At Anatta, our team has launched more than 1,000+ conversion rate optimization (CRO) tests over our 15 years in DTC eCommerce. Our approach to CRO has helped brands like Dollar Shave Club, Rothy’s, and Athletic Greens unlock million-dollar opportunities. In that time, we’ve come to learn that the way CRO is often done is counterproductive. And CRO itself isn’t well understood.
Of course, every site wants to optimize conversion rates… but what does that actually mean? And how do we do that?
If you Google the term (or follow CRO experts on social), you’ll almost always find the same generic advice: Do a bunch of A/B tests. The more tests, the better.
The truth is, these articles and posts are vague at best and misleading at worst.
In this article, we’re taking you behind the curtain and showing you the exact conversion rate optimization strategies we use with major DTC eCommerce players. We’ll also bust the current and popular beliefs surrounding CRO so you can focus your time and energy on truly needle-moving opportunities.
As a sneak peek, the strategies you’re about to read about had results like:
- +17% increase in revenue
- +38% returning customer rate
Let’s dive in.
What So-Called “CRO Experts” Get Wrong
Let’s clear something up: CRO is insanely difficult. But the way most CRO agencies and gurus approach CRO is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack — while blindfolded.
Despite what you read from online gurus, 7/8 CRO tests fail.
By that, we mean the money and time spent testing don’t generate enough of a change in conversion rates to justify the resources spent.
Invesp reports that only 12-15% of tests will win if you’re doing traditional CRO. And 98% of organizations are doing traditional CRO.
Here’s what Traditional CRO tests look like:
- Changes to the color of a CTA button
- Different headlines or messaging across your site
- Moving the placement of content on your homepage
These types of CRO almost always have a negative ROI. But, unfortunately, that’s not the only approach to CRO that’s ineffective.
More “Sophisticated” CRO experiments may deliver slightly better results, but they still fail to unlock the full potential CRO can offer.
Here’s what Sophisticated CRO tests look like:
- Cart upsells
- Product quizzes
- Product bundling
If Traditional CRO and Sophisticated CRO both deliver disappointing results, what approach to CRO actually leads to a positive ROI?
Today, we’ll show you how to do CRO better — the way we do it every day for industry-leading DTC brands.
4 Common, But Faulty eCommerce Conversion Rate Optimization Beliefs
The goal of CRO, at the end of the day, is simple: make more money.
CRO helps DTC brands do that by:
- Reducing customer acquisition costs (CACs)
- Increasing average order value (AOV) or customer lifetime value (LTV)
- Recovering revenue from leaky funnels
But four super common CRO misbeliefs get in the way of actually achieving this. These beliefs are passed down again and again from CRO gurus, blog articles, Facebook groups, and conferences.
Let’s dispel each one so you can approach CRO more effectively.
Belief #1: Test Everything… What’s the Harm in That?
If you’ve spent any time researching CRO you’ve heard this belief countless times. The prevailing attitude is that there’s no harm in testing anything and everything. And ideas for tests are sometimes taken from anyone in the company with an opinion.
This is a huge misbelief.
You should not be testing everything. Why? Because a proper A/B test for conversion rates is actually extremely expensive — and testing the wrong thing will waste resources and hurt your ROI.
Think about it: getting the right team in place, setting up your testing and tracking software, and acquiring enough valid data all take time and money.
And when 7/8 of traditional CRO tests lose, it’s clear why over-testing is a big mistake.
Here’s some simple math:
if 12.5% of tests are successful then you need to run 8 tests to find a winner
if each test takes 2 weeks and costs $7,800 to run then you spend 16 weeks and $62,400 to find a winner
That means that you should only be testing ideas with the potential to generate at least $62,400 in additional profit for your business.
To find out your cost per test, use this simple formula:
- Hours of Needed Team Members x Wages = cost per test
The lesson here: only run CRO tests that have the chance for a meaningful return.
