Jul 19 2010

How Visits to Purchase Affect Conversions

We commonly use analytics data as a means to determine how to better speak to our customers in encouraging them to complete the purchase. While there are a plethora of eCommerce KPIs and metrics that are commonly referenced, at Blue Acorn we like to dig a little below the surface at metrics that probably don’t exist on your Analytics dashboard (and thus are probably overlooked). One of those metrics is “visits to purchase” – which is defined as the number of sessions from the first interaction with the website to complete a purchase. This metric is loosely related to days to purchase, another metric worth detailing (separately).

True Conversion Rates

This metric also correlates to your conversion rates, which is typically measured per session. Many analysts have noted that while conversion rate is a very important metric, it is important to keep in mind that it is one of a number of metrics that combined, paint a clearer picture of the story. Case in point, if you have a large number of visitors that come back to your site to make a purchase the second time around, maybe its even from another computer or mobile browser (remember, analytics considers each of them a unique visitor), you really have one conversion per two visitor sessions instead of one customer and one conversion. While I’m not here to point out the problems with how we measure conversion rates, it is worth noting how visits to purchase is correlated to conversion rates – typically speaking sites with a heavier weighting of a single visit to purchase have higher reported conversion rates. However, in reality, they may not fare as well as another site with a lot of customer engagement but might convert more on the second or third visit. While reported conversion rates may be lower, actual conversions, and sales, could actually be greater in the second scenario.  This would lead us into an entirely separate conversation about your true conversion rate, that really focuses on conversion per person – not per visit (which is what Analytics data tells you).

Visits to Purchase Influence on Data

But the point of this article is all about the visits to purchase metric on your site and how you can evaluate this KPI to improve your conversions. To prepare this article, we took a random sampling of 20 SMB eCommerce retailers across a variety of markets, price points, and product types. Keep in mind – this is not a very scientific study and is just a small random sampling of SMBs selling anywhere from $100K/year to $5M+ per year.  But, from this small data-set, you can clearly see a direct correlation between visits to purchase and conversion rate.  The findings of this analysis were as follows:

  • The average site saw 73% of conversions occur on the first visit
  • The average site saw 14% of conversions occur on the second visit
  • The average site saw 5% of conversions occur on the third visit
  • The average conversion rate for these sites was 1.9%

The sites that converted more visitors on the first site, naturally saw higher-than-average conversion rates, pretty much across the board.  So if you’re one of those sites at the bottom of the conversion rate list, ask yourself about your visits to purchase.  If you find yourself lower than average on this measurement, a lower than average conversion rate (as reported by your analytics) is only natural.  That’s not to say is all is fine and dandy and there’s nothing to improve, but it helps to understand where you fit in – in context.

Takeaways and Action Items

The world of analytics can be a confusing one, full of “what if” scenarios and “could be” answers.  There is no right or wrong, there are no definitive “what to do” guides, heck, there’s barely even benchmarking data to compare your own site to that would provide any kind of insight as to if you’re doing good, or bad.  The purpose for my publishing some of this data here, is to provide some level to gauge yourself on.  So look at your own numbers, along with an understanding of customer personas, and evaluate where you fit in.

If your conversion rates are lower than average and your first-visit conversions are higher than average, it could indicate that you’re not targeting “impulse” purchasers very well.  The data tells you that people want to purchase on the first visit, but you’re not giving them much incentive to.

  • Speak more to spontaneous personas throughout your purchase cycle.
  • Try to focus on time-sensitive marketing – as in “this promotion ends today” or limited time offers.
  • Display confidence builders early and often throughout the buying cycle

If you find that your site sees more purchases happening on return visits (2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc) than what you might typically, it tells us that people are either early in the buying process (they could be researching, or price-shopping for example) and you can increase the chances of converting more methodical and humanistic visitors by:

  • providing more information on your product pages
  • engage with the customer to foster a stronger relationship and likelihood of them coming back for the return visit and subsequent purchase
  • Include product reviews prominently throughout your catalog.
  • Give your users the confidence that this product is good (through information and reviews), and where they’re buying it from is knowledgeable, and will take good care of them

At the end of the day, by understanding your visitors behaviors and how they act on your site, is going to help you understand where you can make improvements and increase conversion rates per visitor.  Now, this may not be the conversion rate you see published on your site, in fact, building a long-lasting, engaging relationship with a customer will likely lower your conversion rate, but in the end it will build a more valuable customer, and more revenue in your pocket.

Kevin Eichelberger

Founder & CEO

Founded in 2008, Blue Acorn is the product of Kevin’s great passion and knowledge of all things eCommerce. Kevin’s data-driven approach has culminated in a strong, growing business that’s success is closely tied to the success of its clients. When he’s not immersing himself in eCommerce, Kevin works toward expanding Charleston’s tech community by serving as a board member for the Charleston Digital Corridor Foundation, and is also a mentor and advisor to several startups. A business-savvy technologist, you can find Kevin evangelizing about data, optimization and eCommerce.


Robert Henderson
Jul 27 2010

Is there data on how often first visit purchasers become repeat customers? Does the 80/20 rule have as much relevance with eCommerce as it does with traditional sales and marketing? Are you saying that an online retail site should focus more on their first-visit impulse customers, or rather, as you suggested in your final paragraph, are repeat customers going to increase anyway through this focus?

Dec 12 2011

There is no right or wrong, there are no definitive “what to do” guides, heck, there’s barely even benchmarking data to compare your own site to that would provide any kind of insight as to if you’re doing good, or bad.


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