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193: “Must Know” Elements of Successful Ecom Design Most Business Forget

Posted by Austin Brawner on April 2, 2019


How often have you added a new element to your website because you thought it “looked cool”?

The reality is that a jumble of “cool” widgets and features can slow down your site and actually worsen your customer experience.

In today’s episode, we bring back Kurt Elster who is a specialist in conversion rate optimization and runs an ecommerce website design and development agency, Ethercycle.

Kurt shares his insights on the key components of a successful ecommerce website design. Learn the how-tos and what-nots of what makes a great website, including product page design, the importance of great copywriting, and why design actually shouldn’t be your #1 focus.


Episode Highlights

  • 5:02 “Ruthless Empathy”: the mindset Kurt says you need to have when analyzing your website.
  • 6:44 The core elements of successful ecommerce website design.
  • 8:46 The questions to ask yourself to determine whether you really need all those widgets on your site.
  • 10:41 How to balance simplicity with complexity in your website.
  • 13:22 Why you should approach your website design with a clear decision framework, rather than a design wishlist.
  • 15:36 The interesting things Walmart is doing with its web design that have helped increase its online sales.
  • 20:04 What Austin sees as a standout on Walmart’s site that a lot of Shopify stores don’t do.
  • 21:29 Which design should come first: mobile or desktop?
  • 24:49 The key elements to include on your homepage.
  • 27:00 Aspects of homepage design that work to direct people to the product page (and why this should be your #1 goal).
  • 30:59 Your product pages: the must-haves, what’s usually missing, and the perfect example of a business that’s doing it right.
  • 35:08 Why Kurt doesn’t believe you should use artificial scarcity to drive people to buy.
  • 37:20 How to use urgency and scarcity in a legitimate way.
  • 38:54 Why you should be using video on your product page.
  • 41:34 An alternative to artificial scarcity as suggested by Austin.
  • 43:49 The best ways to sell complementary products to people and increase AOV.
  • 49:39 Why Kurt’s excited about the future of personalization.
  • 51:19 Something Kurt believes to be true that most other entrepreneurs don’t agree with.

Links And Resources

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Austin Brawner: What's up everybody, welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence podcast. My name's Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And, I'm Andrew Foxwell. Thank you, everyone, for joining us. We have a number of new listeners, and so I'm very excited to have all of you here.

Austin Brawner: Very excited to have you guys here. And, one of the things I was reflecting on yesterday was I was sitting there having some coffee and my wife was sitting next to me and I was like, my favorite part of work is recording our podcasts.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, I agree. Totally, yeah. Well, the thing is, it's so fun is that it reaches a lot of people, many of you and it's helpful. It's truly helpful, right? And so, what's interesting now is we have enough episodes. People are asking me questions, I'm like, you've got to listen to this episode that's going to help you a ton from what you're doing. So, it's cool to have it out there. And, when we first started it, I was always like, how much do I share? Do I share too much? No, do I share little to whet the appetite? But it turns out, that actually if you just go with a radically transparent route, people still want to hire you. 

Austin Brawner: Exactly, exactly. Just share as much as possible. And, it's so interesting because one of the reasons I love it is because we can get to know people over time, and I've met some such interesting people through recording the podcast. One of the people that I met through the podcast and I've gotten to collaborate with multiple times doing website tear downs and just enjoy talking to and feel like I know even though I've never met in person is Kurt Elster, who we brought back on the podcast, we've had Kurt on the podcast before. Kurt is a conversion rate optimization specialist. He owns a website design and development agency. He knows a lot about ecommerce, and just a lot of fun to talk to. He also is a podcast host as well. And yeah, we had a good conversation with him today.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, we really did. I mean, it's somebody we definitely respect and look to. So, we get into really the details around what are elements of successful web design and I was taking notes so I can guarantee you will have some gems from this episode. So, we'll go get right into it and welcome Kurt to the show.

Kurt Elster: Thanks for having me.

Andrew Foxwell: Man just connecting in to Skokie, Illinois. Just checking in, just phoning Kurt in.

Kurt Elster: Well, you see clearly you have been to Skokie, Illinois.

Andrew Foxwell: Several times. Yes, several times. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law live there with their two kids. So, I've been there several times, been to Evanston several times. Actually, I have done your commute from your house where I think you live. I think you told me before that you live at the amusement park.

Kurt Elster: Yeah. I could ride my bike to Six Flags Great America.

Andrew Foxwell: That sounds awesome. I should check that out, I've never been. I haven't been to Six Flags.

Kurt Elster: They do a Christmas thing now, it's cool. We went to that.

Andrew Foxwell: Oh, that's awesome. Well, we're very glad to have you on the show, man. We really are. We're excited to get into just talking about some elements of successful web design. That's what we're going to be going over today is getting into picking your brain around all the things that you see on a daily basis and all of the work that you've done on your podcast, talking about what are some of those core elements.

Austin Brawner: So yeah, we're excited. I mean, one of the reasons we wanted to have you back on was because we hosted you and I hosted a website tear down, a couple of website teardowns, and during that process we realized we were pretty aligned but also had a lot of differences around the ways we were thinking about it around ecommerce design.

