends on a high note: a selection of impressive reviews. These are authentic social proof that might convert an unsure shopper into a decided one.
Takeaways: According to a study, 88% of shoppers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Feature reviews on your product page to increase conversions. The app Yotpo can help you collect and display them.
Product page bonus: Offer a subscription
Subscriptions are one of the best ways to boost repeat conversion and lifetime value. And they improve the customer experience by making it easy to reorder.
Subscriptions work well for consumable/disposable products like coffee and office supplies. If your product gets used up or worn out, it may be suitable for a subscription.
If your business model is subscription-driven, you could have a landing page for subscriptions. Pipcorn does a nice job of outlining the benefits of their subscription plan—a discount on every order, quick cancellation, SMS order management, customization—on a page geared toward subscription conversions.
Another option: Offer group discounts on subscriptions, using a Shopify app like Skio. Think of group discounts like Spotify family plans. Users get a discount (say, $5 off every order) for joining your subscription together. This is a mechanism for both growth and retention:
- Growth: Prospects will pull in family and friends who otherwise wouldn’t buy from you.
- Retention: There’s a strong incentive not to cancel, since sticking with the subscription means your friends pay less.
Keep your checkout page distraction-free
There’s no need to spend much time customizing your checkout page. Its job is straightforward: Move customers from your product page to purchase. There should be nothing to distract from that one job.
Don’t add any non-purchase-related links here. Keep CTAs order-focused, e.g., “place order” or “check out.” In your checkout form, don’t ask for any information you don’t need to complete the order.
Should you upsell on your checkout page, using an app like Personalized Recommendations? It’s worth testing. A senior vice president at Amazon was adamantly opposed to offering personalized recommendations during checkout, because of the risk of distraction. But when an employee ran an experiment to test late-stage recommendations anyway, he found that they resulted in a significant boost to revenue.
We’ll explain A/B testing later in this playbook. And we’ll discuss ways to reduce friction at this critical moment in the buyer journey.
More conversion optimization tools
Here are a few more tools you can use to motivate conversion.
Offer incentives through popups
Across industries, the average conversion rate for popups is about 3%. Strategic, high-performing popups can reach ~10% conversion.
Use a popup to offer an incentive in exchange for an email address.
All brands need to collect email addresses. Unlike third-party platforms that you have little control over, like social media and ad channels, your email list is something you own. Plus, email marketing can have a high ROI: We’ve worked with companies that generate more than $40 in revenue per dollar spent. We’ll explain email marketing for your Shopify store toward the end of this playbook.
In your popup, you can offer a discount on a first purchase—for an immediate conversion effect—or free shipping. Or you can offer something longer term, like entry into a giveaway or access to exclusive offers and previews.
Discount codes have more uses than just getting emails. They can help prospects get over the mental barrier of placing a first-time order.
Free shipping popups have pros and cons. Pro: It’s another way to collect emails. Con: Customers often expect free shipping, period. They don’t want to sign up for it. Given how critical free shipping is to the checkout process, we typically recommend offering it instead of gating it, and using a different incentive in your popup. But if each email on your list is more valuable to your brand in the long run than each conversion, you may decide to gate free shipping.
- If you don’t see an increase in conversions, trigger your popup discount code to appear after a user has looked at a product or spent a designated amount of time on your site. Try the 60% Rule: Set a popup to appear after 60% of the average time spent on a page, based on your site analytics. At that point, visitors have shown interest in your brand but are nearing the end of their session. Share your incentive while they’re actively engaged.
- Use popups sparingly. The absolute max is once per session, but we recommend spreading out popups so they don’t appear to a unique visitor more than once a week. Every time you intrude on the customer experience, you’re giving them another reason to leave.
Create urgency by emphasizing time and stock limits
One downside of the rise of ecommerce is that there’s always somewhere else for your prospects to go. To visit your competitor’s shop, they don’t need to get in their car and drive across town. They can just click to another tab.
To keep them on-site, add a sense of urgency to their shopping experience.
