Shopify Conversion Rate Optimization Guide (2019)

We had real users test dozens of Shopify stores. This is what we found.

We’re kicking off a new series to launch the UserInsights blog. Every 2 weeks we’ll be doing a deep dive into a variety of widely used platforms and popular sites.

If you’re new to UserInsights - welcome. We’re a platform that provides real user feedback on, well, nearly anything. You can have our testers review your landing page, your checkout flow, or even compare you and your 3 closest competitors.

What better way to show the utility of the product than to use it on popular services and share some of the takeaways?

A word on methodology

These are not scientifically rigorous tests. They’re based on takeaways that we noted after watching dozens of videos of our testers using the sites and accomplishing goals that we set. Here are some of the goals and questions we asked users to complete:

  1. Find a blue shirt. Next, go back to the homepage. What is the fastest way to find this exact product again?
  2. What information do you need before purchasing this item? Show us where to find that information.
  3. Add a [blue widget] to your cart. Were there any points in that flow that were confusing?
  4. What feedback would you have for this website owner?
  5. After browsing the site, what do you know about the company that owns it?
  6. How would you describe the site to a friend?

Now let’s move onto the findings.

Results Overview

Below is a chart that shows the feedback on each feature we selected for this post. Positive means "users liked this", negative means "users did not like this" and indifferent means users did not find any issues with it.

1. Don’t get creative with navigation.

Users rely on navigational elements to drive their session. During our tests, we saw many sites that created editorialized or non-standard product categories. Think “swag” vs “apparel” or ’t shirts”. This created some level of confusion between our testers with how to navigate back to a particular product.

A lot of what we focus on is figuring out what users expect to find when they click on something, as compared to what they actually find. The delta between the two can produce serious issues with navigation stress and user experience.

Our recommendation is to create ‘no brainer’ type taxonomy or categories. If the product collection features t-shirts, maybe call it T-Shirts. Or if you have multiple types of clothing products, maybe call it ‘Apparel’. Even further, if your site caters to both male and female audiences, and has unique collections of products for each, create ‘men’ and ‘women’ sections for top-level navigation.

Bonus pro-tip: Remove the ‘shop’ link from your navigation. Most users already know they’re here to shop. Clicking shop in many cases brought our testers to unfiltered collection pages of all products. Unless you’re running a content site on the root domain, it is pretty much assumed that users have the ability to shop. In many cases, testers clicked shop and then filtered the results by category anyway.

2. Categorize your products intelligently.

Store owners often place products into more than 1 category, probably to help the store look more filled out and appear to contain more product offerings than they actually have. Nobody likes an empty shelf!

The problem with this is that it breaks the taxonomical pattern of product->category relationship. Say you have a T-shirt of a unicorn eating a cupcake (this exists). You have 2 product collections / categories that this product can technically go into: unicorns, and t-shirts.

While technically, the product is accurately described as either, in reality, our testers first think about products based on the type of product that it is. Unicorn in this case would be a filter on the results of t-shirts. They’re looking for a t-shirt first and foremost, and a unicorn t-shirt more specifically.

3. If you have free shipping, add a plugin that shows (dollar amount) to free shipping.

The vast majority of sites that we tested had free shipping over a certain dollar amount. This recommendation is not as much an issue, as it is an enhancement. Testers were going to the cart and trying to do the math themselves regarding how much more they had to spend to qualify for free shipping. Why not add in a call out in the cart that says ‘add $18 more to qualify for free shipping (a value of $9.95!’.

This has been discussed frequently elsewhere online, and has often had the result of increasing the average cart value. It’s a win-win!

4. Make sure your initial visit pop matches the customers intent.

Popups are all the rage with Shopify stores. Everyone and their brother is running an entry pop for first time visitors. The problem is that a lot of our testers found the popup intrusive and obnoxious, excepting a few key situations. Most notably, if the popup offered a coupon or discount for their visit.

Most popups, however, did not. They simply asked for a newsletter subscription for future ‘product announcements and deals’.

Our recommendation here is to consider the context of the visit. Offer up something useful for first time visitors (hint: its not your newsletter) and save the commitments for after they’ve already engaged with your brand in meaningful ways.