So, I guess first off, what are the core elements, if you will, of successful ecommerce design and what are the pieces that every good converting site that you've worked on or that you've seen must have?

Kurt Elster: Well, I'm going to back it up even further and say the most important piece is the mindset of the decision maker who is deciding on what ultimately goes on the website. So, in many cases, that's going to be owner, operator, founder, merchant, right? And, I think the most important thing is to look at it with ... I will call it, I'm going to coin the phrase right now, ruthless empathy. So you have to remove yourself from the equation entirely and you have to be able to look at your site and go, all right, when you're looking at every single element, what does each one of these things, what does it do for the customer? How does it help them purchase?

And, you need to be really brutally honest with yourself on this stuff where it's like, is this here because I think it's cool? Is this here because it's a shiny toy? Is it here because it strokes my ego or is this genuinely helping people find the item they want? Decide that, is this even the website I should be on? Can I trust it? Is this the right item for me? And then, am I confident that I'm going to be able to purchase it and have no regrets as a result? So, I think if you have an existing site, the core element, number one is that mindset and go through the site and strip all this garbage out. That could be an incredibly powerful conversion tool.

But to answer the question directly, I think number one, the most important element is good positioning. We have to start there like, hey, what does the site have to offer me? Why should I even be here? Why should I do anything beyond land on the homepage and leave? Give them a reason to scroll through positioning.

Number two, all right, great navigation where it is once I've decided, yeah, I should be here, it is abundantly easy to get myself to the right product. And then, number three, okay, can we bust people's objections on that product page with a thorough description, right? With social proof, like reviews with risk reversals like, there's a 14-day return policy, no questions asked.

And then finally, are we going to give them just an easy experience on checking out? So maybe you add buy now buttons with PayPal or Apple Pay. Okay, great. That clearly, that's a thing that helps people purchase more easily. So, that's a thing that should be there versus like, oh, I've got this false scarcity widget. That's not good, it's unethical and immoral. Get rid of that stuff. So, that's where I'm coming from.

Austin Brawner: Sure.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, it makes more sense.

Austin Brawner: One thing you touched on that I think it's so, so important and something that I've been working on with the company over the last two weeks, there about a 55-year-old company out of the Midwest. They've got a lot of built up assets because they built their website 15 years or 10 years ago something like that. There's a ton of built up assets and a lot of them are no longer serving them, but because they're there and they've been there for a long time, the ruthless empathy is hard to practice because they look at all the stuff that was at one point valuable, but it is no longer valuable. And, what we're doing right now is just trying to get rid of 80% of the stuff that's been built up over the last 10 years.

Kurt Elster: It is cruft.

Austin Brawner: Cruft.

Kurt Elster: Yeah. It's like a barnacle. You get it even like a five-year-old website, especially ecommerce it's so fiddly. A blog is just going to accrue articles, it's not going to accrue goofball widgets. Many ecommerce merchants, it's so easy to have shiny toy syndrome and be like, wow, that's a cool app, wow, that's a cool feature. Let's implement that. And then, five years go by, two years even, and suddenly you're like, what is all this garbage? And what is it even doing anymore? But, it's hard to let go of it. It's easier to be like, well let's try this thing and let's try that thing as opposed to just ... Sometimes the best thing to do is go back through it and say, "All right, what is this thing doing? Why did we add that? Does it even work? What metric does this move? We don't know, all right, well then we're getting rid of it," and go on down the line like that through every single element.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. It's something that we talked about before Kurt of you saying that a lot of things that are added on sites is going to knee jerk stuff, right? Our competitor has this thing, so we need to, a customer complained about this, so we've got to change it, an intern thought it was cool instead of going through what you're talking about, saying like what's the goal of this page and does each element serve that goal? And I think if you're asking that fundamental question of going through and then saying, is there a good positioning, great navigation, can we help bust people's objectives and easy experience on checkout? I think that would make the case for a lot of simplicity.

Kurt Elster: Yes.

Andrew Foxwell: You can't be too simple though, right? I mean, maybe you can be really simple, but if you take the example that you're talking about, and I've heard people go down this route before, which is, I feel like that's the thing I want to have. I want to have a nice header image on the product page or something like that. We're going to get into product pages in a minute, but a lot of it comes down to much more simplicity.

How do you talk to people about balancing simplicity with complexity in terms of their site? I mean, because I would go through and want to get rid of almost everything, right? Like you're saying, this just doesn't add a lot of purposes, but then it may be too simple like there's not enough there. And so, how do you balance that by pushing your brand and letting people know who you are and what you do, but also making it simple enough so the mobile checkout experience is better, et cetera?

Kurt Elster: Well, I think that's where the most important thing here is to have a decision framework where you're like, all right, what purpose does this serve? What key performance indicator can I measure this against? And I think, where people get into trouble is that knee jerk stuff, right? Where it's like, well, my competitor did that, I perceive them to be more successful. When in reality they're just as clueless as you are. They're just stumbling around trying stuff and seeing what works. So, my competitor, it's a terrible reason. But, at its core no one wants a cluttered website, if you go, "Oh someone desired, they want these 10 widgets." And you go, "Oh, so you want a cluttered website?" Well no, but you want 10 pounds of shit packed into a five-pound bag in an eloquent phrase. But, that's what ends up happening.