Urgency motivates action. Entrepreneur Marcus Taylor tested two versions of a landing page. One showed just the price of an offer, and another had a “time left to download” countdown above the price. The conversion rate was almost three times higher for the version with the countdown.
Some ways you can increase urgency on your Shopify site:
- Show limited stock levels to highlight scarcity, using an app like Stock Level Inventory Quality.
- Set a deadline. Add a countdown to indicate how little time is left on a deal, or show customers how soon they should order to get a product by a certain date.
- Use actionable language in your CTAs, like “shop now” or “subscribe today.”
Don’t go overboard by using countdowns, stock limits, and “act fast” language all together. Nobody likes a pushy salesperson, even when that “person” is a piece of code on your website.
Offer live chat
One last tip for on-site conversion tools: When prospects have a question but no way to answer it, they might abandon site. Offering live chat is an easy fix.
Site visitors who use web chat are 2.8 times more likely to convert. The order value of that conversion increases too: A shopper who uses chat will spend 60% more.
Chat helps with both conversion and retention. It’s a form of customer service that can provide immediate support and build longer-term relationships. And if customers have a negative experience, they’ll have a way to address it that’s not on their public social media pages.
If you implement live chat, keep it subtle, especially if you also have a popup. It shouldn’t intrude on the shopping experience by taking up a ton of real estate or covering up your CTAs.
Not sure what’s converting? Test it.
This playbook is based on what we’ve learned while helping thousands of startups scale. But when it comes to ways to improve site conversion, there’s something better than getting external advice: seeing it for yourself.
A big part of conversion rate optimization (CRO) is running A/B tests to compare two versions of something. Some of your site visitors see one version (A), and some see another (B). After you’ve gathered enough data to know that one performs better than the other, you use the winning version for all site visitors.
The change can be micro, like a single image, or macro, like an entire homepage. Some common on-page CRO changes are headers, subheaders, graphics, CTA copy, and product descriptions. If you’re not sure whether to use video or an image in your ATF, or whether visitors will click a CTA more if it says “shop now” or “get started,” you can run a test to find out
We recommend using Google Optimize when you’re just starting out with A/B testing. It’s a free tool that integrates with Google Analytics—which you should set up for your Shopify site—so you can easily track performance. As your startup scales, you could consider moving over to a more robust (and more expensive) tool like Optimizely. But for now, Google Optimize will give you strong data insights for incremental conversion improvement.
Each of those insights will bring you closer to the key to ecommerce success: understanding how your customers behave—and what they want.
How to optimize the on-site customer journey
Now that your site is looking great, we’ll go over ways to keep customers on it.
Each of the following optimization tactics will improve bounce rate, which could in turn help your conversion rate. You want to give your customers an exceptional user experience so they stay on your site longer, buy from it more, and tell more friends about it.
Tactic 1: Make it easy for customers to find and discover products
The easier it is for customers to discover the right items, the likelier they are to convert. Once they’ve found what they’re looking for, you want to help them discover more products as well.
Streamline your navigation, but include any conversion points
There’s a fine line between having too little information and too much in your main site menu, sometimes called your navbar.
Too little, and a user might not find what they’re looking for. They’ll bounce.
Too much, and they might get overwhelmed by analysis paralysis. They’ll bounce too.
Here’s what we recommend for Goldilocks’ing your menu:
First, include product categories. Most ecommerce stores do this, but a surprising 18% use one nav item, like “Products” or “Shop,” as a dropdown for all their categories. This damages conversion rates by reducing transparency and sometimes requiring a “double hover”: a hover over the nav item, then a hover over the categories within it.
If you have dozens of categories, group them to decrease friction.
Order your categories by popularity, with your most popular ones first.
Second, keep your menu as simple as possible. Your ultimate goal is conversion, not getting people to read your blog.
That’s not to say that every ecommerce site should remove their content marketing and informative pages (e.g., About Us, FAQ, sizing guide) from their menu. For some, those links will help conversion, not hinder it.
