December 13, 2013, 10:34 AM

Great content means longer site visits—and often more conversions—for Top 500 retailers

The 25 e-retailers that keep shoppers on their site the longest—10 minutes or longer—have 129% higher conversion rates that those whose customers leave in under three minutes, Top500Guide.com data show.

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The length of time a customer spends on an e-retail site could be a tell-tale sign of a number of things. If a customer clicks on and off in a short period of time, say two minutes or under, that could mean she didn’t find what she wanted, or wasn’t satisfied with the price. Or, it could mean that the site was designed so expertly that she was able to get in quickly, find what she wanted, complete a purchase and leave. However, if she’s staying on a site for long period of time, maybe she’s doing a lot of research thanks to great site content, or maybe she just can’t find what she’s looking for.

A new analysis of data available on Top500Guide.com on the duration of average site visits for the largest e-retailers in North America suggests that more time on site could be a good thing. And often, good content is the key to keeping customers on e-retail sites, says Kerry Martin, a senior consultant at e-commerce consultancy FitForCommerce.

“Shoppers tend to stay on a site longer where they are able to find relevant content,” says Kerry Martin, a senior consultant at e-commerce consultancy FitForCommerce. “And if shoppers are finding information valuable, it inspires confidence in them to purchase from you.” Social media is also key to driving conversions, she adds, because shoppers’ ability to share content leads to more interaction with the site.

The 25 retailers in the Top 500 with the longest average site visit times have a higher median conversion rate than the Top 500 as a whole, the data show. Those retailers keep visitors on their web sites for at least 10 minutes on average and collectively, they have a median conversion rate of 4.8%, more than double the 2.5% median conversion rate for the entire Top 500. For the entire Top 500, the median time shoppers spend on a site on average is 5:37.

Many of these merchants scatter their sites with in-depth content that goes beyond the standard home page, category pages and product page. AMI Clubwear, for example, which has the eight longest average site visit at more than 13 minutes, maintains a magazine or blog-type section of its site that engages customers with a slew of fashion images or poll questions like “What are your fall colors?”

Parts Express, which keeps visitors on site for more than 14 minutes on average, has a member community and Forum section of its site where customers and staffers exchange tips and opinions on tech-related issues.

On the flip side, the 25 retailers with the shortest average site visits, or those that watch customers come and go in less than three minutes on average,  have a median conversion rate of just 2.1%, 0.4 percentage points lower than the average.

One retailer with a strong set of site content and a high conversion rate is pet supplies seller Drs. Foster and Smith. It provides copious information about animal care, including a separate library of articles for 10 types of pets and pharmacy items, a YouTube channel with videos in such categories as “how to” and “vet chat,” a blog and well-followed and liked accounts on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter. Drs. Foster and Smith keeps shoppers on its site for more than six minutes on average and converts them at a 6.1% rate—well above the rate of most retailers in the list of 25 that have the longest average site visits.

There are extremes on either end of the spectrum. Shoppers that visit the web site of HP Home & Home Office Store, for example, on average zip in and out in just 26 seconds—the shortest average visit time for any retail site in the Internet Retailer Top 500 (HP is No. 23), according to the data. In contrast, the retailer that keeps consumers on its site the longest on average—No. 60, Ancestry.com Inc.—keeps them for nearly 26 minutes on average. That makes sense, because Ancestry.com is a subscription-based service: shoppers pay a monthly fee to build their family trees online, as opposed to a traditional e-commerce model with product navigation, shopping cart and so on.

Engaging content isn’t always enough to close a sale, though, says Jay Holan, also a FitForCommerce consultant. For instance, electronics retailer Crutchfield Corp., which provides extensive information about its products, including videos, articles, Q&A, reviews and highly detailed explanations of features, keeps shoppers on its site for 7:56 on average, but its conversion rate is just 1.4%. One reason for the low conversion rate may be that consumers are using Crutchfield for research, but then completing a purchase with another retailer—a common occurrence among electronics and branded apparel retailers in particular, he adds. “Once they feel comfortable enough to actually make a purchase, they transact at a store or on sites like Amazon, Target or Costco,” he says. “Often times, a place where they trust the seller, can try something on, get the best price or deal on shipping, and/or make easy returns.”

Crutchfield did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Drs. Foster and Smith is No. 127 in the Top 500 Guide. Crutchfield is No. 135.

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