Its not you, its mobile.

Most retail­ers aren’t com­plain­ing because online sales con­tinue to rise, but if you look at the trend you’ll see that con­ver­sion is down over the last 3 years.


As they’ve watched their con­ver­sion rates decline many retail­ers won­der if they’re falling behind the indus­try. As part of our review of hol­i­day shop­ping trends I looked at con­ver­sion rates across more than 500 retail­ers and found that the trend is affect­ing the whole indus­try. Even for top retail­ers (75th per­centile) con­ver­sion has fallen from 6.94% to 3.56% since 2009.


So what’s with con­ver­sion rates? It can be argued that we’re see­ing the effect of increased com­pe­ti­tion and that con­ver­sion rates will nat­u­rally fall as peo­ple spend more time shop­ping online—more shop­ping equals more vis­its per pur­chase. How­ever, increased mobile vis­its is the pri­mary fac­tor at play here, and in par­tic­u­lar vis­its from smart­phones, not tablets. As we pointed out last Jan­u­ary, vis­i­tors using a smart­phone are much less likely to con­vert than their coun­ter­parts on tablets or on desktops/laptops. In this sense, tablets are more often used like tra­di­tional com­put­ers than like smart­phones. Shop­pers seem to pre­fer to use smart­phones to browse, price check, and find store loca­tions, while tablets, with larger, high res­o­lu­tion screens are ideal for final prod­uct review and pur­chase. As mobile dri­ves more and more incre­men­tal traf­fic, retail­ers should expect over­all con­ver­sion rates to fall. Incre­men­tal is the key here. Even at lower con­ver­sion rates, incre­men­tal traf­fic means more revenue.


As the lines between tablet, sur­face, and lap­top con­tinue to blur, retail­ers should start look­ing more at clues about the cir­cum­stances in which the vis­i­tor is using each device. For exam­ple, com­par­ing traf­fic from wifi vs. cell vs. wired devices should tell a lot. When a tablet is used via cell sig­nal you might expect more smartphone-like use cases, but when wifi is in use, the tablet is likely to be tak­ing the place of a tra­di­tional com­puter. I plan to look into dif­fer­ences in con­ver­sion by wire­less con­nec­tion type. Fol­low me @tyrwhite for an upcom­ing post on the sub­ject and let me know what related trends you’ve seen.

Many retail­ers are start­ing to use uni­fied cus­tomer IDs to fairly mea­sure the added value of mobile opti­miza­tion by focus­ing on vis­i­tor con­ver­sion rather than visit con­ver­sion. Michael @Halbrook and team can tell you more about that and other tech­niques to pro­vide the best multi-screen experience.