How Retailers Can Turn First Time Visitors into Valuable Customers

November 4, 2016 Matt Bertulli

ecommerce, website design, demac media, ecommerce leadership, retail business, valuable customers, matt bertulli

The other night, a friend of mine was talking about a guy she met on Tinder who she had spoken to on the phone once and had a date with that night. “I can’t tell if I’ll like him,” she told me, “but at least I’ll probably get a free dinner.”

“Uh, don’t assume that,” I told her. “A Tinder first date usually just means drinks.” Because dinner is a two-hour, maybe expensive, commitment and drinks is quicker and cheaper.

I like to use this analogy when talking about website visitors too. Your first-time visitors are just checking it out and not ready to commit yet. But those second- and third-time visitors – those dinner dates – they’re much more valuable and can turn into a customer (we even released a benchmark report that very specifically paints this picture).

My question to you is what are you doing with those first-time visitors to make sure that they turn into your most valuable customers? Also known as: what are you doing to secure a second date?

I want to explore different ideas and tactics for what to show that first-time visitor on your home page. This isn’t about all the obvious stuff like phone numbers, search bars, and security badges. This is about what you show that first-time visitor that tells them the most about you with the least amount of information. This is about building authority and trust as quickly as possible so as to get to action that benefits you (ROI).

The Problem with Intent

I know what some of you advanced eCommerce pros are thinking. In order to know what to show a first-time visitor, we need to know their intent for visiting in the first place.

Of course, intent is the critical element in figuring out what to show a visitor. You simply have to know what they are doing on your site in the first place before you can show them the best thing. Totally get that and don’t disagree.

There’s just one tiny problem with intent. Figuring it out is damn near impossible for the average merchant. You can try and use the acquisition source (i.e. a specific ad) as a basis for determining intent, but even then you’re guessing.

[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]There’s just one tiny problem with intent. Figuring it out is damn near impossible for the average merchant.[/tweet_box]

The Context

Before we dig in, let’s establish some context for this article. Everything we talk about today will be done in the context of the following statement:

“If all first-time visitors land on my homepage first, and through unknown sources, what would I show them to get them to either buy something or sign-up to my email list?”

If you use the above statement as a starting point, you won’t overthink things too much. It’s so easy to complicate things in eCommerce, it’s infinitely more difficult to make them simple. It’s also critical you keep things simple if you are trying something new for the first-time (your date will appreciate it).

Note:I’m ignoring a critical element to good homepage planning and that’s starting with a desired action from those first time visitors. I’m ignoring that because it’s a huge topic on its own and I’m assuming you know what you want your first time visitors to do in order to determine good ROI for that first time visit (i.e. subscribe to your list or buy something).

Displaying Products to First-Time Visitors

There are some big-bucket approaches to showing products to first-time visitors to your site. Again, we’re using the homepage as the first-time visitor landing page so we have lots of options and ideas in our toolkit.

[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]I think the biggest weapon that any merchant who isn’t Amazon has in their arsenal is inspiration.[/tweet_box]

I think the biggest weapon that any merchant who isn’t Amazon has in their arsenal is inspiration. The modern day consumer buys stories as much as they buy product. Stories do many things, but most of all they allow us to retell them, to discover through them, to fulfill a basic curiosity we all have. Being the merchant that customers go to for inspiration (discovery) can be a powerful differentiator.

Assume that every first-time visitor is the kind of visitor that wants to be inspired and discover something they didn’t even know they wanted, then how which products would you choose to show them then?

You can start with newly released items. Showing the latest and greatest has been proven to work, particularly if you are a business that sells products that are highly seasonal or trendy/fashionable.

What about your most popular products? Do you sell a brand or specific product that your particular niche is well known for? Something that almost every first time visitor will identify with and be compelled to click on to learn/see more?

Or you could go with obscure products or brands, things that maybe those first-time visitors haven’t seen somewhere else?

You could show products that are soon to be discontinued, providing a sense of urgency.

You could show products that are highly probable to convert to a sale but maybe are a loss-leader in profit. Perhaps you’re the kind of business that has a high customer lifetime value (CLV) and the initial sale doesn’t matter as much.

You could also show products on promotion, some compelling offer that they can’t help but want to learn more about. If you go this route, I’d test different types of offers to see what works best for first-time visitors. That’ll tell you a lot about the kind of generic traffic you are getting.

One of my favorites is to just show products that the owner/operator has hand selected as their favorites. Think of Heather’s Picks at Indigo – when you go to their website, CEO Heather Reisman’s favorite books are right there, giving visitors a sense of trust in purchasing those products on her list.

If you are a brand that has a “face,” then this can be a great way to inspire that first-time visitor. We all love seeing recommendations from influential people.

6 Tips: Content Strategy for First-Time Visitors

Do you sell products that are highly technical and/or complex? Do you sell products that require education? Do you sell products that have an amazing back-story that once read customers couldn’t help but buy?

These are just a few questions that tell me my focus for first-time visitors should be content. After all, you wouldn’t start a first date by trying to entice someone with a second date right off the bat; you tell stories, share ideas and thoughts (your content) to get someone to come to the conclusion that they must have that second date.

In fact, I rarely think that a content-first strategy is a bad idea for first-time visitors, especially if you are operating under our above established context and we don’t know where these visitors came from or what their intent is.

Ok let’s dig in with some tactics for what kind of non-product content to display to first-time visitors.

1. Tell Stories

Tell your story. Do your visitors know who you are and why you are in business? If you’ve read Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, then you know how powerful a good why can be. If you have a great story, tell it!

2. Use Reviews

Customer reviews on the homepage can be a powerful method to show social proof to a first-time visitor. If you have raving customers (fans), put them front and center and let them do the selling for you.

3. Keep it Entertaining

Sell a product that has some humor to it? Keep your homepage entertaining and show the first-time visitor that you embody the types of product you sell. This strategy works for any type of emotion eliciting product.

4. Power of Video

Video is powerful, use it. If you can tell your story using video in a really compelling and quick way, then do it. Have a cool physical retail experience that you want visitors to see? Make a video and put that on the homepage.

5. Repurpose Content

Have a really popular blog that’s frequently updated? Might be worthwhile including the latest posts on your homepage so that it gives those first-time visitors something to dig into. Authority breeds loyalty.

6. Use Your Influencers

Have really well known brands and/or partners? Display them prominently to build more trust with that first-time visitor.

Keep it Simple

Remember, keeping your content strategy for first-time visitors simple doesn’t mean you get to be lazy in what you display.

I strongly recommend you try out as many ideas as possible, but do it using proper tests and measuring the outcomes of those tests.

I promise, figuring out the ideal mix of product and non-product content to show to a first-time visitor will yield you a much higher return from these first timers. And maybe you’ll even get that second date!

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