8 ways we increased ecommerce sales by 10,000%

Discover how Headscape increased the sales of Wiltshire Farm Foods by 10,000% and how you can do the same for your site.

A 10,000% increase in sales over 5 years. Sounds incredible doesn’t it. Just to make that an even more incredible, their average customer is in their 80s! Who said the elderly don’t use the internet.

When we started working with Wiltshire Farm Foods their monthly revenue was a 100th of what it is today.

Of course in reality that success was not down entirely to us. Matt Curry, our client at Wiltshire Farm Foods has put his heart and soul into that website and as I say in Chapter one of the Website Owners Manual, it is the site champion who makes or breaks a site.

The organisation has recognised the importance and power of the web for their business and continually invested in it both for development and also in site promotion. If they had not had the foresight to do that then the site would have failed.

So what do I put the sites success down to? Well, honestly that is hard to say. There are so many factors. However below are 8 things that have without a doubt made an enormous difference.

1. Remove clutter

WFF Product Menu

Too many ecommerce websites are overwhelming. Everything is screaming for the users attention. There are offers, deals and recommended products wherever the user turns. Amongst all of this confusion it is hard to find what you want.

Amazon is like this and so we all naturally presume it must be right. However, one of the first conclusions we came to when working on Wiltshire Farm Foods is that they are not Amazon. Nobody is. You cannot presume that what works for one will work for all.

The emphasis of the Wiltshire Farm Foods website was on helping users find and buy the products they wanted. It is not in anyone interest to overwhelm them with stuff that only we wanted them to buy. It has to be the customer first.

This meant simplifying the site. With so much content shouting for attention, users could not find anything. We had to remove distraction and focus them on key tasks.

Take for example the site’s navigation. We actually hide away some of the ranges offered by Wiltshire Farm Foods. Insanity you might think. Surely this made it harder for users to find what they want? Admittedly for a small minority it did. However, hiding the less popular ranges (like soup) we could highlight the ranges that accounted for the vast majority of sales.

WFF Product Listing

The same was true for product listings. Some users were interested in a lot of different information from dietary content to customer ratings. However, this additional information made life harder for the mainstream users who were only interested in a photo, description and price.

We therefore decided to move all of this additional information on to the product details page. That way it was accessible for those who wanted it without distracting the majority.

WFF Shopping basket

The final area we significantly simplified was the shopping basket and checkout process. As I explained in my post on ecommerce lies, once the user has made the decision to purchase you need to remove all distractions.

The shopping basket is not the time to up-sell or cross selling. It’s not even the time to provide a navigation bar to other products. At this stage you want the user to do one thing and one thing only, proceed to checkout.

Talking of the shopping cart, we also focused heavily on getting it to stand out on the page.

2. Make sure the shopping cart stands out

Too many websites hide the shopping cart away. However, this is a crucial step in shopping and the first of the checkout process. In affect the shopping cart is an ecommerce websites primary call to action.

With this in mind we wanted to make the cart as prominent as possible. We achieved this in three ways:

  • We made the shopping basket button visually different from the rest of the site using colour
  • When items were added to the basket it was visually updated (see providing visual feedback video)
  • We tethered the basket summary to the top of the screen so that it would always be visible even when the user scrolled (see below)

As you can see from the video below, the tethering proved particularly effective and makes the call to action obvious at all times.

3. Provide visual feedback

One of the primary questions in the mind of users when interacting with a system like an ecommerce website is “did I do that right?”

Whether it is adding an item to the basket or filling in a login and password, users are concerned that they are doing things wrong. This is particularly true with a more elderly audience who have not grown up using computers.

It is therefore important to reassure users as they progress through the site. This can be achieved by providing visual feedback when the user takes an action.

For example on the Wiltshire Farm Foods website when an item is added to the basket the user gets multiple types of feedback to reassure them the item has been added:

  • The photo of the item is highlighted
  • The ‘add to basket’ button updates
  • The image of the item visually moves towards the basket
  • The basket itself updates

As you can see from the video below, the user is in no doubt that the item has been added.

However, the visual feedback does not stop at the basket. When the user is confronted with a form they are clearly shown what fields are required, and which have been completed correctly or incorrectly. This information is updated without the need for page refresh.

Form field feedback

4. The bigger the better

An image can say a thousand words. It is therefore unsurprisingly that the product shots on an ecommerce site are massively important. Even if your audience are not the elderly with failing vision, it is still important to have nice, big, clear shots of your products.