Yet, if you said, "All right, well what's a really good website? What do you want your website to be like?" They'll go, "Apple." Yeah, because it's really clean and a lot of it ... But then, at the same time people go, "There's not enough above the fold." So, they start trying to fix it by jamming stuff above the fold. Then you go, "Oh, there's too much white space. We got to fill it." No, the beauty of a website is you're not paying by the pixel, right? You can make the page as long as you want. So, hey, if you've got a ton of elements, having a logical structure to it, adding a lot of white space around it, having negative space can make a tremendous effort, could be tremendously helpful in reducing that cluttered massive feeling.

But, I think the real test here is what's the page load time, right? Google has made us very paranoid about our page load speeds. And, I love the page speed insights tool for its bizarre grading system, but certainly, the more these widgets are often powered by JavaScript, and that will certainly slow a website down. So, that's often the argument that we will make against these things. Well, okay, are you prepared to add one meg of JavaScript that this live chat widget weirdly requires? I went down a strange road with that answer.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, I mean, I think it's good. I think it's an interesting thing because what you said is it's more about the framework and the decision framework, which to me is huge. That's not something I've heard anybody say before. I've heard you use things around that, but very few people enter into their website redesign or website site in general thinking about the decision framework. Most of it centers on design. Does this look cool?

Kurt Elster: Yeah. They start with a wishlist too, that's the worst part is they go like, "Oh, what do you want for this new website?" And then, they share the Google doc with you. That's like, it has to have these features. Well, why? What's going on here with this? And, it's just, we sat in a room and we brainstormed stuff that we think will help because we have evidence that this one individual thing helped elsewhere, so let's just throw it all against the wall and see what sticks. That's a terrible way to go about it, but that's the default practice.

Andrew Foxwell: Right, totally.

Austin Brawner: Yeah. It really comes down to you don't want to sit in a room and come up with features, you want to have a clear goal in mind and then work backward from there where it's like we want to make the easiest checkout experience possible.

I think one company does a really good job of this and I've talked about them before is Native Deodorant, and I'll just share my screen real quick because I think it's so interesting. It's company sold for $100 million. They only have three pages on their website. It's a homepage that is very clear, all it shows is their ingredients and reviews. They have reviews and products, that's it. That's all they have on the entire website and company sold for $100 million. You don't need a bunch of stuff about their story. Everything on this site is focused on helping people invest in themselves.

And again, it's back to exactly what Kurt is saying. It's they have a decision framework that says everything we do is 100% focused on providing the customer with information that helps them make a buying decision. And that's it, that's all they have. I've heard you talk a little bit about Walmart. Kurt, what do you think about Walmart and why have you talked about Walmart doing a good job? What is Walmart doing well in your opinion?

Kurt Elster: Well, so number one, what's interesting about Walmart is they're in a position where they recognize that retail may not be the future for them and they know that Amazon is their biggest competitor. So, they have made a conscious effort to invest a ton of resources into their website. And, as part of that process, because they're a publicly traded company, those notes end up in the shareholder reporting, so like the annual report. And in it, they talked ... I don't know if it was last year or the year before it, but they had increased online ecommerce revenue and I think it was something ... Don't quote me. It was something like 35%. It was stunning how much they had improved it.

So, that's initially what got my attention. You have to guess at how people do, what their success is like, and in Walmart's case, because it's publicly traded, we didn't. So, we know like, okay, they're doing something right here. And, the other part about it is a website that's functionally a reseller, doesn't have any good way to differentiate themselves and they've got a massive catalog, which is ... And just about everybody's going to shop from them. So, they're really like they're starting with a terrible handicap in this golf game. So, it's what they do on the site there's a couple of things.

So, a traditional shop by store, a lot of the themes go with is 100% layout. It's all just huge photos, and Walmart, all right, so the first issue, they have a max width set, very intentionally have a max width set on this thing of 1100 pixels. But, if you were in a traditional design relationship, a merchant might say, "Well, it's got to be full width, so it's pretty." Well yeah, but the full width, 100% bleed thing is way less useful and actually makes the responsive design much harder. I want those constraints on it. It's like number one, the fact that they just chose to do that set max width at 1100 something pixels as opposed to 100% width, okay, already a brave choice there.

Second, they have hidden the menu, which I don't know is a good idea. I'm sure they have reasons, but the big advantage to that is it makes the search box stand out and they've put it in the header and in inverted color. You cannot miss the search box. So, they know they have a giant catalog. Their only way out of that is you just need to type in the thing you're looking for a buddy. It's equivalent to someone saying, "Hey, what brings you in today?" So, you can walk in and type shoes, and then, oh, okay, so it autocompletes and starts making suggestions.

So, they have really done a very clever job of above the fold when you land on the site, it's quite stripped down. There's not a ton there. It's just like, hey, hit the search box. Here are some featured promos via a carousel that's quite narrow or short rather not narrow. And then, they bust objections and lead with their unfair advantage of having retail stores. So, instead of doing like their three featured promos, first one is shop online pickup today. So there are no gods but shipping in ecommerce they have flat. First one is, man you're getting it the same day, you're not even dealing with shipping. Okay, super clever.

