May 20, 2011, 4:18 PM

Sheplers rounds up higher conversions with shipping and shopping cart tweaks

The Western wear retailer offers free shipping in highly competitive states.

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Sheplers Inc., a multichannel retailer of cowboy boots and related apparel, faces fierce competition in such states as Texas, Oklahoma and California. So the retailer, whose e-commerce site brings in about 30% of the company’s sales, has started to test free shipping in those areas, and has enjoyed early success, says Mark Hampton, the retailer’s chief operating officer.

Sheplers decided to experiment with free shipping after realizing that some of the states that produced the highest traffic to the e-commerce site, Shelpers.com, also had the lowest conversion rates. That suggested online consumers were merely digital window shopping because of the abundance of Western wear retailers, including those with nearby bricks-and-mortar stores or web sites.

So in two tests in February and March the apparel retailer offered free shipping for orders placed by consumers from those high-traffic states. Sheplers used testing and optimization services from Monetate to conduct the trials.

Conversions increased 10% in the first test, and 6% in the second. The free shipping offer encouraged customers who had selected items to complete their purchases, leading to an increase in sales, Hampton says.

“The offer was a tipping point for people who had already put things into the cart,” he says, adding that the retailer plans to test free shipping again in the run up to Father’s Day, which is June 19.

Sheplers, which can trace its origins back to the late 19th century, also found, via Monetate-enabled testing, that making its online checkout process simpler also could boost conversions. Hampton says Sheplers began selling online in 1999 but during online checkout had still been asking customers to enter codes found on the backs of print catalogs. The codes helped the retailer identify which customers were placing orders, But the request confused customers, some of whom did not receive the catalog, and apparently made them reconsider their orders.

So, during a 10-day test, the retailer stopped asking for that information during the online checkout process, a change that helped increase conversion rates by 3.3%, Hampton says. The lesson is clear, he adds. “Anytime in a shopping cart you are asking for information that doesn’t make sense to a customer, it hurts you,” he says.

Sheplers also operates a chain of 16 stores. Shepler is No. 290 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

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