How to Eliminate Friction and Boost Sales on Your Ecommerce Site

Why do many e-commerce sellers experience unseasonal plateaus or a dramatic decline in sales? There is a wide variety of reasons, but in my experience, there is a broad and prevailing concept that accounts for this situation: friction.
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E-commerce sales are inarguably a smart business move. By the end of 2015, E-commerce sales are projected to be $347 billion. By 2016, that number is expected to be approximately $400 billion.

Clearly, there is value in creating an e-commerce business.

The question is: Can you activate e-commerce-related value for your business and profit from that industry-wide growth?

Sometimes ecommerce sales aren't what you expect

Your e-commerce day-to-day sales may not reflect overall industry growth.

This can be particularly vexing when you've spent time considering every angle of your business model: product, customer service, delivery, fulfillment, shipping time/rates, social media presence, SEO, newsletters, etc.

Why do many e-commerce sellers experience unseasonal plateaus or a dramatic decline in sales?

There is a wide variety of reasons, but in my experience, there is a broad and prevailing concept that accounts for this situation: friction.

What is friction?

Friction is a term used by conversion optimizers to describe declines in sales and conversions.

My definition of the term is this:

"Friction is any variable, website quality, or user behavior trend that is slowing down (or entirely halting) the progression of your company's sales cycle."

"Friction is anything that gets in the way of conversions."

Thus, your decline in sales or dropping conversion rates can be attributed to friction -- a broad term that describes a bevy of conversion-crushing issues.

Friction could be an issue as minuscule as font choice, or something as intractable as one customer's negative past experience on similar sites. Friction can be almost anything.

How do you fix friction?

Friction is not a problem that can be fixed through a one-off, haphazard, happy-go-lucky, mud-on-the-wall, whatever-works approach.

Nor is it necessary to handle it like a disease, bringing in a full battery of examinations, lab tests, and specialists to specifically diagnose the problem. In the e-commerce world, such an approach would take an enormous amount of time and money.

Because friction is an all-encompassing issue, we need an all-encompassing strategy to combat it. The only reliable strategy for attenuating friction is a heuristic method.

What is a heuristic method?

A heuristic is a shortcut to solving a problem. It can involve some experimentation, trial and error, and educated guesswork.

Ecommerce marketers use heuristic methods to rapidly and effectively treat unknown problems simultaneously.

Here is one explanation of heuristic processes:

"Where finding an optimal solution is impossible or impractical, heuristic methods can be used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution."

Still unclear?

Let's level the heuristic method against our problem and see if we can find a way to attenuate friction and improve sales.

A heuristic method for reducing friction

I developed a heuristic method through research and practical experience that incorporates things I've learned from other conversion optimization experts and my own efforts.

The methodology is as follows:

  1. Prepare. Start with a site that is generally optimized.
  2. Split test. You should act on data, not hunches.
  3. Change. Execute the data-backed winning variation.
  4. Repeat. Immediately conduct another A/B test.

That's it! Simple and straightforward.

Now, let's explore points 1. and 2. of the method: a generally optimized site and conducting split tests. Points 3. and 4. can be easily summarized as: try it out, see what happens, and make changes wherever necessary.

How to optimize your site

This heuristic method is holistic, just like the problem we are addressing. Prior to releasing a salvo of split tests, you should make sure you're starting with a website that is optimized.
Inspired by Kathy Sierra's hierarchy of optimization and refined by Bryan Eisenberg, here is a solid heuristic method of improvement for websites:

  1. Make your site functional. The user should be able to do what she needs to do without the site malfunctioning.
  2. Make your site accessible. Ensure that your site's SEO is in order, and there are zero barriers to entry.
  3. Make your site usable. The site should be navigable and free of impenetrable menus.
  4. Make your site intuitive. Overall, you should have a sales funnel that is natural and logical.
  5. Make your site persuasive. Your goal is to encourage the user to interact. Focus on a site that promises what a user wants and delivers just that.

Based on this list, your site might need some modifications. If you're in good shape, however, you're ready to move on to split tests.

Tactical tips for revenue-boosting tests

The most effective friction-blasting heuristic relies on split tests. Listed in order of importance are the split tests that you should conduct:

  • Improve your site's calls-to-action ("CTA"). Most first tests start with CTA improvement. Why? Because the CTA correlate with customer conversion more than anything else of an e-commerce site. Analyze and test all your CTA, including micro and macro conversions.
  • Improve headlines. The headline is one of the first things that a customer sees. This line influences whether he or she engages with the page or leaves it immediately. Analyze and improve headlines on the homepage, landing pages, and product pages.
  • Adjust page layout. The entire structure of your site could be a point of friction. Before addressing this issue through comprehensive layout changes, make sure that your site is fully responsive and mobile-friendly.
  • Improve website copy. As a user engages with the content on your page, seek to address any points of friction. Make sure that the website copy is emotionally persuasive, grammatical, and fluid.
  • Optimize your checkout process. Many conversions dead-end in the shopping cart. By testing your checkout process, you can isolate the issues and improve upon the process. Adding trust seals, testimonials, and social proof can obviate many sources of friction.
  • Improve forms. Many e-commerce and SaaS sites depend upon forms in order to capture user's information and move them down the sales funnel. Optimizing forms will go a long way in curtailing friction, thereby improving sales.


With the first two steps of the method in place, you are likely to experience improvements. It is common for a few split tests to effect a 50% increase in conversion rates.

But that's only the beginning.

Through consistent, iterative, and thoughtful split testing, you can improve, improve, improve!

What conversion optimization systems have you used to crush friction?

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