CRO is not a democracy where everyone needs a say in what’s tested. Instead, you need to tie back each test to its potential revenue opportunity, and then prioritize tests based on that value.
Why go after a $10,000 ROI test when there’s a $500,000+ opportunity out there?
Belief #2: More Tests is Better (Or, CRO is A Numbers Game)
If you simply run more tests, you’ll eventually find a winner, right? Well, not quite. Not only is it inefficient to test everything, but prioritizing test volume from the start is another slippery slope.
The reason why comes down to the number of site visitors your eCommerce store brings in, and how long it might take an A/B test to reach Statistical Significance.
Statistical Significance is when your A/B test has been exposed to enough users that a resulting improvement in conversion rate can be credited to the change you made. In DTC, you might need a threshold of 5,000-10,000 site visitors exposed to each test to generate statistically relevant data.
That number is easier to achieve at the very top of your funnel where all site visitors first land. But gets far more difficult the further you move to the bottom of your funnel. For example, a cart checkout test will need a ton of visitors reaching your cart page and going through checkout. For your brand, that means spending more time and money on that one test.
Your testing costs can quickly explode if you go for quantity over quality. Instead, it’s better to limit tests to CRO ideas that can really move the needle.
Belief #3: Copying Your Competitors is a Good Idea
When you were growing up, did you ever hear this phrase: “If everyone was jumping off a cliff, would you do it, too?” Well, the same logic applies to another popular CRO belief: “This idea worked for our competitors, so we should try it!”
Just because your competitors are doing something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea or that it generates a positive ROI.
In our experience, 90% of ideas copied from competitors fail. And approaching CRO like this is exactly like playing a game of telephone with bad reception.
By the time the idea reaches your brand, it’s been changed so much that it doesn’t solve the original problem. Here’s the reason why: your competitors’ customers and KPIs are not the same as your own. In fact, by copying an idea from your competitors, you may actually create a “solution” to a problem that didn’t exist for you in the first place.
Belief #4: Building on an Existing Test is Always a Good Idea
This last belief is a bit trickier to understand, but nonetheless harmful. If you’ve run your tests and found a successful optimization, your first instinct might be to double down and build on that test.
But the reality is that subsequent tests will often get you diminishing returns. In other words, the juice very quickly stops being worth the squeeze. If you continue to squeeze anyway, that optimization might start failing.
Instead, you should pay close attention to existing benchmark data for your industry. That way, you know where improvements can still be made, and when you’ve already met or outperformed an industry benchmark.
Certain KPIs can also directly impact other KPIs. So once you’ve improved one KPI, you can backtrack to the other areas of your business that impact that KPI.
The Better Way to Do Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)
Now that we’ve gone over the wrong way to do CRO, here’s how to take off that blindfold and find your high-value needle in a haystack — with clarity.
How to Build a Winning CRO Strategy
Improving CRO requires a step-by-step approach based in research:
- Calculate conversion rate: Identify your store’s current conversion rate of website visitors.
- Compare: Audit your site against top eCommerce Usability Standards (i.e., Baymard). This will help you identify infractions. Infractions are areas where you have not followed recommended user experience (UX) practices.
- Identify: Determine the scale of infractions and the level of effort to fix each infraction.
- Fix: Immediately resolve the biggest infractions that require the lowest level of effort (LOE).
- Hypothesize: Develop a hypothesis of how to resolve other infractions. Resolve these from from lowest to highest LOE.
- Remeasure: Once you have resolved 25% of the full list of infractions, remeasure your conversion rate.
- Fix (Again): Keep resolving infractions until you are 100% complete.
- Remasure (Again): Re-audit the site once more with fresh eyes and repeat.
The above process can take three to four months. While this approach is far superior to just copying your competitor, it’s not the end-all-be-all to conversion rate optimization. It’s actually just the starting point.
Dig Deeper – Detailed User Flows
Once you’ve standardized your site based on eCommerce Usability Standards, there should be fewer basic user experience challenges for your online shoppers.