Second, they say trending near Skokie, that's where I am Skokie. So, they're using personalization on the site. Man, so few sites use personalization and even this is like a limited version of personalization where we're just doing geolocation, but saying this is trending near you makes it that much more interesting and enticing.

And then third, all right, free two day delivery on millions of items in orders of $35 or more. So again, we're going to bust that shipping objection. And, if you just look at like that above the fold, man, you would have no idea. You're looking at a website, it really hides the absolute depth and size of their catalog, and I think that's the interesting thing is they know well what's the next step in the process? Just get them to a product and what's the best way to do that? Search. So, that is the sole focus. That is where my eye goes. That's what it wants me to do.

Andrew Foxwell: I think that's really interesting. It makes a lot of sense, go ahead Austin.

Austin Brawner: I was going to say, I'm looking at the page now, one of the things I noticed is that they do have multiple slider images, but the way that they're set up, the timing is so slow that you can actually read the slider image and what they're promoting. Where, a lot of Shopify stores, they've got six slider images that just fire through and you don't even know. You can't even read them, right? It's like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom all the way through, yet no idea what the slider is doing and it's switching before you can even read it.

Kurt Elster: Yeah, they almost always, they default to five seconds and there are no controls on it. The Walmart one, you're right, it's at least 10 seconds for each image. And then second, it has very obvious controls complete with a play pause button. So, at a glance you can see, ah, I'm on slide one of five and oh, I want to stop it here, so I click the pause button.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, I think this gets to a question I've always wanted to ask you which I've heard before about Zuckerberg saying, "Don't bring me anything that isn't designed for mobile." And, I've always wanted to ask, getting to ... Walmart's an interesting example because their mobile experience I think looks really good too, is should you design for mobile first? And, we're going to get into a homepage, product pages and check out cart pages and stuff. I want to get into that, but I'm curious, should you design your site from mobile first and then see what that looks like or should you design it for desktop or should you think about them as two totally different things?

Because one brand we work with they have a whole separate mobile experience. That's all it is, is just links to other things. It's like a list of links when you go to that from a mobile perspective. I've always thought that was interesting and it does pretty well. I don't know, I'm curious what your take on that because obviously, the desktop experience is where most people probably are converting, I mean depending on the price of the product probably, but a lot of the traffic that I drive from Facebook and Instagram is going to be coming obviously from mobile. So, how do you framework wise think about that?

Kurt Elster: Well, it can't be shit on either platform, right?

Andrew Foxwell: Right.

Kurt Elster: It needs to work well on mobile and desktop. It's not mutually exclusive, that is the joy of responsive websites and we can have the same content on both. If it's relevant on one, it should be relevant on the other. As far as where do you start? It's more of a question of design. Am I going to start with a desktop design and then scale my way backward? Oftentimes with responsive design, that's an easier way to go from a development standpoint or am I going to design it mobile first and then move up? I don't know, I think the end result is a great experience on both and I don't think there's a wrong way to go about it, so long as it is functional and good in both experiences.

We'll see this with Shopify themes where it's very obvious that it's not polished or perfect on mobile, and I think a lot of that is just the limitation of trying to jam content in there, that can create issues. I don't know where I was going with that thought.

All right, so what's funky about ecommerce is you have a lot of people who will visit the site, have their first experience on mobile, they'll visit the site from mobile, but then they'll make the purchase on a desktop. I think the reason is we just don't want to type in all that information on a phone. You don't want to type your credit card number or your billing address, shoot. It feels like a burden.

But, what has changed that formatically is "buy now" buttons, dynamic checkout buttons with mobile payment solutions especially like Apple Pay and Google pay, where it's now faster to purchase on mobile from a site that uses those systems than it is to buy on my desktop. That's crazy. What I found is the adoption rate among consumers for things like Apple Pay and Google Pay is very low where you would expect like man, this thing should just print money and it isn't the case.

Austin Brawner: No, I think even though it's possible, it's still at a position where people prefer to make their purchase on a desktop. If you're designing a home page, we talked a little bit through the Walmart example, going back to mindset and framework, what are the elements that you really want to get across on a homepage? And, I know you've talked a little bit about this in the past, but what is the F pattern of reading, what does that mean and how should people be thinking about that?

Kurt Elster: Sure. So, in English, you read top to bottom or left to right. So, naturally when someone lands on a webpage, which is functionally a document, they're going to start in that exact same manner, top to bottom, left to right. And in doing so, that means you should probably put your logo in the upper left.

And, if you're going to put your logo in the upper left, you may as well put a tagline under the damn thing. And, that I think is the important thing a lot of people miss is they don't orient new visitors to the site. They're not considering if I land on the site, I go, well, what the heck do you do, and what's in it for me? That's the fundamental question that you need to answer in a few seconds that everybody misses. And so, we can use that in knowing how people read a site, we can help them do that very quickly.

What's difficult about that is the positioning, trying to come up with a three to a five-word tagline that distills everything you provide for a customer is an incredibly difficult proposition. And worse yet, you may be making the best guess at it if you have not done customer development surveys or interviews. So, I think from a layout that's not tough, put a logo left align the logo at the top. Well, okay, not hard. The difficult part is in a copywriting, and that microcopy, right? Where we're like, just write me a sentence fragment. It's way harder than it sounds.