In the case of Wiltshire Farm Foods we have taken this principle to the extreme.

As we saw earlier the product list is essentially a grid of images with the addition of some basic product information. The image sells the meal in a way words never could, and the grid allows us to have large images. However, we did not stop there.

As you can see in the video below, clicking on a product listing displays an even bigger image in the product details. We also allow users to click on this larger photo and display an even bigger version that expands to fill the width of the page. This leaves the user in no doubt about what they are getting.

Of course this is dependant on having decent shots of the product. If you can only invest in a single thing for your ecommerce site this would be it. Spend money on getting the best photography you can. Its worth every penny.

5. Make buttons and links obvious

A continuation of the ‘bigger is better’ thinking can also be applied to buttons and links. Admittedly this might be exaggerated by the Wiltshire Farm Foods audience, but in my years of user testing I am constantly amazed how often users fail to spot important links and buttons.

You will therefore notice how ridiculously big some of the links and buttons on WFF are. However, size isn’t everything (no innuendo intended).

We also gave a lot of attention to appearance and wording too. For example, notice in the image below how the link looks like a link. Also we did not rely on the link alone because the wording of the link doesn’t communicate the action. We therefore added a button that communicates how clicking it will allow the user to ‘view all of our beef meals’.

Link to Meal catagory

The descriptive nature of buttons can also be seen elsewhere on the site. We are very conscious that users do not always read copy explaining buttons and so the button itself needs to communicate all the information required.

Take for example the image below. If all you read was the two buttons you would know exactly what choice was available. The surrounding text is entirely optional.

Example buttons

6. Always be there to help

An ecommerce transaction raises a lot of questions in the minds of users:

  • Is delivery free?
  • What if I don’t like the product?
  • Is my credit card information secure?

In addition there are questions about the site itself and how to use it.

Surprisingly many ecommerce websites seem reluctant to help their customers. Delivery and return policies are buried. Reassurance about security is limited to a tiny badge or padlock. And most importantly you have to search high and low for a phone number.

We were determined to address these problems on the WFF website. In the end we settled on three approaches:

1. The one stop solution

Our first move was to bring together all help into a single section of the site that was prominently displayed in the navigation bar. This avoided the user having to hunt around for different pieces of information.

We then looked at the enquiries received by WFF customer support and used these to identify the top issues. These where then prioritised and presented on the help homepage.

As you can see the top question was “how do I contact you” so we prominently featured the telephone number. This was then followed by questions about ordering and the website.

Help Section

2. The getting started guide

We also took an idea from the video games industry and provided users with a tutorial. However, the idea of the tutorial (which we called a getting started guide) was to guide users through their first transaction.

This is displayed prominently on the homepage and gives users who are overwhelmed by the site a starting point.

Get Started Content Area

3. Context sensitive help

Finally, we also wanted to provide context sensitive help throughout the purchase process. These are small pieces of microcopy found throughout the site nudging users in the right direction.

Example of context sensitive help

7. Handle errors gracefully

No matter how well designed your site or how much help you provide, things will inevitably go wrong.

If you do not want to lose the sale, you must handle the error gracefully and reassure the user they can still continue.

This is particularly important when working with the elderly audience found on Wiltshire Farm Foods. However, it is always wise to give users as much help as possible and not make assumptions about their abilities.

Below are a couple of examples of how we handle problems on the site.

Error message

The first example is an error message that appears when the user fails to login. There are several such messages across the website. However, they all have two characteristics in common:

  • The message is highly visible – This is achieved either by strong visual branding (as above) or by positioning the message next to field being edited (as in context sensitive help) .

  • The message tells the user what to do
    – It is important that messages clearly communicate how the user can overcome the problem.

The example above is probably a little wordy for most websites. Fortunately, our user testing has shown that a more elderly demographic actually reads instructional text! We can therefore take some liberties.

Example of empty search results

The second example of an error message appears when the user has entered a search term that returns no results. The danger in this situation is that users will conclude the site does not have whatever it was they searched for and so leave.

In reality there are number of reasons why no results might be returned. In such situations provide some guidance on searching. We also went one step further by including a phone number in case all else fails.

8. Communicate your value add

The final lesson we have learnt from working on WFF is the importance of communicating what extra you offer customers.

The problem is that there are so much choice for consumer. How for example could an organisation like Wiltshire Farm Foods compete with such a well known brand as Tescos?

