Guided Selling and Conversational Search is the Solution to Ecommerce’s Conversion Rate Problem

Guided Selling and Conversational Search is the Solution to Ecommerce’s Conversion Rate Problem

Ecommerce companies need to move past their sole reliance on advertising, and shift to conversational marketing, including guided selling, as a core part of their business strategy.

Let’s learn why.

This article was originally published on May 5, 2019. The article has been updated to provide more detail on guided selling.

“My name is Ecommerce and I have a conversion rate problem.”

The first principle of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is Honesty. The second principle is Hope, which can be achieved if the alcoholic is honest with him/herself.

As with any major transformation, whether it’s avoiding alcohol or raising your store’s conversion rate, you need to first be honest with yourself!

Say it with me: “Ecommerce has a real conversion rate and engagement problem – and my store needs help!”

Ahhh, with that out of the way, we can move on to the solution, which thankfully is pretty straightforward.  The solution involves shifting a portion of your advertising budget to conversational marketing, and focusing on guided selling by leveraging conversational search.

Example of a Gobot chatbot embedded on a website.

Here’s why.

ECommerce conversion rates are abysmal…

The web was originally designed for content-sharing, less so for commerce, hence its abysmally low average conversion rate.

In fact, about 90% of consumers start research and shopping online, but just about 14% of sales actually happen online.

Plus, while 27% of hard-earned web traffic arrives on a site planning to purchase, just 2-3% of these visitors actually convert.

When compared to the average conversion rate for traditional in-store commerce, which ranges between 15 and 30%, this stat is pretty horrible.

See, for example, the Ecommerce Foundation’s 2018 global ecommerce report and Statista: The Statistics Portal.

And it’s not hard to understand why this is the case.  

Good brick and mortar stores offer knowledgeable, personable, charming sales people trained to provide support and move visitors towards purchase.

In stark contrast, many online stores assume that the customer’s online purchasing journey is finished once they get to their website.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Instead, given the vast array of choices available to consumers online and the relative ease of finding and navigating to alternative stores, customers are wary before buying and very much appreciate assistance in confirming their final purchase choices.

Choice Overload = Low Conversion Rate

According to Forrester, “[t]oday, customers have more choice: more products to buy, more information to influence purchasing decisions, and more devices and channels over which to seek customer service. What they don’t have is more time.”

To stand out in this environment, retailers need solutions that respect customers’ time.  

Retailers need to make sure that each and every customer encounter is well supported with modern tools agents can use to deliver a high-quality experience.

Fifty-two percent of US and UK consumers call fast response to their needs the number one factor in an exceptional customer experience, according to the CMO Council.

Meanwhile, in addition to this engagement issue faced by brands, we often see huge budgets earmarked, sometimes exclusively, for digital advertising based on the faulty belief that this will mitigate the distinct conversion rate problem.

Getting eyes on your site will always be valuable, no question.  

These days, however, rather than boosting advertising spend, your incremental dollar is typically better spent attempting to make better use of your existing ads to lower cost of customer acquisition and increase conversion rate.

In other words, your money is more effectively spent making sure more visitors driven by your existing ads actually end up buying!

Conversational marketing, generally…

What is conversational marketing?

Focusing on talking to your prospects and customers through conversational marketing, where human interaction and personalisation are at the core of the relationship, can drive dramatic increases in conversion rate and very real, solid return on investment. 

Communications with brands that sell products and services has historically been largely a one-way communication.  

Conversational marketing is centered around actual conversations between brands and customers that are at the heart of the online buying journey.

We are talking about conversations with visitors new to your ecommerce store, returning visitors, and also conversations with leads and customers, via messaging, after they leave your store, e.g., to share information about your brand, offer discounts, alert them as to sales, etc.

We are also talking about leveraging your existing support staff to proactively engage customers in a meaningful way so as to contribute to sales.

With the shift to conversational marketing now well underway, given that there are so many channels now available to consumers to engage with brands, chatbots are increasingly being relied upon to handle large volumes of conversations.  

The rise of chatbots!

Chatbots are able to handle low-value questions and then seamlessly escalate them to a human respondent when the questions become more complex and a chatbot is no longer able to provide a satisfactory response.

Chatbots are also great at proactively approaching your store visitors with curated messages at just the right time to increase your conversion rate and boost sales.

Below are just a couple example Gobot chatbots currently being used on WaterEstore’s ecommerce store.

TheWaterEstore is one of Canada’s biggest water filter companies with a very large number of SKUs.

TheWaterEstore’s retail store has been successful because they have knowledgeable sales people who are familiar with water treatment systems and the myriad of ways they can be used and interconnected.

TheWaterEstore wanted to leverage a chatbot to help guide customers on their Ecommerce store to the right products and also to increase their conversion rate and online average order value.

WaterEstore’s main bot:

One of WaterEstore’s upsell bots:

Perhaps where chatbots add their highest incremental conversational marketing value will be in the guided selling space.

What is guided selling?

Chatbots can go above and beyond basic interaction with your customers and pulling products into chat. 

By way of example, Gobot is a chatbot platform specially designed for guided selling, leveraging conversational search.

Guided selling may take multiple different forms including full page quiz-based testing, embedded questionnaires, and chatbots that walk consumers through a decision tree.

The goal is always the same, however, which is to guide shoppers to products recommended just for them based on preferences and- answers to questions. 

This is sometimes referred to as “conversational search” because the shopper is engaging in a conversation, e.g., with a chatbot, to get search results rather than browsing or typing keywords in a store’s search field.

Brands that sell to multiple personas can especially benefit from guided selling. Professional photographers, hobbyists who’ve signed up for a photography course, and parents looking to document their childrens’ birthdays may all visit the same camera-brand site, but will have drastically different needs.

What does guided selling help with?

Complex products or offerings…

Guided selling is particularly useful for companies that offer highly technical or otherwise complicated products. With that said, even something as common as a mattress can be a complicated purchase these days given the expense and the variety of choice!

You’d think that buying a new mattress would be quite straight forward, but it’s actually rather time-consuming and challenging.

How firm should your mattress be?

Do you need traditional springs, pocket springs, memory foam, or some hybrid combination?

What’s really the difference between a $300 mattress and a $3,000 mattress?

How long can you try the mattress out at home with no obligation?

If physical stores selling mattresses didn’t train their sales staff to ask the right questions and provide them the knowledge to advise customers on the choice that’s relevant to them, they would fail, quickly.

In addition to arming their sales people with the necessary product knowledge, these retailers will also arm their store staff with a sales script, which is essentially a questions and answers decision tree.

The sales team adds a human touch to individual conversations, but they’re pretty much asking everyone the same initial questions. 

The conversations diverge based on individual customer responses, and ultimately yield one or more product recommendations.

It’s the customer data, baby…

The cherry-on-top as it relates to guided selling is that, in exchange for shopping assistance, consumers are generally willing to disclose who they are, along with their product preferences.

This is a veritable gift to retailers.

The consumer’s willingness to share details about their gender, age, preferences and tastes offers brands the opportunity to leverage that insight to optimize product offerings and site experiences.


The future is particularly bright for conversational marketing.

We expect to see continuous growth in the coming years, especially as more and more brands see the value in this approach.

Companies will increasingly move past exclusive reliance on advertising, and will shift to conversational marketing, including guided selling, as a core part of their business strategy.

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