Graham Charlton | Increasing Ecommerce Conversion Rates

As Editor-in-Chief at SaleCycle, Graham Charlton is part of the team that uses customer behavior and data on customers to help ecommerce sites to convert, retain or increase conversion rates.

Graham says there is one part of the sales process in particular that poses the biggest challenge – and the biggest opportunity to increase conversion rates for their clients. Some of what he recommends is quite outside the box.

We go into detail on that challenge and the strategies they use to turn it into more revenue, as well as…

  • The right format for follow up emails to send to prospects
  • How they convert interested customers who didn’t buy the first time
  • A surprising way GDPR fits in with their marketing strategies
  • The role of mobile marketing in boosting conversion rate
  • Best practices for cross-sell and upsell emailing

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:

Episode Transcript:

Joris Bryon: Hey, this is Joris of the Ecommerce Excellence Podcast and today I have a very interesting guest, Graham Charlton. Graham is the editor in chief at SaleCycle and he’s been covering ecommerce and digital marketing for more than a decade now. Before he joined SaleCycle, he wrote reports and articles for Econsultancy, ClicKZ, Search Engine Watch and a lot more. Graham, welcome to the Ecommerce Excellence Podcast. Super happy to have you here.

Graham Charlton: Thank you. Nice to be here.

Joris: Maybe before we really get started, can you tell everybody a bit more about your background, where you come from any career, how did you end up at saleCycle?

Graham’s Path to Becoming Editor-in-Chief at SaleCycle

Graham: I’ve been working in and around ecommerce for 10 or 15 years now. I started out doing various things such as copywriting for SEO until I joined Econsultancy, which at the time was a small growing business, kind of reporting on the growing digital marketing and ecommerce market. So I guess I was lucky enough to be. I mean, this was around about 2005 or so. So I’m looking to be, you know, at the start when kind of ecommerce was really sort of getting going, digital marketing, just kind of, it was relatively new. 

And so, you know, I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of the growth and what’s happened since then. I mean, a lots happened, you know, the kind of growth of Google, things like the iPhone being introduced and the sheer growth of ecommerce as a market. all that’s happened, I guess, in the last 10 or 15 years I’ve been covering it. So it’s been quite an exciting thing to see.

Joris: Yeah, right. So you started Econsultancy, and how did you evolve in and end up in SaleCycle after?

Graham: Econsultancy, I stayed with for a while. And you know, the big thing now is to you know, the growth of ecommerce that was our specialty. So we wrote a lot of reports, helped a lot of businesses. After a while, I wanted a new chance, so I actually in between work for ClicKZ and Search Engine Watch for a little while. But when the chance to join SaleCycle came up, I grabbed it because it was a different thing for me. So working directly for a b2b business doing a lot of big ecommerce clients was a really good challenge.

Joris: Right. So yeah, tell me about SaleCycle. What kind of problems does SaleCycle solve exactly?

Graham: I mean, broadly speaking, we solve anything we, you know, we use customer behavior and digital customers to help ecommerce sites to convert, or retain, or increase conversion rates. The primary thing we deal with would be cart abandonment. And that’s the reason the company was formed in the first place, about 10 years ago, and basically was, you know, our founder, Dominic Edmunds, and just saw the issue there, you know, saw that lots of people actually, you know, browsing sites, putting items in the shopping cart, but not actually going through and buying them. 

And it’s a simple idea really, of just when you see his behavior, it’s an indication from these customers that they intend to buy, and they might have bought if circumstances were different. And really often the case is just a little reminder of what they might have bought is enough to sort of give them the push to go back and complete the purchase.

Joris: Now, SaleCycle is a lot more than just got abandonment and we’ll talk about that later, I guess. But the cart abandonment, what are like most common reasons why visitors abandon their carts?

Why Do Prospects Abandon Their Shopping Carts?

Graham: There are a lot of possible reasons. I think, you know, the most common in general is just that people are browsing and researching. I think you know, we all do it when we’re shopping. We kind of have a look at a few things pop in the basket. And sometimes, you know, upside, you know, you want to check the shipping costs. 

You want to see how long it’ll take to deliver. Or you’re not quite sure, go in the basket and then you think okay, maybe not now. You know, and you go somewhere else, you do something else. Perhaps you get interrupted. But, you know, you’re essentially shown an intent to purchase or an interest in the product but you’re busy not ready to buy it there and then. I think another case is some products take research. 