Tescos sell frozen meals and a lot more besides. They deliver to your door and have a much broader range of products (although admittedly not frozen meals).

What enables Wiltshire Farm Foods to compete is their value added service. These include:

  • Police checked delivery staff
  • The option to pay cash on delivery
  • The ability to place your next order with the driver
  • Delivery staff will even unpack meals and place them in your freezer

When you are trying to each an elderly audience, these kinds of extra services are a real selling point.

Of course, these USPs are no good if users are unaware of them so considerable effort has been put into clearly communicating these on the site. In fact we are in the process of doing even more work in this area.

What are your USPs and are you clearly communicating them on your site?

Image showing WFFs complete service

Is that all?

So if you follow these 8 guidelines will you increase your sales by 10,000%? The answer is probably not.

In reality there is a lot more that affects the success of an ecommerce business than its website. There is the ongoing communications, customer service, fulfilment, and marketing to name but four.

The 10,000% increase makes a good title for a blog post! However, the percentage growth is not really the point. What matters is that by following the advice here you will be guaranteed to see growth and that is what matters.

However, if I could leave you just a single thought it would be this. Wiltshire Farm Foods looks a million miles away from the busyness of Amazon and indeed many other ecommerce websites. Do not just blindly follow the crowd (or even the advice in this post). Instead learn what your users need and give it to them. It really is that simple.

Of course, you might need some help doing that, but even the answer to that is simple. Give Headscape a call ;-)

  • Michael

    Great post. Although in the video, the first selected item from the third column seems to dissolve into the image in the second column. Best part were the comparisons to Amazon’s busy site, and then the last paragraph “Buy my book (from Amazon)”

  • Excellent post. Dead on with this one Paul. Identify target market, engage appropriately and take the vertical market approach with a smile.

    Point 6 is my favorite: Always be there to help.

    I think this is by far the most important. Nothing is more important than making your site viral, think Zappos and everything that needs to be said has been.

    Helping is the best way to do this and your website needs to enforce it, correctly!

  • “At this stage you want the user to do one thing and one thing only, proceed to checkout.”

    No, you want them to put more stuff in their basket.

    • I see where you are coming from but that is not actually the case. As you will see from one of the videos they will only visit the basket for a final review after purchasing.

    • Indeed, since you don’t visit the basket after each “add” action, cross-sell opportunities here are limited, and so conversion is better if we keep the momentum and get them through the checkout.

      For our site, cross & upsell opportunities come earlier on in the process (similar to say, Tesco) with we can do via merch/searchendising

  • Excellent post Paul – would love to see more like this.

  • Yes, I realised that after I actually tried the site out. I’m used to my own ecommerce sites where I send them to the basket summary page. Note to self: start using that fancy ajax stuff.

    Must admit I laughed when the basket said “Something’s gone wrong – your order value doesn’t exceed £15”.

  • Rob

    Hey Paul – what is powering the site? Are you guys using an out-of-the-box cart like Magento, or Trading Eye, or is it something proprietary? Just curious. I love what you guys have done with this store.

    • Its all custom built using ASP. The backend systems are complex to say the least so there is no off the shelf system that will do the job.

  • Hi Paul,

    Great work. You guys obviously worked really hard on this.

    One useability flaw I’ve noticed is that when you click “Need Help Getting Started” (http://www.wiltshirefarmfoods.com/#homeGuide) the Basekt Summary overlays ontop of the heading text.

    Perhaps you could consider setting an offset on the scroll using JavaScript?

    Hope that helps

  • Very nice post. You guys implemented some great features. A great showcase.

  • Wow! You guys did a great job on the website. I think what helps most is the fact assistance is extremely visible to the customer. For many people, shopping for food online would certainly be at least a little odd for them.

  • Jon

    Great Post. Lovely advice and a nice read :)

  • This was very very helpful,, and I agree 100% with your concepts,,My freind had some other company build her site, we have had over 25,000 visitors since she opened in June 2009 and only 4 sales to close freinds,, I am researching trying to figure out what we can do when this contract runs out to make a better website,, thank you for everything,, it will help alot.

  • @Dean – I don’t think it’s wise to assume that you want customers to put more stuff in their basket at checkout stage. People are far from stupid, especially if they are in their 80s and ordering online. Respect your customers’ intentions of checking out and pay and they’ll come back and buy again. Become pushy and Amazon-like and you’re likely to never see them again. If they want pushy they’ll go Tesco.

