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Guest Comment: Converting the cautious buyer

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With the holiday season nearly upon us, shoppers are still exhibiting caution according to a recent IMRG Capgemini monthly e-Retail Sales Index that cited below average month-on-month growth in September online spending. As Mike Petevinos, head of consulting for retail at Capgemini UK, noted in a recent Internet Retailing article that discussed the Index, “the underlying trend is still that consumers are turning to the internet to make more informed purchase decisions.” But, Petevinos added, “As the competition increases, the pressures on converting the consumers who hit your site should be a constant priority.”

So how do you convert the cautious buyer? Let’s take a look at the techniques that a few perceptive online retailers in the UK and Europe are currently employing in order to increase conversion rates and drive higher margin sales.

New buying habits require new selling strategies

Because online shoppers are more cautious than ever, retailers are under pressure not only to get people to their sites, but to keep them there longer and to encourage them to return in the future, particularly as the holiday season approaches.

To accomplish this the most successful retailers look for ways to optimise the online experience and make it more relevant and compelling for buyers. At the same time, with pressure to control costs, they are finding ways to not invest heavily in new technologies and content.

This approach is motivating retailers to leverage assets that most already have in place: A product catalog, inventory and sales data, reviews, and customer data. As they combine this content with existing site search technology through the techniques outlined below, these retailers are finding that they can quickly convert the most cautious shoppers into enthusiast buyers.

1. Give Buyers More Information

Consumers today want to make better-informed purchase decisions. Most retailers still fail to realise the wealth and breadth of readily available data that they can integrate into their storefronts, such as product information, sales availability, and customer opinions — no matter what the source of the data may be.

RS Components, a global supplier of electronic parts for electrical design engineers, professionals, and electronics enthusiasts, recently revamped its site, exposing significantly more information on its 600,000 products than was previously available to shoppers. With more than one million product attributes, the company focused on making it easier for shoppers to search and navigate with attribute-based filters, also known as “faceted search.” The result? Search abandonment rates dropped by nearly 60% and visitor-to-customer conversion rates increased by almost 70%.

2. Make buying easier

As shoppers become more discerning, a key to higher conversion rates is making sure the most relevant data is presented and usable to consumers in ways that lead to better purchasing decisions. For example, incorporating data such as product ratings and product attributes into site search and guided navigation enhances relevance for the shopper by providing more choices and a quicker path to desired products.

Kiddicare, the UK’s largest privately owned nursery and baby supplier, allows shoppers to browse through its broad inventory of over 80 car seats by product refinement criteria such as price range, brand, color, best selling, and rating in order to get to a manageable list of desired options.

RS Components and — a leading UK retailer of IT and technology products — both provide inventory and stock availability as additional options to help people make more efficient purchase decisions. In all three cases, the buyer is presented with highly relevant information in a manner that compels them to buy sooner and more often.

3. Increase trust in decision making

Armed with more information that is easy to find, the cautious buyer now wants to know the opinions of other like-minded consumers. Therefore, user-generated content is becoming increasingly important in leading buyers to purchasing decisions.

Entertainment retailer HMV offers search and guided navigation by user review rating, providing customers with the ability to filter products by average review score. HMV also spotlights top selling products within a customer’s search results, guiding shoppers who are overwhelmed by choices to use the “top selling” product as an indicator of a safe purchase.

Kiddicare also uses this technique effectively, as each product in a search is accompanied by a customer review, along with an easy-to-navigate five-star customer rating system. This helps shoppers quickly find a product that fits their needs according to the opinion of other buyers, not just the opinion of the marketers, increasing their trust that they are making the right decision.

4. Make it personal

Retailers are also taking additional opportunities to engage users when they first arrive on sites, in the form of targeted dynamic landing pages. This technique has been shown to improve conversion and order sizes because customers are provided with content that is more relevant — and personal — to their search, whether from a natural search engine or even on site.

5. Bring more customers to your site

Improving site search goes beyond enhancing buying confidence and conversion rates. It also plays a role in attracting more shoppers to one’s site in the first place for the retailers who take advantage of the close relationship between site search and search engine optimisation (SEO).

By deploying search technology to dynamically assemble highly relevant content pages,, an online publisher of a German-language buying guide for digital lifestyle products, increased its visibility and rankings on Google, its primary source of site visitors. This resulted in a 20% increase in site traffic, with more converted buyers and increased revenue.

When retailers utilise these search and navigation techniques to improve the online shopping experience, they will immediately start reducing the high rate of caution buyers come armed with these days.

Increased traffic, more satisfied buyers, and greater customer loyalty will follow, bringing more profit and increased sales to the retailers who took advantage of these opportunities.

• Robert Swint is the global lead for ecommerce and media at Endeca Technologies, a search applications company. Endeca delivers software that helps people make better daily decisions from large volumes of diverse and changing information, which in retail means it helps customers find what they are looking for faster and make better buying choices.

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