So you know, if you’re buying an expensive item or perhaps a holiday, then you take a little bit of time. So try a few different sites, make sure you get the best price and the best deals. Perhaps check in with your family and friends. So I mean, I know a lot of reasons just around you know, you’re not ready to buy yet. You haven’t made a final decision. And in that kind of situation is can kind of, the cart abandonment emails and reminders can help.

Joris: Right. And what would you recommend for people setting that up? Or any best practices around cart abandonment, when should you email them and how fast should you email them? What kind of content works well?

Graham: Yeah, there’s a lot there. The timing, for instance, it’s one of these things that you know, I think anything in ecommerce, you test to find the best, what best works. In our case, we generally advise that within around an hour after abandonment, within the first email in that sense the purchase or possible purchases from the customers mind is fresh enough that they’re probably likely to be in the same place where they’re about to buy it maybe with the computer still near them so that they can act upon the email straight away. 

We then tend to send a further email 24 hours later for those that missed the email or maybe weren’t ready for the first email. And in that way we kind of make sure that you know most people who abandoned and get a good reminder of it and so if the, you know, they have the chance to go back and buy if they want to. Obviously timing, it’s what works for one client in one sector doesn’t necessarily work for another. But that a real of thumb.

Joris: Yeah. And what about messaging? For instance, we’ve set it up for several clients as well. And we’ve seen like very good results with a first email that is almost, well, it’s just like, it’s not even designed the email. It’s just an email saying, Hey, can we help you? Was there something unclear? Did you get stuck? Can we help you and make it feel like it’s an actual person sending it and being very helpful. We’ve seen it work pretty well. What’s your experience with that? Is there anything in terms off messaging that works better than something else?

Graham: Yeah, I’d agree. I think the kind of the personal tone, the customer service to an almost, you know, you’re there to find some assistance for them. So there’s a lot that goes into a good, you know, account recovery email. I think a clear message is obviously the most important thing. Which a client will you know, tell him you know, perhaps you’ve forgotten to buy this, you know, you’ve left something in your basket. 

The basic thing is a very clear reminder of what they were about to buy but didn’t, and a very clear route back to the checkout to complete it. You know, it’s a very clear call to action to say return to checkout, complete the purchase. And the idea is it’s just super easy for them to go back and complete the purchase they abandoned. 

Joris: What are common mistakes that you see ecommerce make when it comes to cart abandonment?

Common Mistakes Made in Cart Abandonment

Graham: In terms of cart abandonment, in general, beyond people research, and people are deterred from making purchases if they encounter problems within checkout. So for example, making a customer register when they want to just get in and get on with buying. That’s a common deterrence. So the solution that is an obvious one is just having a guest checkout was just nice so you can put their email in and continue through. 

Indeed, any source of friction really, you know, whatever that interrupts the purchase is going to deter a certain amount of people. So if a form is unclear, if they’re getting repeated error messages if because they put the postcode in the incorrect format, or if forms are just overly long and complicated. I think, you know, it’s just that friction where people think I can’t be bothered. And that’s, so if you make it nice and smooth as possible, you can minimize cart abandonment.

Joris: Yeah, absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. So, SaleCycle is more than just cart abandonment. I already mentioned that. What else does SaleCycle do?

Graham: We do, I mean, when do general, you know, we call it behavioral marketing. So lots of solutions we create which is basically around understanding customer behavior on websites, and using the data and the behavior to you know, influence and help them to convert. So for example, we will use on some conversion messages, things like live product trends. So for example, you might go on to a site, you’re looking at a pair of shoes. 

And you’re just, you know, as you’re about to leave the site, we can sort of send the message and we’ll put a message on screen saying, you know, there are only five players left in the size and that basically gives a sense of urgency for the customer that you know, if they want those shoes, if they’re thinking about it, and I’m not quite sure if you don’t act soon, they’re going to go out and you’re going to miss out on them. 

Joris: Yeah, of course.

Graham: Other things we do I think that countdown timers and these can be used on the site or possibly an email message. And that’ll be a countdown timer and it tells them you know, how long is left before they can take advantage of an offer, how long is it before the sale is finished, or how long before they qualify for next day delivery. And always kind, it’s just got information for customers but also it’s things that prompt them to make a decision a little bit more quickly than they might have done otherwise. 

