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How to Convert Window Shoppers into Buyers

Imagine you’re walking down a city street.

The sun’s warm, the leaves are changing color, people are smiling, there’s a breeze in the air… and suddenly the tempting smell of freshly baked goods slips past. You look, and it’s coming from a little bakery, its windows filled with delectable tasties and its door wide open to let out the wonderful aromas inside.

The pastries in the window seem tantalizingly perfect, tucked amidst decorative coffee cups that remind you of a cheery breakfast at home. And as you peek inside the door, filling your lungs with the scent, someone looks up and smiles.

“Would you like a taste?” The woman holds up a tray full of samples, and you step in to taste the wares. It’s heaven. Melt in your mouth. “We’re having a promotion today,” she adds. “Buy six and get a free coffee – it would be a lovely breakfast if you’re hungry.”

And just then you realize you are. You’re sold, and you were just walking down the street window shopping.

The Lesson?

Converting passersby and customers is an art brick-and-mortar stores have been perfecting for centuries, and we can learn a lot from them. Because really, is selling online so different?

There are millions of people browsing the web, and their state of mind isn’t so different from a window shopper. Your website is also like a digital storefront.

Somehow, you need to turn visitors into customers, just like the bakery turns its window shoppers into buyers. Sure, you may not be able to capture the smell of your freshly-baked services and waft them through computer screens, but you can tap into the same principles and strategies.

Let’s talk about a few of them.

Window shoppers are interested prospects

Most people discredit window shoppers as tire-kickers – people who look but never buy. It’s true that window shoppers aren’t actively engaged in the buying process, but they are all invariably interested in what you sell in some way, shape or form.

Because listen: if they weren’t interested in your offerings, then they wouldn’t be looking. You wouldn’t have any window shoppers at all.

But they’re there, and they’re pausing to gaze at your products or services. They do so for a few reasons:

  • They’re thinking of buying what you sell, but not right away
  • They’re gathering more information before making a purchase decision
  • They’re considering who they’ll buy from when they decide to buy
  • They’re a fan of yours, and they’re admiring what they can’t have right now

Online window shoppers are actually fairly targeted prospects. They rarely happen upon your site just by chance – something led them there, and it’s usually their instincts, their interest and their intuition. We like to follow our gut instinct, so keep in mind that semi-idle observers are always future leads.

Get them to take some small action

A passive person stays passive unless someone pokes him to take action, small or large. Think of a round stone sitting in the grass: it won’t move until you give it a push. And when you do, it starts to roll.

That’s what you want to happen with window shoppers, so give them a little push to get them rolling closer to buying.

You make that push happen by encouraging them to take a small step, a little action. It’s called the foot-in-the-door syndrome, and it means that once a person has a foot in the door, he’s more likely to eventually push it open wider.

So have a call-to-action on your site that invites people to do something. Tell them to visit your blog or sign up for your newsletter or watch your video. And you’ll be setting the stage so that you can eventually invite them to take the action of becoming a customer.

There’s an extra bonus that happens when window shoppers subscribe or opt in. If window shoppers take action on something that lets you stay in touch with them, then you have the opportunity to engage with your prospects, maintain contact and keep your business at the forefront of their mind for when they’re ready to make a purchase.

Give them a taste they can savor

There’s a reason the food industry likes to hand out free samples: they still come :-) the dead skin generate big sales. Some groceries stores use food sampling so much that you can nearly get a free meal for four as you wander up and down the aisles.

You’ve had a chance to taste free of charge, and there’s no risk. You’ve liked what you tasted. And you know that buying a box is a safe purchase, because the little nibble proved you’d enjoy the big package.

So use the free sample principle online.

You already know that you want your window shoppers to take a small step, so why not encourage them to download a free report or offer them a 30-day trial? What about a money-back guarantee? If you’re confident they’ll like what you sell, then it’s absolutely risk free for both of you.

Treat your website like what it is: your best salesperson

It never complains. It doesn’t need a pension fund. It won’t even ask for a paycheck. It even gives you money just because you gave it a job!

But how well are you taking care of it? Are you enabling it to attract window shoppers, greet them well and nicely encourage them to take that valuable action step?

If it’s not making sales, then honestly, you might not be.

Think back to the bakery. It sounded beautiful and tempting, didn’t it? Picture it in your mind right now. Imagine the morning sun. The noise on the streets. The colors and scents in the shop. The smiling woman, the tray of pastries…

Now imagine that bakery as a decrepit, tumble-down building with graffiti on the walls. The woman who held up the tray was missing teeth, had dirty hair and had a grizzled voice. Would you step closer to look over her wares? Of course not.

Converting window shoppers is all about looks, perception, desire and emotion that draws them closer so they become a lead – or even a hot shopper. Your web design is that bakery building, and your web copy is the smiling woman. Make sure both are damned good looking, well maintained and that your site is appealing and inviting.

Greet people properly

As a business, your job is to make sure you set the proper tone and mood to garner good feelings with prospects – yes, even window shoppers. There’s nothing worse than walking into a store and not even being greeted because the salesperson knows you’re just looking.

You’re just looking, yes. But you might have bought … had someone treated you like a potential customer and not a time-waster.

So keep that in mind for your website. Greet visitors with your web copy and make them feel welcome, even if they’re just there to browse around. Make a good impression with words that generate positive feelings about your business. They’ll remember that.

And they’ll remember you when they’re ready to buy.