A general rule of thumb:
- If your brand has a relatively low—under $50—average order value (AOV) and you’re not selling a complex, ultra-specialized, or mission-driven product, put your informational pages and blog in the footer.
- Otherwise, it might make sense for you to put those pages in your main menu (navbar). For higher-priced, sophisticated, or story-oriented products, high-quality content marketing and informational pages might factor into the “consideration,” “intent,” and “evaluation” stages of the marketing funnel.
What this boils down to is a simple question to ask about any page: Will it help prospects convert? If yes, increase its prominence on your site.
One thing that definitely helps with conversion: your shopping cart. Keep your cart visible in your navigation. Some themes have a “sticky” shopping cart option, so it’s always visible as a shopper scrolls.
In addition to the content of your menu, optimize its configuration. A hamburger menu is fine on mobile, but avoid it on desktop. Keep menu placement standard. On desktop, horizontal at the top of the page is what shoppers are used to, although a menu to the left of the page is also recognizable. Label everything in your menu clearly.
Remember: These are the things you should be looking for when you’re browsing themes. Make sure the theme you choose has options for optimized menus and pages.
Group products by category on product listing pages
Help customers find and discover products by creating product listing pages for different categories. These can be linked to from the categories in your menu.
Product listing pages introduce customers to items related to what they’re interested in, and they’re good for SEO too. Individual product pages won’t usually rank for broad search engine queries, but product listing pages might.
Tip: A discoverability-related plugin worth looking into is LimeSpot Personalizer, which recommends and upsells products and has audience segmentation features.
Tactic 2: Make checkout frictionless to reduce cart abandonment
As we mentioned at the start of this playbook, cart abandonment is a major problem. A pre-pandemic survey underscored that you’re not just losing a few sales: 55% of respondents said they wouldn’t return to an ecommerce site at all after abandoning a cart there.
Here are the top five reasons for cart abandonment, according to a study:
- Extra costs—often shipping rates—are too high
- Mandatory account creation
- Slow delivery
- Long or complicated checkout process
- Didn’t trust the site with their credit card information
The takeaway: Keep your checkout process as short, flexible, and transparent as possible. Some ways to do that:
- Offer free shipping. For most Shopify brands, free shipping is relatively easy to offer. If you’re selling extremely low-cost products and free shipping isn’t an option for all orders, set a reasonable dollar amount to qualify. To promote your brand’s free shipping incentive, you can add a bar to the top of your site, like the one offered through Free Shipping Bar by Hextom.
- Don’t charge customers extra fees. Bake any extra fees, like shipping costs, into your product pricing. If you’re required to charge fees—e.g., you’re shipping internationally and the customer has to pay VAT—include them on your product page, not your checkout page.
- Make account creation optional. Offer guest checkout with an email (and, if you truly need it, a phone number). As the UX experts at Nielsen Norman Group put it, “The higher the interaction cost, the fewer people will complete a process. This is true for any user interface steps, but in the case of e-commerce checkout there’s a particularly direct connection between user hassle and lost sales.”
- Use one-click checkout tools to further eliminate checkout friction. Tools like Fast and Bolt can help you implement this. Shopify has their own system too.
- Let people pay how they want. Allowing customers to pay through PayPal is a start. You can also configure gateways like Affirm and Klarna to offer flexible plans for customers. If you’re using Shopify Payments, you can enable Shop Pay for a quick checkout process. Some brands accept payment in Bitcoin or Ethereum.
If customers do abandon cart, send them an email about the products that are waiting for them, with a link to their cart. You can set up an abandoned cart email flow to trigger automatically once people leave items in their cart for a set amount of time.
Tactic 3: Speed up your site
Site speed is one of the biggest friction points for visitors. A page that takes six seconds to load on mobile has a 106% higher chance of a bounce than one that takes a second to load. Even a small jump from one to three seconds increases bounce probability by more than 30%.
What’s your site speed?