Beyond this, we kind of, we offer a lot of one thing, for instance, a few of GDPR and various data privacy laws we’ve had recently. So that’s been something we worked on. So we offer now, I’m going to call our marketing permission service, which is a service which enables, you know, ecommerce sites to gather marketing permission from customers to say when people sign up, they know they’re given consent to receive certain types of email to receive marketing, and we can analyze that for company so the compliant with the relevant EU laws and other laws.

Joris: Yeah, I think that’s interesting because it’s an issue that comes up quite often. It’s like, okay, is this okay, GDPR wise? And there’s a lot of discussion about sort of things like, let’s say, browser abandonment. cart abandonment, how do you get consent for that? Do you need consent for that? So I think I see now on your site, how it works, and I think it’s very clever the way it’s set up. Can you explain a little bit how it works for marketing permissions?

Graham: Yeah, I mean, we can permission in a couple of ways. So, first of all, we may have already logged in customers who’ve already given permission to receive marketing in various ways, which includes browser reminders or cart abandonment emails. On-site, for instance, we can, at the point where a customer enters their email address, at that point, we can display the message that you know, makes it very clear to them what they’re opting into, and gives them access to further information about the privacy policy and everything else they might need. 

So the idea there is people who are consented for email and subscribing to emails. You know, with full knowledge of what they’re getting, they’re not being tricked into anything. It’s basically they’re interested in the brand, they want to receive the message from that brand. And really it’s quite simple in that, you know, as a marketer, as email market, you want to send messages to people who want to receive them. And if you do that you are not people in your market and listing really interested in you, it’s actually going to be more easy for you.

Joris: One of the other things that SaleCycle does is email my basket. Can you explain what it is and how effective that is?

Graham: I mean, that’s the kind of thing where you, it turns back in with what I was saying about people spending time comparing products and researching. So the email and basket thing is in that when people are showing an intent to exit, so I guess maybe they’ve been idle and haven’t touched the mouse for a few seconds or the moving towards the exit button or the back button on the browser. We can then say to them, okay, you’re not ready to purchase now. 

Enter email here and we’ll send you a reminder of your basket content. So it’s a kind of, you know, easy way to say you know, okay, I’ll save this for later maybe I’ll come back to it. But it’s a way to get, you know, keep the customer interested in the product and allows the retailer a chance to pop up and remind you in the customers’ email or via an SMS message.

Joris: Yeah. Do you have any data about that and how effective that is? How much it’s used and what the conversion rate is after that?

Graham: You mean all the email or cart abandonment in general?

Joris: The email about my basket, yeah.

Graham: I don’t have any precise at the time. I’m sorry. It’s we know it works quite well. But it’s one of these things where we have a lot of data for cart abandonment and how effective that is. Email is something that’s slightly more recent. So we haven’t got as much data together on that so far.

Joris: Okay. But I can imagine it works particularly well on mobile, right? Because you do a lot of research on mobile. But you just don’t want the hassle of checking out on mobile and you send it to us, well, you have it sent to yourself so that you can pick up where you left off on desktop later on. Maybe in the evening when you get back home.

Graham: Yeah, yeah. I think the mobile thing is, you know, the stats we see is that more people want to browse and mobile and actually want to buy and mobile. So when you look at the data, even in Cephalon fashion, where most transactions now take place on a mobile screen, still listening to what, you know, more people will browse and buy on mobile. 

And I think it’s a thing more people are kind of. Perhaps they prefer to convert on a desktop, or maybe using a smartphone. You know, if the site doesn’t work quite well enough for them to feel confident going through checkout. And this is an area where I think a lot of retailers can improve. Just make it nice and easy on mobile to make the checkout simple. Make payment easy.

Joris: Is it like one of the SaleCycle features that work really well on mobile? I mean, I imagine all of them work to some degree, but maybe one of them is like particularly well for mobile users.

Graham: Yeah, I think everything we do we designed for mobile and desktop alike. So all our emails are designed to be optimized for whatever device the customer picks them up on. The one really mobile feature we do that works incredibly well is SMS remarketing. And that is the sending, instead of sending a cart abandonment email when somebody abandons the basket, we send an SMS message. 