Andrew Foxwell: I think that going off of that is you've talked about, right? They're on the homepage, how quickly can we get somebody to the product page, right? And, that's a big part of it. How quickly do they get it? You've talked about asking questions like is there too much clutter? Adding things like a phone number as a trust indicator potentially on the homepage.

Outside of that, what are successful ways that you can get people to product pages? And, from the homepage, what are ways that really good brands do it? Is it distilling down to your bestsellers and having the three bestsellers and driving them that way or is it going to categorical pages or? Because, I feel like a lot of times people think of their collections or their products in categories or speaking obviously specifically about ecommerce, but the issue, you've talked a lot about nested dropdown menus being not the greatest because you don't want to go three layers, which makes a lot of sense. So, what's the best way you think off of a homepage are some of the most successful ways to get people to product pages?

Kurt Elster: So obviously, this depends wildly on the store and the audience.

Andrew Foxwell: Totally, absolutely.

Kurt Elster: And, this can also come down to how you have targeted the traffic. But so, using Walmart as an example, they have such a gigantic catalog they got to deal with. They lead with just the simple and straightforward shop by category, and that's just a two by five grid. So, you've got 10 of the ... It may be personalization, it may be the best guess or these are just the things that are hot right now showing a category. Typically, the way I go about it is if the site has a very clear focus and a number one bestseller that stands out, well, why don't we just lead with that, let's feature that product and get them to that product page.

So, if I could get them to a product page quickly, now it has changed the nature of that visitor's session. Now, they're shopping. It is the difference between walking past a store and walking into a store. So, that's why I'm so obsessed with once they land on the site, the homepages job is just to get them to a product page, I really don't care which one. They may not buy their product, I just want to get them into the store metaphorically.

So, if there is a very clear winner, this is the bestseller by far. All right, let's say you sell t-shirts, this is the winning design. You feature that first, you should have single hero image and it's that t-shirt, and then pass that, all right, okay, maybe that's not quite the right one. So, as a safety net, let's show a featured collection on the homepage, let's sort it by bestselling and show which products that are in stock. So now I have functionally a self-optimizing collection of my bestsellers that hopefully will interest people. One of those will be enticing enough that they click through to the product page.

So, that's like if you have something more narrow whereas like, all right, we just got t-shirts. Okay, so that's easier. But, if we've got a broader, maybe multiple kinds of t-shirts or multiple audiences, let's try and get them to self-select. So, the deodorant site that Austin used as an example is great, the call to action up there as soon as you land on the site on the hero image was shop men shop women's. So, it's going to make you self select into which category you belong into. But, they're really only selling one product deodorant, we need to personalize it, we need to segment our audience. So, their solution is great. Hero image of the deodorant and then call to action shopmen, shop women.

So, it's like, ideally I want to feature my bestseller alternatively, all right, let's do a featured collection of my bestsellers and then my least enticing option. But, if I have a massive catalog with a lot of variety, I don't have a choice is to do all right, well one of the bestselling categories then, and that's what we see at a Walmart or Amazon.

Austin Brawner: Once you move them ... So, we talked about getting people to the product page. Once you have your process and your thing set up to drive people to a product page, what are you thinking about as you build new product pages? What are the things that you feel are important to have on a product page? What are the things do you feel people usually typically miss on their product pages? And, what's something that really just pisses you off in every product page that you look at when you're doing audits?

Kurt Elster: People go, well no one reads, so our description is one sentence. Oh really? It's not the case. You're right, they don't read, they skim, and then when they find something interesting, they read the rest of it. So, it is not the case that no one reads on the internet, the web is 90% taxed, so it better be really good.

You need to have good copywriting, you need to have you focused copywriting where we know what the ... Certainly, you should have dealt with enough customer questions to know what people's questions are, and every one of those is an opportunity to improve the product description and the copywriting. So, Amazon sellers have a very clever format they figured out. You land on the site, it's got those bullet points at the top and that gives you the overview, and then as you scroll down, it gives you that much larger description where, okay, if you need more info, here it is.

So, you need to help me make a purchase decision. So, that means I need great photography or it's very clear I could see, ideally, I've got the traditional product at a light. I could see the product in action like a lifestyle shot or an action shot, a video of the product. And, if it's something you manufacturer, a video where you the person responsible for it walks me through it, even better. And even if I don't watch that video, it is going to speak to professionalism and help earn my trust and boost conversions.

And then, lead with bullet points, great photography, ideally video, then an extended more detailed description that builds on those bullet points. And, there are fairly simple copywriting formulas out there, so try and sell it to me. Treat that product description like a sales letter where you agitate the pain like, hey, your feet are sore and it's not getting better no matter what shoes you buy. Wouldn't it be great if there was an insole that magically made ... Wouldn't it be great if you could wear your shoes all day without pain? Yes. Okay. Introducing our insole. There you go. That's pain, dream, fix format. That's very easy to do. You should treat your product descriptions, everyone like a sales letter and just follow that pain, dream, fix format.