5. Have a robust about us page.

By far the most missed item on the list with our testing is having robust ‘about us’ information. We are big proponents of having a key pillar piece of content setting the brand narrative and the why.

In fact, over 75% of our tests ended with the tester not being able to tell us a single detail about the parent company that owned the store.

In reality, buying something sight unseen online requires a lot of trust. People simply have to trust you to give you their money, even if it’s in exchange for a seriously useful item. People like to buy products from real people. They’re almost always interested in why you’re different and love to be told reasons as to why they should like your company and your approach. Tell them! It goes a long way toward building trust and authority.

6. Very few users engaged with the wishlist feature.

Of the stores we tested, over 50% had a wishlist feature prominently displayed on the product page.

The vast majority of our testers had 2 problems with this:

  1. It wasn’t clear what the utility was. Why add this item to my wishlist instead of buying it?
  2. It required account registration. This is a secondary goal that the product page probably doesn’t need to try to fulfill.

Let’s unpack this for a minute. What you’re essentially doing is allowing a potential customer to delay the purchase until a later date. Traditionally marketing methodologies always seem to focus on providing urgency as one of the requirements to a transaction. Adding a prominent wishlist feature is antithetical to providing urgency. You’re giving them a way to make a committed non-commitment. It’s almost like saying, hey, you don’t have to buy this now, it’ll still be here in a couple of months when you remember it.

Think critically about what you’re adding to your store and test all of the things. Measure whether or not these things bring in new conversions or not. Sometimes they do - and great! And sometimes they don’t. Try to understand why.

7. Make sure your product images change if you have configurable options.

Shopify makes it very easy to sell product variants. As a result though, this can create a fairly serious usability issue if you’re not careful.

Our testers identified dozens of sites that have configurable or selectable variants of products. Many also had a color selector type of feature.

The primary issue here is that the product images did not change based on the user input. For example, there was a site with t-shirts in a variety of colors. A user was able to select, white, red, black, grey… but when they selected the options the image stayed the same - a red version.

Users expect features like this to allow them to visualize different variants of a product, and they may engage with them solely based on that assumption.

8. If you’re using reviews - hide if no review present.

Recent studies show that users attribute online reviews as highly influential to their purchasing activity. Simply put, people want to know what other people think of your products. It’s a great idea to have reviews display prominently on your products, and services like YotPo make this very simple.

One suggestion we have here, is to remove the default state, or provide a sensible alternative. If you currently do not have any reviews on a product, it probably displays something like this:

Our testers often took this as a negative message. It either meant the product wasn’t popular enough to receive reviews or that the reviews left were negative (0 out of 5 stars was the common assumption, since that’s what it displays).

We would recommend either removing the ability to write a review from the page (if no other reviews, therefore a rating exist) and relying on back end messaging (emails) to get reviews written, or changing the default view of this feature to say ‘no reviews yet, write one!’ Or similar.

Additionally, you could move the placement of this down to where the reviews actually show - not up near the product meta data (price, title, description, add to cart) area.

9. Provide a really solid search feature.

Even with the best navigation flow, your users are still going to rely on search. Our testers used the search feature extremely often.

About 20% of the time, the testers had a hard time identifying the search icon. Several of these sites hid the search icon next to the social media icons, making it difficult to distinguish.

Our recommendation here is to make the search feature a prominent, permanent addition to the navigation bar. Users will thank you (and as a result, your sales will too). This also has the added benefit of solidifying the navigation bar as the jumping off point for all engagement. A solid, reliable plus.

10. Remove almost all of the filters on the category pages. Keep price.

Most Shopify themes by default show a dropdown filter on category / collections pages. Our users were often looking for a way to sort by price - and this was it, but they didn’t identify it because by default there are other options listed. Very few users will want to display the category products in alphabetical order. Same for displaying by recency. The truth is, if you have already acquired a user who is familiar with your products enough to care about what is recent and what is not, you’ve probably got a better channel to alert them than letting them filter.

We recommend removing all options except sort by price. Our testers repeatedly used this feature.

Additionally, if you see a lot of users sorting by new, it may also indicate something is wonky with your ‘out of stock’ products showing up in places they should not. As an additional pro-tip: we’d recommend putting out of stock products below in stock products (at the bottom) of the product category / collection listing page.

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