I’m sure as a mobile I know us, you know, that kind of your phone’s almost always next to you, or in your pocket or just next to you on a table. So these messages that we have an open rate and 98% because people are, they’re busy, see the message you send and the click-through rate is is often three times that we get from an email.  It’s one effective way of kind of prompting customers. 

Joris: Okay, yeah. I know it’s very personal. For me SMS feels like invading somehow in my personal space, but I know it’s that’s just me, of course. Do you see any differences culturally, I mean, from one country to another? I can imagine maybe US versus UK there are differences in there.

Graham: We see that many of the, they work quite similarly well, I think maybe slightly better in the UK. That’s just the case that we have, you know, a few more clients in the UK might be using that rather than the US. But I think it’s something that works in general very well. I do find in general with mobile, the UK customers are slightly more inclined to try and convert on mobile. 

I think the US is catching up and it’s growing in both areas. But I think you know, the UK is actually you know, in terms of mobile and certainly, fashion retailers in the UK are actually very good at converting on mobile and then quite a lot to make it you know, to make it as good as can be.

Joris: Yeah, yeah. That’s interesting. Yeah. The other thing is so you also do browse abandonment emails? Do you have any tips for, that for people who want to set up browse abandonment emails?

Tips for Setting Up Browse Abandonment Emails

Graham: I think you know, that’s we’re looking at you know, customer behavior and learning from it. So when someone browses it’s just another way of saying you’re interested in a product. So you know what we mean by brands that people have, you know, searched for a product or looked at that product page, which basically means that putting their hand up and saying, Look, I’m quite interested in this product. Maybe I’m not ready to buy. They’re not going through to the cart, but that doesn’t mean they’re not interested.

So, we’re basically, you know, with this, we’re checking out customer behavior and trying to remind them that, just give them a little push. And really the secret to the good reminders is that we’re using customer data and behavior and we’re learning what their, how they behave on-site and really the best thing to do with those reminders is to use customers’ past history as well as the products they’ve been looking at just to give them a really relevant recommendation. That’s really what it’s about. If you’re showing the product in an email the customers are interested in and have historically been interested in, then it’s just more likely to be effective.

Joris: Okay, so you’d rather do a, well, send some kind of recommendation and sending a promotion to push them or nudge them towards the purchase?

Graham: Yeah. And I think it was things where we tend to think that the reminder alone is effective. Promotions, you know, if, for example, that product, there is an offer at the moment or the site they were browsing has a sale or anything like that, then it’s one of those things if you mentioned in email, you know, it will it can make it more effective. But we tend to think, you know, that the quality of the data and the message alone, you know, can be enough to convert customers without necessarily having to use promotions.

Joris: Okay, that’s interesting. And it can actually save you so much. And of course, so that’s a good tip. One of the things I sometimes struggle with browser amendment is the creep factor. We some people find it really creepy to get an email for something that they just did. They just saw it. They didn’t really take any action on that. What’s your take on that?

Graham: I understand, you know, that some people think that I think it’s a common thing. I mean, for example, Amazon does it every day, really. If you just browse a product on Amazon, you’ll be getting an email about it in the next couple of days. I think it’s best when it’s done very accurately and relevant and based on the customers’ behavior, in which case the customer receiving the message sees that it’s more relevant to them and what they’re looking for rather than it seemingly to be coming out of the blue. 

And I think, you know, some customers will, you know, object to a certain market and you know, it can’t be helped. But a lot of people are receptive to this. And I think what they’re receptive to most of all it is, you know, the relevance and the kind of usefulness. If you’re looking at something, and we send you an email saying here it is, and here’s something that might go with it well, then we’re actually being helpful to them.

Joris: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. Then that makes a difference. Yeah. Interesting. So one of the things you can also do with SaleCycle is an abandonment survey. What are some good questions to ask? So an abandonment survey, that’s when someone is leaving the site and basically, it’s based on accident and I believe, and a survey pops up. What are some good questions you can ask at that point?

Graham: Yeah, I mean, the surveys kind of, we use in various ways but, that can be when we send the cart abandonment emails and after the second email, instead of you know, keeping, asking them to come over to check out, we’ll actually use that to try to find some useful information. So the big question is one of them certainly is, you know, what stopped you from buying the from the site? So what was it that kind of put you off from going through the purchase? And this is kind of information that can be very useful for the retailer. 