And then, all right, I'm going to have some objections. Well, what if these insoles don't fit? Oh, we have a 14-day return policy and to help you make sure they fit, here's the size guide. Oh, okay, well, they're not that expensive, but I don't want to pay shipping. Oh, don't worry, we offer free shipping in the US. So then, bus those objections. And then lastly, it's like, all right it's easy for you to tell me that this is great, but I need some external third party social proof, so customer reviews, quotes from press pieces or review sites if you have it, you could put those in there. And really, that's it, it does not have to be that hard. You really just have to go above and beyond the minimum, and do some copywriting. It's just not that difficult.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, I love hearing it, and it also, by the way, I don't know if you know the brand, I've always thought to start is Andy's Insoles even though I go by Andrew, I've always thought an insole brand would be very good. So anyway, someday I may, and I'm going to use that example. But, I think going through the objectives is big and you have talked a lot about previously another piece on your podcast that I've heard you say, "Look, does the page give enough information to bust 80% of objectives and questions?" Talking about promises and satisfaction, give it a shot type of stuff, get your money back. Estimated arrival dates is another one you've talked about, moving the review stars next to the add to cart button. I mean, these are things that are not major changes but are very, very big.

One thing that I haven't seen some people doing is artificial scarcity. Can you talk about why those are bad and why you really hate that? I would love your opinion, because some people I feel like really, really depend on them.

Kurt Elster: If they think they're dependent on it's probably because they've trained customers to expect this behavior. Well, so number one, urgency and scarcity work, it's human psychology. It makes us want the thing more and it's just that simple. So, by urgency and scarcity, you want a thing like this sale, it's on sale and the sale ends in 24 hours, you'll see that one. But it isn't true, the next day the sale starts again, or there's all like you'll see, oh, there's only four left in stock and there are 8,000 people viewing the site right now, so hurry up and buy. All right, so that's urgency and scarcity. No, that's scarcity creating urgency. So, those things, they work and that's what's diabolical about exploiting it. It's lying. None of it is true, and that's what makes it immoral and unethical.

If you saw your doctor and he said, "Oh my gosh, you have to have this emergency surgery, but there's only one doctor left and he's leaving the country 24 hours. So, you only have 24 hours to get the surgery, you don't have time to research this or make a second decision. And, oh, the tools to use it, there's only one left. And so, here's your chance, just sign it and we'll get you into surgery right now." You can't make a decision that way, and if you did and said agree to it, you would be unbelievably pissed afterward. But somehow, if it's like, oh, I'm just drop shipping some $25 bullshit from Amazon, then it's okay and we're supposed to look the other way because it works and they need it and then it's just how they make sales and it converts. I don't care. That doesn't make lying okay. It's still immoral and unethical.

So, like that, it's just you're never going to earn trust with customers by lying to them. It is not the case. Instead, you can still use these elements. You can use them, but they just have to be legitimate. I mean, if you're on Amazon and go on Amazon search phone battery case, some of them will say only nine left in stock, order soon. That's the actual inventory they're sharing with you. It's not fake, it's real. There's only nine left in stock. So, you can use that, right? That's fine.

There are several apps that'll add that feature to your site. Or, for scarcity make it part of your abandon cart process where it goes, all right. Hey, we're going to ... Let's say you use Klaviyo. You can have it dynamically generate an individual use coupon code with a real expiration date. And then you'd say, hey, this coupon expires in 24 hours and then you can remind them 12 hours later, hey, this coupon you haven't used yet, it expires in 12 hours. Well, that's genuine real urgency. So, if you can put a time limit on things to make a decision, then yeah, do it. But, don't just make it up and lie. I mean, there's plenty of apps that do that and it is the shadiest ugliest business. You're not going to have to build a long term durable business doing that.

Andrew Foxwell: This episode's going to be called Kurt Elster goes raw, no, goes wild.

Kurt Elster: Go wild? All right, don't lie. That's my hot take is lying is bad.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I like it. I mean I think it's really, I think it's also true. That's why I wanted to bring it up because I think it's very, very important that people hear that. The other thing I just want to say really briefly to comment on is I'm really glad to hear you say about video on a product page. For some reason, video on product pages, people, I think, have been more hesitant to do, but what do you want to see when you go to the pages? You want to see closeups and you want to see what does it even look like moving? So, I'm glad to hear you say that, and I think that's very, very cool. It's something that a lot of us and a lot of ecommerce brands can really hopefully internalize it and put it into their site.

Kurt Elster: Plus, it's just not hard to create video anymore. My iPhone, my cracked-year-old iPhone shoots 4K video. I could just prop that up with some logo's, put my product on a lazy Susan with some $2 foam board behind it and spin it, oh bam! Now, I have a 360 video to show it. Was any of that hard or expensive to do? Of course not. Do even a small minority of ecommerce sites do that? No. I don't know why. Because if you ask customers, "Hey, would it be helpful to see a 360 video of this product?" Yes, of course, it would, nobody does it.

Andrew Foxwell: Right.