The easiest way to check site speed is to use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. It’ll tell you whether your site passes Google’s Core Web Vitals assessment, and it will give you recommendations on what to improve.
Don’t panic if your score isn’t high. Google’s rating system is harsh, and the vast majority of ecommerce sites don’t pass the Core Web Vitals assessment. As shown above, Apple doesn’t even pass. But knowing what your baseline is will help you keep tabs on how much you’re improving it.
How can you speed up your site?
Here are five ways to improve site speed.
- Go page by page, instead of trying a comprehensive “hack” or plugin. Improving site speed is much easier when you break it down into discrete units.
- Trim the fat. The most effective way to improve load speed is to simply load fewer things. Are there images or sections you can cut? Optimizing an image may save you a few milliseconds of load time; eliminating that image entirely will save you much more. Use a heatmap like Hotjar to see what content users are interacting with, and what can be removed.
- Resize images. Check that any images you keep aren’t making your site sluggish. When resizing, use the WebP image format. It’s Google’s preferred format, but it’s only recently been accepted on all browsers, and your competitors might not be using it. Like jpgs, WebP will give you a small image file, but it has a higher compression quality.
- Don’t use more scripts and plugins than you need. In general, the more custom code you write and the more plugins you add, the slower your site will be. A minimalist approach is usually a better one. If you’re not sure whether a plugin’s benefits outweigh its site speed reduction, install it, run a speed test, and check to see if there’s a noticeable difference.
- Implement lazy loading. Also known as asynchronous loading, lazy loading lets ecommerce brands have full, detailed pages without compromising site speed. It works by only loading elements on a page when a user starts to scroll over them. If done right, the experience will be seamless, and users won’t notice any difference.
Shopify retention marketing
There are two reasons to market your online store: to acquire and retain. Acquisition turns shoppers into customers. And retention increases repeat purchases from those customers.
We don’t cover acquisition in this playbook, since our focus here is on on-site CRO and down-funnel strategies that are closer to the point of purchase. We’ll just briefly touch on Shopify’s integrations with various acquisition channels, before turning to post-purchase retention.
If you want to learn how to acquire customers, you can sign up for our Growth Newsletter. We’ll send you top tactics and insights to inform your acquisition strategy.
To expand top-of-funnel reach, use Shopify’s channel integrations
One of the nice things about Shopify is how smoothly it integrates with various organic, ad, and sales channels. As a few examples, you can:
- Sync your product catalog to Facebook and Instagram.
- Embed an Instagram feed on your site—a great way to share UGC. (You can also use Archive to automatically save UGC you’re tagged in on Instagram, so you can use it on your Shopify store or post it to your Instagram feed.)
- Create a Google Smart Shopping campaign.
- Manage Amazon listings (SMBs often use Shopify and Amazon as complements, instead of only selling through one or the other).
- Tag your products on TikTok.
Again, we won’t dive deep on these here, but as you pick acquisition channels, consider how these integrations would affect the buyer experience and likelihood of conversion. A smooth integration means an easy purchase—which could increase intent to buy.
Use post-purchase messaging to keep customers engaged
It can cost about five times more to acquire a customer than retain one, yet companies often dedicate more resources to acquisition than retention.
Think of the following steps as another type of CRO: customer retention optimization. Both it and conversion rate optimization bring in more sales and revenue.
Once you’ve converted a customer, bring them back for repeat purchases with email engagement.
Set up an email automation flow to reach your subscribers and buyers. There are many ways to do this—here’s an example:
- Email 1: A welcome and thanks for subscribing. You can include a discount code here, if applicable. Keep the content fresh—for example, if a holiday is coming up, mention a sale you’re running.
- Email 2: Brand-focused message. Let customers know what makes your brand unique. You can include a brand story here too. This typically goes out a day or two after the first email.
- Email 3: Social proof and products. At this point, you can start to encourage sales by featuring popular products and listing some reviews or testimonials.
- Email 4: Bring people into your community. Create a warm feeling around your product. Invite recipients to follow you on Instagram, join your Facebook group, or otherwise engage with your brand.