So it could be simple answers such as, you know, just browsing and just researching, but it could also be, you know, the customer could say, well, you know, I couldn’t complete the checkout because I had a problem. Or, you know, we found your delivery costs higher than your competitor. And this is information that you know, the retailer can take on board and actually use to improve and stop future abandonment. So if there’s a checkout problem, for example, then, you know, they can start doing some tests, they can ask you to another user come carry out more service, and they can fix the problem and reduce their abandonment rates.

Joris: Yeah, yeah. It’s actually a goldmine of information.

Graham: Yeah. It’s one of those things where, you know, I think with ecommerce, there’s no right and wrong answers. A lot of it is all about testing and finding what works for your customers and what doesn’t. And, you know, there’s a lot of very good tools to do this. You know, user testing tools, you know, site recording tools, etc. But sometimes just asking the customers can be as effective as anything, because you can get a very precise piece of feedback that can identify problems.

Joris: Yeah, true. And asking a question, like, what really stopped you? There’s always going to be quite a few people because they, well they didn’t stop, they went on and they purchased in the end. So there’s going to be a lot of people saying, well, at least in our experience, when we ask those questions, a lot of people say nothing, but maybe there’s like 10% of the people who actually give an answer, and those are gold mines because those 10% probably maybe, I don’t know this. 

I don’t have an exact number. If it’s 10 people mentioned something, maybe there are 100 people with the same problem and only 10 of them converted on the order and it went away. And so every single thing a customer says at that point can be very very valuable to further optimize your site or the information that is on your site. Yeah. Or maybe,

Graham: Yeah, I think some people you know, have a higher tolerance of problems when you check out it’s a little bit tricky. When a form is a bit tricky and you know, some people will, you know, figure out how a couple of goals work out in the end. Others will just think I can’t be bothered and go. And so what stops one person might not stop another, but if there’s an issue there at all, then it’s going to stop a certain percentage of people hard to determine.

Joris: I believe SalesCycle also does like cross-sell and upsell emails. You have any tips for that and best practices for upselling and cross-selling in emails?

Upselling and Cross-selling Email Best Practices

Graham: Yeah, I mean, again, I guess we’re back to relevance really because I think it’s a secret to notice good sort of email marketing. So I mean, really, when you’re upselling and cross-selling, you’re attempting to kind of you know, increase the order of value for the customer. And just, you know, not make them buy but you know, give them ideas of things that might buy that they wouldn’t witness or planning to on that trip. 

So cross-selling I think it’s basically one of these things where if you have a relevant product to the one you’re looking at on the buying, then it really just makes perfect sense to put it in the path and make sure that kind of, they’re aware of it and have the option to buy it. So I guess the obvious thing that would be, you know, if you’re buying a camera, then you’re going to need possibly a memory card, or a case for the camera, or, you know, various accessories. You know, why not make it very easy for them to buy those things? 

And this can be done obviously, in checkout or on the product pages. And also what we do, we can use an email. So if a customer has bought a certain item, you know, a laptop, for example, then in our emails to them in future, we can recommend a case that goes with it software they might need for it, and that kind of thing. So really, I think it’s just about being, it’s just been useful for the customer and being really relevant in what you’re recommending.

Joris: Yeah, yeah. And I like that philosophy of trying to be as useful and relevant as possible instead of just pushing them to buy if you’re useful and relevant, I think the transaction will automatically follow. So yeah, I agree. And this has been very interesting and we could probably go on for a long time, but we’re running out of time and I just want to make sure that our listeners know how they can find you, learn more about you and SaleCycle. What’s the best place for people to connect with you?

Graham: Okay, well is the place you can find our company and features our product. For more detail and advice we have a blog, which is currently at So we’ve got a lot of best practices, advice, and details of our products might have you. That’s a good place to check out. I’m on Twitter at G Charlton. And SaleCycle is on Twitter at SalesCycle so you can find us there. And again, lots of good tips and advice, hopefully.

Joris: All right. Awesome. Thank you so much for being here Graham. It’s been absolutely great. Thanks.

Graham: Great. Thank you.