Austin Brawner: I think part of the reason that people don't do it is because the idea of incremental wins is less sexy than massive changes and installing an app that upsells something, but those incremental wins are the reason why certain companies win over time, right? And, they get better and better and better over time, over a period of a year you can add and improve your website incrementally, month in and month out. And by the end of the year, you've got a much better converting site just because of the small things that you've done. So, you were talking a little about the scarcity, artificial scarcity and how it actually how it works.

I had an experience this last week. I was at a Patagonia sale in Santa Cruz and it was three days long at this outlet and everything was 40 to 50% off. Great sale. I walked in there and the line when I walked in was 80 people deep. So, it was crazy and I could feel myself, my wife got in line and I was looking around at some stuff and I could feel myself being like, oh, I got to get something and the sale is going, it's crazy. It was like a real buying frenzy. And, I stopped halfway through it and I was like, I don't really like this feeling. I don't want to buy something just to buy something. But I could feel it taking over because there was scarcity. I could see people taking the products right away.

Kurt Elster: That's social proof in itself.

Austin Brawner: Social proof right there. Everything that was happening in that store can be replicated in its own way on your site. But, the big question that you brought up is, is it ethical? And, I agree with you that it really is not ethical to be pushing people to do something artificially. And, you can rather than doing an artificially, a lot of the success you can have is by planning out when you're going to be offering these types of deals and then really maximizing on those events rather than having it happen all the time and losing trust for people with your 16 upsell apps that show artificial scarcity.

Kurt Elster: Right. Yeah, because those apps drive me nuts. And, the Shopify apps terms of service, I think there is something in there about you can't falsify information, something to that effect which is what those apps do. And occasionally, they'll get taken out or scolded, but for the most part, yeah, they're still there because the app gets submitted and then they add the feature after the fact because someone requested it and they're just trying to do what their customers want. And so, start to finish I really don't think anyone ever intends to be malicious doing any of this, and ultimately it's like, all right, if I decided to buy some $20 piece of garbage off in ecommerce website, it's not going to ruin me. But, it doesn't feel right, it's a slippery slope. It's not a way to build trust with customers, which means ultimately it is not the right path to build a durable and sustainable business for the long term.

Andrew Foxwell: I think that going off of ... I agree. And, one thing I've been thinking, we've been talking a lot about, Austin and I on the podcast is about increasing lifetime value and increasing average add to carts, things like that, the dollar amounts.

On the note of a product page, somebody is there, they add something to cart, and we can transition to talking about the cart or the checkout page. What are the best ways or what are some ways that you really like where somebody has something in their cart or maybe they've looked at one product and maybe they want to look at something else, how do you through a successful web design help increase that? What are the ways that are really successful? Do you show just a couple of products on the product page? Is it better once they've added something to the cart and then some other message comes up, some pop-up or? I mean, I know I have ideas, but I'm curious on your take on what's the best way to help sell complimentary products to people?

Kurt Elster: That's a good question. I think at its core the answer is to look at what other people bought together, and then use that data. So, in Shopify, you can run a report called website in-card analysis and it will spit out, these are products people add to cart together. And so, you could ... all right. All right, we know for a fact this is what people buy together, so now let's help. And, if those things will give people a better experience with the product, let's advertise that to everybody. And so, the methods to do it is on the site number one, spell out, hey, let's say you're selling your product just on camera. If you're doing something like that, it's not clear what the accessories are, this is an easy UX and customer service win, first spell out what is included and what's not included, right?

So, this is like scope exclusions in a proposal you go, yeah, a camera comes with a USB cable and eight gig memory card and that's it. And what's not included, but you may want to consider is a bigger memory card case. So that's one way to go about it is you're going to preempt the things that will give them a better experience, right? Just as links in the product description. I don't need an app. I don't need any fancy widget layout design, just bullet points. That's it, anybody could go do that right now. You could do it as, all right, so we want to take that idea and make it a little fancier. We could recommend products as a featured collection right in the product page where we go, other items people considered. Or maybe, let's take it a step further. Let's give them a break on it and say you can offer a bundle as part of the product form and this function now we're giving, you'll need an app to do this at least to make it practical to manage.

Or say, all right, you add this digital camera to cart or add the bundle to the cart so that they just have to decide, all right, well this is the stuff I was going to buy anyway. I may as well get a discount on it. And, this is great for the merchant because it's a good way to get around minimum advertised price policies, or yeah the camera's still the same price but look at all the other stuff you're getting for free with it. Or, that's a version of a cross-sell. As an upsell, we could take it a step further with that exact same process. So, let's say the same thing, hey, yeah, this is a great camera, but if you want the upgraded pick, you should check out the thousand dollar pro DSLR and you can link to that just in the product description. And, I saw Best Buy do this on their website I was looking for, it was a Christmas gift, a $90 drone. And on there was like you should consider this upgrade pick, and it offered me a $300 drone, right? And that wasn't difficult or tough.

And then, I think where you're going to get the more traditional way to do it, would be with a pop-up window. So, when I either I add the item to cart or I click continue to check out, you say something like, "Hey, people who bought what's in your cart also bought this stuff, why not save on shipping?" So, you give them a reason to make the purchase as opposed to waiting. I like to save on shipping. And then again, just use data, offer them the related stuff, or if you want to get really fancy you can do a post-purchase as well.