In addition to an automation flow, you can use email to promote limited-time specials or holiday deals, re-engage customers you haven’t heard from in a while (called a win-back campaign), and keep your brand front of mind.
Most ecommerce sites that prioritize email marketing use a platform like Klaviyo or Mailchimp. There’s less of a downside (other than budget) to purchasing off-site plugins, as they won’t affect speed or visitors’ on-site experience.
Email marketing is a massive, complex topic, and doing it right requires careful timing, personalization, testing, and segmentation based on demographics and products purchased. While we can’t cover everything email-related in this playbook, here are a few quick tips for creating compelling emails:
- Keep your subject line under 50 characters to make it readable on mobile.
- Include plenty of negative space and large-ish typography.
- Be aggressively concise in the body of your email. Don’t waste subscribers’ time with unwarranted fluff.
- Focus on one goal per email. More is distracting. If your goal is to promote a Black Friday discount, don’t veer off into sharing an unrelated blog article. It’s okay to have multiple CTAs in ecommerce emails, and it’s even okay to have different ones, but only if they share the same goal. (For instance, if you want readers to check out a product line, you might have dedicated CTAs for different products or categories, like “shop men’s” and “shop women’s.”)
The main takeaway from this abbreviated introduction to email marketing is: If you sell on Shopify, you should be communicating directly with your audience. Third-party platforms like Instagram or Snapchat can be useful marketing tools, but nothing beats the immediate brand-to-consumer impact of email.
You’ll get a high open rate with SMS marketing, but does it convert? We have yet to see hard evidence that text marketing is a consistent revenue generator. Stats about high response and conversion rates tend to come from mobile marketing firms.
But SMS has the potential to be a strong retention strategy. Like email capture, you can offer a popup discount in exchange for a number. Another option is to add a phone number box to your checkout page, but that’s risky—the last thing you want is to add friction toward the end of the funnel.
Be clear about how often you’ll be sending messages, so customers know you won’t be bombarding them.
Shopify conversions cheat sheet
Here’s a quick recap of the above, with just the basic tactics and none of the strategy or granularity.
Build a high-converting store
- Use a custom domain. You can purchase one through your Shopify admin or a third-party domain registrar.
- Stick with your business name for your URL. If an exact match isn’t available, try adding a word (e.g., “get,” “shop”) or using a top-level domain other than .com.
- Most startups should use a premade Shopify theme. They’re built to convert and fast to launch. Exception: If you need a highly customized site, go with a custom build.
- Nearly 3/4s of ecommerce sales happen on mobile—bear that in mind when selecting a theme and at every stage in the shop-launch process.
- Use themes to research different layouts and visual displays. Use BuiltWith to see which themes your competitors use.
- Consider this formula as you craft your homepage: Conversion = desire (increase this) - labor (decrease this) - confusion (decrease this)
- Above the fold: Use your ATF to drive conversion-related action. Keep copy short, but make sure it conveys your unique value props. Feature product imagery (original is better than stock). Even better: Show people using your products. Use your CTA to launch customers on their on-site buyer journey. No matter what style and assets you choose for your ATF, make sure they’re mobile optimized.
- Below the fold: In your below the fold, expand on the information you’ve provided ATF and continue to drive conversion-related action. Depending on your brand’s buyer journey, some elements you might include are best sellers, social proof, content (blog posts, video, a brief tutorial), and info that underscores your unique product features or brand values. Include CTAs throughout.
- Most product pages look similar because they’re built for conversion. It’s okay to follow or adapt the standard product page formula: on desktop, product image at left and description at right, and on mobile, product image above description. Get creative with your assets, not your product page layout, which should draw attention to your product photos and “add to cart” CTA.
- Create a sensory experience to help customers reach their “aha moment.” Use high-quality images, including action shots. Write copy that connects your product’s benefits to your customers and reiterates your value props.
- Be transparent about your refund policy. If it makes sense for your product type (e.g., consumables), offer standard or group subscriptions.
