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Brick-and-Mortar Retailers’ Secret Weapon: Conversion Rate Optimization

BY Mark Ryski

Given the difficult business conditions so many brick-and-mortar retailers are facing, it’s baffling that conversion rate optimization (CRO) hasn’t become more of a focus if not an obsession.

In the online world, CRO has become an industry onto itself, spawning a global community of consultants and service providers, formal methodologies and over a hundred books dedicated to the topic on Amazon alone. There is only one book on brick-and-mortar conversion listed on Amazon.

There are a number of factors that may be preventing CRO from taking hold with brick-and-mortar retailers, but just like online marketers discovered after the dot-com bust in the early 2000’s, focusing on conversion can not only help them survive, but even thrive despite traffic declines.

Tracking Conversion vs. Optimizing Conversion

Most major tier-one retailers today track traffic and conversion rates in all their stores, so the basic data needed to conduct CRO already exists. However, the variability in physical stores makes applying conversion improvement initiatives across stores consistently a challenge, and it also makes measuring results more challenging too.

Testing and Measurement to Prove Results

A vital tenant of CRO is testing and more specifically A/B testing. In the online world this is easily accomplished by setting up two variations of a webpage and then directing an equal amount of traffic to each site. But A/B testing is much more difficult for brick-and-mortar retailers since, unlike websites, every store is unique.

So unlike online conversion rate optimization where changes can easily be made and consistently applied with a few keystrokes, in brick-and-mortar stores adjusting variables like staff levels for example must be applied at the store-level.

There’s another important difference between online and brick-and-mortar conversion optimization tests: traffic. In an online experiment, traffic can be precisely controlled so each website version receives the same amount of traffic.

In brick-and-mortar stores, the amount of traffic each store receives can’t be controlled and can vary significantly by store. Extra care needs to be applied when interpreting brick-and-mortar conversion optimization test results.

But just because the conversion variables are harder to control in physical stores doesn’t mean that conversion rates can’t be optimized or measured using A/B testing.

Start with the Biggest Conversion Driver – People

An effective CRO system for brick-and-mortar retailers must begin with ensuring staff schedules are aligned to store traffic patterns. Second, retailers need to examine how staff are deployed – tasking versus servicing customers. Third, retailers need to measure associate and manager productivity by analyzing conversion rates by hour attributed to each employee.

Conversion Rate Optimization can Mitigate Traffic Declines

In today’s rapidly changing and difficult environment, brick-and-mortar retailers should focus on the traffic opportunities they do have and apply CRO strategies. Just like the online survivors of the dot-com bust, brick-and-mortar retailers need to realize that it’s not just about the amount of traffic in their stores, but what they do with the traffic that matters most.


Mark Ryski is author of "Conversion: The Last Great Retail Metric" and "When Retail Customers Count" and CEO and founder of HeadCount Corporation.

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