The next step is to dig deep into detailed user flows for your target audience with Google Analytics (or another similar tool). Detailed user flows are the complete set of pages and interactions that users go through to make a purchase.
To do this, ask these key questions as you review your site:
- What are the media-centric weak points in user journey design for each incoming channel (i.e. Paid, Referral, Social, Email, Display, Affiliates, Organic)? For example, is there an infographic or video missing that would connect the dots?
- What are the Page Navigation & Call-To-Action centric weak points in user journey design for each incoming channel (i.e. Paid, Referral, Social, Email, Display, Affiliates, Organic)? For example, where are you missing an email subscribe box to hook a user into obtaining more information?
- What are the Content & Narrative centric weak points in user journey design for each incoming channel (i.e. Paid, Referral, Social, Email, Display, Affiliates, Organic)? For example, do your ads promise something that your product page doesn’t deliver?
The great thing about the above approach is that we’re able to equalize the CRO metric. This is because CRO can be a very lopsided metric with some channels performing excessively well while some don’t perform at all. So, an average is not indicative of true performance.
Once you get this far — you’ve done more than 90% of the industry has ever done. Is there still more that can be done though? Absolutely.
The next and last stage we’ll address is User Research. User Research digs deep into discovering customer experience issues that can only happen through qualitative methods. This approach allows qualitative metrics to move toward quantitative metrics.
User Research can be achieved through a number of qualitative tools ranging from surveys to usability studies. To be clear, each tool will help you evaluate your customers. Not the industry as a whole.
User research allows you to identify:
1. Who makes up your user base?
So far, you’ve only hypothesized who your potential customers are, what their needs are, and what you think they like. Now, all of these theories get thrown out the window because you’re speaking directly to your base. This allows you to create new proto-personas (demographic, psychological and desires profiles) so that you’re no longer working with only two persona profiles in your design guidelines.
2. What do they really love and what do they absolutely hate?
Only your real customers can tell you what they really love and hate. Sometimes, it’s the most abstract of elements that potential customers fall in love with and the most simple things that they wish were not on your site at all. Real human interactions unlock these points, which no quantitative metric would allow. With this information — you can produce more of the love and get rid of what they hate.
CRO Benchmarks You Should Know
Keep these numbers in mind as you do CRO. According to Adobe, the average conversion rate of an eCommerce website should be between 1% and 4%.
- (Global) Average eCommerce conversion rates: 2.58%
- (US) Average eCommerce conversion rate: 2.57%
Here are the benchmarks by industry, according to Statista:
- Fashion and apparel: 2.7%
- Health and beauty: 3.3%
- Entertainment: 2.5%
- Household goods: 2.1%
- Electronics: 1.9%
- Food and beverage: 4.6%
Once you’ve identified your most relevant benchmark, you’ll be able to scope out which areas of your funnel need the most improvement for conversion optimization.
5 Examples of eCommerce CRO Experiments We Used to Boost Conversions
At the beginning of this article, we promised to take you behind the scenes and show you exactly what we do for leading DTC eCommerce brands to make big changes in their conversion rate.
These are improvements we made that follow our rule about only doing tests that have the potential to generate a real, significant ROI. At Anatta, we call these “Big Swing” opportunities.
Keep in mind: Conversion Rate Optimization is brand-specific. Every website and brand audience is different. These actionable strategies may work for you, but they’re really just a launching point to help you understand how to approach CRO. As with everything, test and customize them to your unique needs.
Above all else: Prioritize user research in your CRO program and always consider the potential revenue impact of each A/B test you hypothesize.
#1 Build Different Product Pages for Mobile vs Desktop
When it comes to mobile devices, most eCommerce brands take the easy route: they build responsive product listing pages (PLP) and product detail pages (PDP) that automatically adjust to the size of the user’s device.
On smaller screens, the page will shrink to fit the device, so users won’t have to scroll horizontally — just vertically.