- Feature related items on your product pages to encourage upsells and cross-sells.
- Showcase your product reviews to motivate on-the-fence shoppers. These are trustworthy social proof and a critical factor in shoppers’ decision-making process. Plugin recommendation: Yotpo.
- A boring checkout page is better than a clever one. Your checkout page serves one purpose: move customers from product page to purchase. Keep forms as short as possible and CTAs all order-focused.
- Consider testing whether to add personalized recommendations to your checkout page. They could increase order value, or they could increase distraction. Plugin recommendation: Personalized Recommendations.
- Use a popup to offer an incentive (e.g., a discount, giveaway, free shipping, or exclusive offer) in exchange for an email address. Unlike third-party platforms, your email list is something you own, so it’s a crucial part of growth marketing.
- If you gate free shipping behind an email form, you’ll grow your email list, but you might alienate customers who expect free shipping as a given. Gate free shipping if it’s more important for your startup to grow its email list than get fast conversions.
- Use the 60% Rule to time popups. Set a popup to appear after 60% of the average time spent on a page. Align your popups to your customer journey, for instance by triggering them only after a product page visit. And use them sparingly—max once per session.
Create a sense of urgency by displaying limited stock levels or adding a countdown. Use time-oriented CTAs like “shop now” or “subscribe today.”
Use A/B testing to optimize your Shopify website’s conversion rate through micro and macro changes. Use Google Optimize while you’re launching your testing program. Later, consider more feature-rich software like Optimizely.
Optimize the on-site customer journey
- Include product categories in your menu, ordered by popularity and grouped if there are a lot of them.
- Don’t include anything in your menu that doesn’t help with conversion. For some brands—typically those with a relatively low AOV or that don’t sell highly specialized or complex products—that means moving the About Us page, blog, and informational pages out of the menu.
- Add your shopping cart to your nav. Consider making it “sticky,” so it’s always visible.
- Don’t use a hamburger menu on desktop, and don’t get creative with menu placement. Top of page on desktop is what users are accustomed to.
Product listing pages
Group products by category on product listing pages. These help with discoverability and SEO rankings. Recommended plugin for upselling: LimeSpot Personalizer.
Reduce cart abandonment by addressing friction points during checkout.
- Offer free shipping on all products if possible, or most products otherwise. Recommended tool: Free Shipping Bar by Hextom.
- Don’t charge extra fees. Include them in your product price or on your product page, not your checkout page.
- Make account creation optional, not mandatory.
- Use one-click checkout tools. Recommended tools: Fast and Bolt.
- Give customers multiple ways to pay—they’ll appreciate the flexibility. Recommended tools: PayPal, Affirm, Klarna, and Shop Pay.
- Set up an abandoned cart email flow. When people leave items in their cart for a set amount of time, they’ll get an email with a link back to their cart.
- Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to check your site speed, then improve it page by page.
- Remove any excess content, scripts, and plugins. Use a heatmap tool like Hotjar to see what can be cut, and compare site speed before and after a plugin installation to see how much it slows things down.
- Optimize images by resizing and using the WebP image format.
- Try lazy loading, so elements only load when they’re going to be viewed.
Shopify retention marketing
Acquisition turns shoppers into customers.
- Take advantage of Shopify’s integrations with different ad/sales and organic channels, including Facebook, Instagram, Google, Amazon, and TikTok. E.g., you can embed an Instagram feed on your Shopify store to promote UGC. Recommended tool: Archive.
Retention increases repeat purchases by existing customers. It’s less costly than initial acquisition.
- Increase retention with a post-purchase email marketing flow. Also use email marketing for brand promotions and win-back campaigns. Keep your subject lines under 50 characters, include plenty of negative space in your emails, and be as concise as possible. Focus on one goal per email. Recommended tools: Klaviyo and Mailchimp.
- Consider an SMS marketing campaign, but don’t prioritize SMS over email. If you do try it, be transparent about how often you’ll be sending messages.
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