By the way, try to avoid a big “Welcome!” in your web copy. It sounds fake when salespeople do it in stories, and it comes off the same way on a website. Instead, design your website to help them find what they’re looking for without getting in their way.

If you can’t sell them, advise them

Remember I mentioned that window shoppers are often collecting information before they make a purchase decision? They probably won’t buy from you today, but you can help stack the odds in your favor for that future purchase with web copy that acts as an advisor on the best choice for their needs.

It’s a trick often used in retail sales. Say you walk into a shoe store. The clerk won’t ask you if you want shoes – he’ll ask if you’re looking for a particular pair of shoes for a certain type of engagement, like a business meeting, a wedding, for work, and so on.

The salesperson is trying to figure out your needs so that he can direct you to exactly what you want as quickly as possible. The faster (and the better) he can serve you, the more likely you are to be satisfied with his services and products.

Even if you don’t buy. Even if you were just looking.

So help people who come to your site looking for information. Know what their needs are – yes, even window shoppers have needs – and direct them to what they’re looking for as quickly as possible.

Answer potential questions before they appear in your prospect’s head. Present choices and point out differences along the way. Advise them well. Give them information, and by that, I mean really give them information. Most business owners assume that people know a lot more about the products and services than they do.

Let them go, but help them remember you

Treat window shoppers well, because they could be your future customers, even if it takes them a year to return and make the purchase. The key is making sure that they leave their window shopping moment with positive feelings.

Welcome them, guide them, help them, inform them and let them go with a smile. Stay in touch if you can, through your newsletter or blog, and show window shoppers that you won’t dismiss them completely.

Window shoppers will think favorably of business sites that care about their best interests and who obviously wanted them as happy people, if not as happy customers.

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About the Author: James Chartrand is the owner of the leading copywriting and web design agency, Men with Pens.

  1. Love the image of the nice looking bakery vs the decrepit building with graffiti on the walls. Sometimes it’s not that bad; just that the sign is faded and the street numbers are off-kilter. (You can tell the owners always park in the back and come in through the back door; they’ve lost touch with what the business looks like as a customer. Same goes if you never look around your website as if you were a customer.)

    • That’s very true – habituation is a huge enemy of business owners. Once you’ve had a website for a while, you’ve become too habituated to its little faults and details. (Kind of like being okay with leaving wet towels hanging on a chair at home because you’ve been there a year!)

    • @Joe – That’s very true – habituation is a huge enemy of business owners. Once you’ve had a website for a while, you’ve become too habituated to its little faults and details. (Kind of like being okay with leaving wet towels hanging on a chair at home because you’ve been there a year!)

      • So maybe an add-on to a design contract would be (quick) quarterly reviews to make sure everything is still looking sharp (assuming the client has taken over the basic maintenance).

        I’m curious: how often do you think people should give their sites a facelift? Smart brick and mortar businesses definitely do this: they update their look regularly without moving so far away from it that they’re not recognizable.

  2. Yolanda Facio Oct 04, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Excellent bricks ‘n mortar to online strategies!

    I would add only one thing…ease. When we walk through a store we have the freedom of looking at the left wall of goods and then down the aisle to check out the items at the back. We can pick up a brochure off the counter…easy schmeasy.

    Often times I find the ease at getting to things on a website is difficult. I can’t just walk around. I can’t just pick up a brochure without giving my email address and zip code up and first born.

    Make it easy for visitors to get the good stuff. Make it easy for them to check things out and find info. Too many clicks, too many pages, too many loops and you’ve lost me.

    Get ’em in the door and then make it easy for them to stay!

    Great post! Thanks!

  3. this article was quite expressive and talked for itself .. very true it was as well .. im impressed that how much can be done in the traditional sales way on the digital path of the future

  4. Great advice. I’d also add that giving the customer as much information and as many pictures of the products helps make up for fact that they cannot be tactile with their purchase before making it. A lot of sales are made by letting customers touch the products and almost bond with them. It is hard to do this digitally so offering 360 degree pictures, or a video of the product is a good way to build that attachment.

  5. Having trouble with the comment reply feature today, so I’ll do it the old fashioned way!

    @Joe – I think web usability is a constant aspect that you need to monitor and pay attention to. If it’s been six months that you haven’t addressed it, then I’d say it’s too long. I’d hire some target market individuals to perform some user testing and make *some* tweaks based on their recommendations, ONE BY ONE. (Otherwise, if you make several changes at once, it’s difficult to measure which was most effective!)

    @Yolanda – You got me on that one. “Make it easy for people to find what you sell” is something I often tell my consultation clients… and I left it off this article! Good catch, definitely.

    @Umair – You’d be surprised at how much “real-life” business principles cross over and become just as relevant online.

    @Alex – It’s said that the best sales are made when you can tap into the five senses (and even the sixth, if you’re a good salesman!) – sight, smell, taste, touch, hear. Online, that translates to images, good descriptions, good descriptions, images and maybe a little audio. That’s why trial offers work well – they give people a change to “touch” and “see for themselves”.

  6. You know, I see this blog get linked everywhere and it wasn’t ’til just now I actually read a blog article! Very eloquent and simple and you bring up great tips! I actually just gave an hour presentation for artists on how to sell at anime conventions ( and suggested many of the things outlined here!

    But I’m gathering ideas on how to tweak my own site and this article helped me brainstorm some ideas for samples and how to “let them go.” Thanks for the awesome article. :) Hmmmm~!


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