3 Steps to Bridging the Gap Between Online Conversions and Buyer Intent

It’s been more than 10 years since e-Commerce became a truly viable way of doing business ― light-years by technology standards. The U.S. Commerce Department now estimates e-Commerce sales at $165.4 billion for last year. That’s a significant number but considering the phenomenal amount of technology and marketing innovation over the past decade, is it what it could be? I’d argue a resounding ‘no.’

Since conversion rates have been tracked by the industry, the average has hovered between 2% and 3%. Yet according to the Fireclick Index, 10% of visitors come to e-Commerce sites intending to make a purchase.

Bottom line: these numbers overwhelmingly suggest a huge lost opportunity for retailers, and e-Commerce companies as a whole have not done a great job of capitalizing on their visitors’ intent to purchase.


The question, then, is how can e-Commerce companies beat the conversion curse? One area for investment is the personalization of existing websites and channels such as email and mobile to create a more engaging consumer experience.

Here are three best practices for creating personalization programs that have the maximum impact on conversion rates:  

  1. Consider Intent: Social graph profiles and historical transaction data all offer valuable insight about a shopper’s tastes and preferences, but this intelligence alone cannot predict what a visitor actually wants in the moment. That’s why paying attention to a visitor’s actual intent is so important., an online destination for outdoor enthusiasts, recently increased its conversion rates by 450% after implementing an intent-based personalization approach. Because of the seasonality of its business, factoring in the real-time intent of its potential buyers is critical to its personalization strategy: a shopper may have bought a heavy fleece jacket in February but now is coming back in the summer looking for some Keen sandals. The quicker retailers can recognize and understand what the shopper’s current intent is versus only looking at what interested him in the past, the more relevant they will be and therefore the more likely a shopper will convert.
  2. Consider All Touchpoints: In addition to looking at shopper intent, retailers must also ensure their personalization approaches stay consistent across all touchpoints. From the website, to email, to chat support, to e-newsletters, to mobile apps and more, the end-to-end buyer experience is multi-channeled; the most successful personalization approaches must work in unison across them. For instance, if a customer receives a certain personalized marketing message on a gadget retailer’s site but then loads up the iPad app and sees a completely different message, the first message will be considerably less sticky to that customer. It often takes multiple impressions or interactions for a concept to truly resonate. Therefore retailers need to consider how to apply personalization seamlessly across all of their  primary customer interaction channels.
  3. Treat All Customers As Unique:  Customers engage with you for all kinds of reasons. Some may be in the research mode. Others may have their credit cards at the ready. By paying attention to clues such as the search terms visitors use, how they arrived at your site or other touch point, and their behaviors once they get there, you can often ascertain what stage of the shopping lifecycle they’re in and therefore, how to best serve them. For example, when people are in an information gathering or product exploration process, giving them personalized product recommendations mixed with a set of ratings or reviews might be most useful to them. However, if they’re ready to buy at that moment, recommendations might be an unhealthy distraction; instead you’re best off focusing on how to encourage them to move forward with a purchase.

While e-Commerce will not solve the conversion curse overnight, personalization is well positioned as a solution that can help break the 2% to 3% status quo plaguing the industry for years. By considering the intent, context and shopping lifecycle of customers and personalizing based on that information, online retailers can create incredibly relevant customer experiences that not only resonate but convert.

Doug Merritt is the CEO at Baynote, a provider of e-Commerce personalization solutions. Baynote is based in San Jose, Calif.. Doug can be contacted at

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