January 28, 2009, 12:00 AM

Shoppers visit more retail sites, but convert less, MarketLive says

Visits, orders and revenue were up, but conversions down, in Q4 for about 100 e-commerce sites that use the MarketLive e-commerce platform. Some modest site changes can produce significant gains for e-retailers in 2009, says MarketLive CEO Ken Burke.

Visits, orders and revenue were up, but conversion rate down, in the fourth quarter for client online retailers, e-commerce software provider MarketLive Inc. will disclose tomorrow when it releases its quarterly MarketLive Performance Index. The index is based on data from about 100 e-commerce sites that have used MarketLive technology since the fourth quarter of 2007.

The picture emerging from the data shows many consumers using the web to search for deals, moving quickly from site to site, and often going into stores to buy after researching online. One indication that consumers were scouring the web for bargains: average time on site declined 30% in the fourth quarter versus the same period in 2007, MarketLive says.

“Ruthless shoppers were doing their best to hit the best deals,” says research MarketLive specialist Catherine Thorpe. “If they didn’t see what they liked, they were out of there.”

Visits to the e-commerce sites tracked in the index were up 19% year over year and orders up 10%. But revenue was up only 4%, and the average conversion rate declined 14.6% to 4.1% from 4.8% in Q4 2007. “With visits being up so high and conversion rates down about 14%, that tells me we probably saw people doing some channel shifting, buying more offline than online,” says MarketLive chairman and founder Ken Burke.

Other statistics from the study also suggest consumers were more picky. Cart abandonment rate was up 2.1% year over year to 56.8%, consumers exiting a site after viewing just one page went up 2.6% to 34.7% and the percentage of visitors making it to the shopping cart declined 3.0% to 9.6%, MarketLive says.

But the numbers also suggest some relatively inexpensive web site changes that can boost sales. For instance, with more consumers using wide computer monitors, retailers should design their sites to be 960 pixels wide, providing more space to display merchandise and offers that can catch the eye of fast-moving shoppers, MarketLive says. “A wider site helps,” Thorpe says. “They see more at a glance.” The percentage of customers leaving after viewing just one page declined 9.6% and conversion rate increased 4.5% among MarketLive clients that moved to the wider design.

Adding richer content to a product page-such as tabs that display several types of information about an item-increased the product page conversion rate by more than 11%. Displaying a product guarantee or return information on a product page increased conversion rate by 2.7%.

Burke encourages retailers to consider a light redesign of their sites this year, looking for quick wins that don’t require a lot of resources. One example: many web sites organize categories alphabetically. “Just look at your analytics, see which categories are most popular, and organize your categories that way,” Burke says.

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