Ten years ago, this was an absolutely essential UX step as users made the leap to mobile. But in 2024, it’s outdated advice.
User behavior and expectations are different across device types. You need a customized approach to address those issues. Pay attention to how users interact with your site across various devices so you can locate where roadblocks to conversion exist for one device versus another.
#2 Enhance Your Product Listing Pages for Dynamic Experiences
Clicking back and forth between PDPs and PLPs creates a jarring, disconnected browsing experience. To make browsing more seamless and dynamic, try incorporating helpful UX features right on your PLPs.
Increase your add-to-cart and conversion rate with features like:
- Product filtering
- Color swatches when multiple colors are available
- Displaying images or additional information on hover
#3 Make Mobile Shopping Easier With a Mini-Cart Drawer
In 2024 and beyond, mobile optimization will still be a huge must-have for DTC brands. But creating a great mobile experience takes a different approach to UX design than the one you take for desktop.
When analyzing one brand’s website, we noticed a conversion issue with mobile users: they needed to go into the PDP before they could add a product to their cart.
This was causing a serious friction point in their mobile funnel because users had to spend more time doing something that should have been incredibly easy. To address the issue, our team added a mini-drawer for mobile users. This resulted in an +11% uplift for checkout completions and a +17% increase in revenue.
#4 Decrease Unsubscribes by Improving Your Account Portal
When it comes to subscriptions, customers need to receive consistent value from your brand — or they’ll churn.
Optimizing your Account Portal is one way to keep them around.
Here’s how you can do that:
- Make the login more prominent on the page so it’s easier to find
- Make it easier to reschedule subscriptions
- Make it easier to customize or adjust subscriptions
- Simplify access to customer support
#5 Optimize Your Site for Speed (But Not the Way You Think)
It’s well documented that page load speed has a huge impact on conversion rate. Sites that load in 1 second had 3x the conversion rate of sites that load in 5 seconds.
But all too often, gurus repeat the same tired suggestions:
- Uninstall apps to reduce JS
- Limit pop-ups
- Decrease the size of thumbnail images
How many times have you heard these tips? The truth is that the speed gains from these changes are often minimal. And they still fail to meet customer expectations, because they’re not addressing the fundamental reasons why your site is slow.
Cariuma is a sneakers brand based in Brazil. In our partnership, we focused on conversion rate optimization. With testing and iteration, Cariuma created a personalized approach to DTC eCommerce that was fast and friction-free.
That year, Cariuma improved conversion rates and returning customer rates by +38%.
So what’s the trick?
Anatta’s custom Performance Architecture. This can be done with both Shopify Themes and Headless PWA, and it consistently achieves a less than one-second load time on both mobile and desktop.
Here’s a full breakdown of how Performance Architecture works.
Your Next Move: Where to Start with CRO
CRO is a common phrase, but it’s often misunderstood or misused. Many in the industry today will recommend testing everything, testing constantly, and testing… frankly, the wrong things.
Remember: in eCommerce CRO, your guiding light is revenue impact.
Good A/B tests are difficult and expensive, so chase Big Swings that have the potential to generate outsized returns of +$1M.
You can measure the potential revenue of your conversion rates by this simple equation:
- Visitors x Conversion Rate x AOV = Revenue
Want to take your Conversion Rate Optimization to the next level?
Why not do it yourself? Well, a study from Convert found that working with a partner like Anatta gets about 21% more wins. And we’ve worked with leading brands like Athletic Greens and Dollar Shave Club, helping them improve their conversion rates and grow their bottom line. Click here to contact us now and start a conversation about your growth project.
- Nirav is the CEO and founder of Anatta. Nirav received his engineering degree in 2006 from George Washington University. Prior to Anatta, he served as founder of Dharmaboost, a software company working with Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard, and New Leaf Paper. He is also cofounder of Upscribe, a next-level subscription software for fast growing eCommerce brands.