It can happen via email and the receipt, everyone is going to check that order confirmation receipt, make sure, yeah did I get the right thing? I don't want to have any surprises. 90% of people open that receipt email, so you could put an up sale in there or you could do it like post-purchase as part of a series. But yeah, increasing that lifetime value, that average order value, there are so many ways to do it and you don't have to over complicate it.

Austin Brawner: No, I think that that's really important, not over complicating, and also going back to the key thing you mentioned at the beginning, which is actually look at what people want and are buying together anyway, and offering that specifically rather than trying to just come up with something to sell people, which is the typical route of going about it. Electronics is such a good example because I always buy something and then at the end, do you want the cords? I'm like, oh, I didn't buy the cords.

Kurt Elster: Yeah, and it's frustrating and then the cord is too cheap to get over the free shipping threshold.

Austin Brawner: So, you're back at it.

Kurt Elster: Yes, so it's very easy to position as like actually, I'm creating a better customer experience by helping them spend more because I know they're going to need this thing anyway. And, they're getting free shipping now, they might as well grab it now.

Austin Brawner: Sure. Well, Kurt, I think we want to be respectful of your time and wrap up here, but we do have a couple of quicker questions for you. A little bit more rapid fire.

Kurt Elster: All right, I won't ramble, I'll limit it. I'll focus.

Austin Brawner: You're in the space, you're talking to people all the time. You're seeing new apps, you're seeing new tools, you're thinking about the way this space is progressing. What is something that you have gotten excited about recently? That could be an app, that could be a tool, that could be something totally different in our space that you see people are doing or using.

Kurt Elster: I think the future, the thing and the thing that is completely underutilized, and I touched on it earlier, is personalization. And it's because there really aren't ... Up until very recently, there weren't any accessible personalization apps. One that came on the scene that my friend made, but I've used it, it's very good is RightMessage what you can use to even just do a message. Going down the rabbit hole of personalization, it's easy to get lost, just focus on ... Those announcement bars that are on the top of a website, rather than have it give the same offer to everybody, figure out a way, however, you want to do it, where it's a different offer for a new versus returning visitor, and a returning visitors versus returning customer. That's it.

So, we've got like three possible messages that this announcement bar can display, try figuring out how to do that. Klaviyo I think is adding personalization, RightMessage can do it. Or, just like tagging customers and adding a little bit of liquid code, you could achieve this. But just imagine that, that's the first thing people see and it's going to make it very obvious like, oh, this is tailored to me.

Andrew Foxwell: I love that. I love that. I think it makes a lot of sense. Somebody shows you that that's where they are. Another question Austin and I have is, what is something you believe to be true that almost no entrepreneurs agree with you on?

Kurt Elster: Well, I would imagine all entrepreneurs think great design is super important, right? Like Apple, we have worshiped at the feet of Dieter Rams and we have absolutely turned Steve Jobs' aesthetic and John Ives' aesthetic into a cult of personality. But, design by itself is not 1/10th as important as you think it is.

I have seen the ugliest goddamn websites do $20 million a year selling just low average order value stuff. It is not as important as you think unless you get all of those core things figured out first. My positioning, my messaging, how am acquiring high-quality traffic, customer support all of that stuff until you get that figured out, the design is not going to save you, right? The web is 90% typography, so focus on just making a site that's easy to read and compelling rather than it has to be the most beautiful minimalist, extraordinary design ever. The design is less important than you think. That's my short answer.

Austin Brawner: Awesome. Kurt, it has been great. You've got obviously an awesome podcast as well, Unofficial Shopify podcast that it's funny, I always talk to people and they're like, "Listen to your podcast, listen to Kurt's podcast." There's a lot of overlap. So, go check out Unofficial Shopify podcast. Where else would you direct people to, what's the best place to go get in touch with you if they're interested in some of your services and learning more about what you do?

Kurt Elster: Sure. Google me, Kurt, sign up for my newsletter. If you reply to any of those emails, it goes to my actual inbox. I am happy to answer thoughtful questions with thoughtful answers. Or if you're like, man, this guy just needs to take my money I have a consulting service business

Austin Brawner: Awesome. Kurt's always fine to have you. We'll have to have you back as well in the future here. Love talking shop with you. And yeah man, thanks a lot for joining us.

Kurt Elster: Thank you for having me.

Austin Brawner: Hey guys, it's Austin again. And, if you've been listening for a while and you've yet to join the Brand Growth Experts membership, now is the time to do it. It is an incredible resource for you, it's my online coaching community. It's really the engine that drives the Ecommerce Influence podcast. We've got about 115 members, all ecommerce business owners and ecommerce marketers, and in that community, I work with you guys one on one to help scale up your business. That could be scaling up advertising, hiring a team, diving into marketing strategy. So, it's a really, really good resource and we go really in depth every single month on topics that we also talk about on the podcast. So, if you've enjoyed the podcast, it's something you get some value out of, you're going to love the Brand Growth Expert Membership, head over to and you can learn some more information. Can't wait to see you guys on the inside.

Austin Brawner: What's up everybody, welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence podcast. My name's Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And, I'm Andrew Foxwell. Thank you, everyone, for joining us. We have a number of new listeners, and so I'm very excited to have all of you here.


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