  • Harry

    A 10,000% uplift in sales sounds incomprehensibly vast. Any chance of seeing the site before Headscape got their hands on it?

  • Wow, what an excellent post packed full of juicy website usability tid bits. Well done. Anxious to start employing some of these same tactics on a few of the ecommerce sites we run. Also just wanted to reinforce how important on-site search is for ecommerce sales. Often times it gets overlooked, but it’s probably one of the most important aspects, especially for large catalogs and if you “remove clutter” that has to be searched to find. In addition, Google Analytics can be setup to track on-site search. That way you can see who is searching for what when they get to your site and make any necessary changes in order to serve your shoppers the results they expect to see. Thanks for posting. Look forward to more like this.

  • Some very, very good tips!

  • Good cop:
    Website is gorgeous. Lovely design. Even this blog rocks. I’m sure you’re an awesome person.

    Bad cop:
    The compete.com traffic for wiltshirefarmfoods.com is in the hundreds of visits per month. Not hundreds of thousands. Hundreds. A 100x (or TEN THOUSAND PERCENT as you put it) increase in sales can be revenues growing from $10/mo to $1000/mo. Any chance of getting some more concrete numbers to show this isn’t just some extreme PR for your new book?


    • I would dearly love to give you figures because the story is even more unbelievable. The initial levels were not in that small. However, my client does not want me giving out specifics.

      At the end of the day you can either believe me or not. There is nothing else I can tell you :-(

  • Lyle

    Hi Paul,

    Beautiful design I love the way the site works and how easily it is to use.

    One thing I always want from Ecommerce sites is to know exactly how much it’s going to cost total.

    I am forever finding a product at a great price, following the link, adding to the basket and registering for the site before I find out that it costs a small fortune to ship.

    I would really like to see shipping costs (or at least a decent ballpark) up front.

    I must be registered on about a billion ecommerce sites that i’ll never use.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Hey guys, I’m the client on this site.

    Paul can’t give out the financials as it’s private company information. However, I can attest that the figures are right. What we bring in now per month is over 100 times more than when we first started working with Headscape.

    Now of course, yes, our traffic has significantly increased over this time, as we invest more and more into the web side of the business but from a sheer conversion rate point of view, we enjoy conversion rates most ecommerce sites can’t even dream of. Something that is even harder to maintain as your traffic increases, and the balance moves from brand to nonbrand search entry.

    Part of this is how we’ve focussed on repeat traffic. The game in any ecommerce business isn’t one time purchases, but sustained business with a customer. So if you look at our returning customer conversion rate, you’d be agog.

    • Daniel

      “..can’t give out the financials as it’s private company information”

      Whats to loose by being honest here. End of the day we could eaisly grab accounts for your company from 5 years ago and then calculate this 10,000% increase in revenue for our selves. ( I would if it wasnt for the fact that companies house has you listed as overdue for your latest accounts !! – OK – Only by 2 days so we’ll let you off ) The subject line is designed to grab attention but there is little substance behind it after that. The content matter of the post is great and all the points are exellently made but Paul, you must admit that you had your PR hat on when decising how to spin this article

      I dont disbelieve it however, I just think that given the fact that the growth in real cash numbers probably arent quite so impressive you’ll have to accept that some folks are going to take it with a pinch of salt.

      If you’re going to make a statement as grand as this, then you have to be prepared to back it up with raw data, otherwise what else do you expect but doubt.

    • Hi Daniel, WFF is a UK business unit within a much larger multinational parent company, and as such its accounts aren’t published separately. Anything WFF wise at companies house would be our internally run “franchise”, rather than the business as a whole.

      It would probably be a better indicator of success if you thought about how much it would cost annually for a web design company of the calibre of Headscape to design,build, maintain & develop from scratch an ecommerce platform. Then factor that normally less than 1% of a site’s annual revenue is put back into Web Dev (as opposed to say 5% into Marketing).

  • Also, not sure where complete.com gets it’s figures, but I’m guessing it only looks at US traffic, which is nonsense for a UK brand. Although, looking at GA, even our US traffic is considerably more than that.

    • Holy crap, you’re right. Compete is only US traffic.

      • Places tail firmly between legs. *
  • Daniel K

    A great story, but a visit to the web site shows that you are failing one important aspect of usability.

    Upon entering my postcode to check for delivery, in the form “SW38PT” I was confronted with an error. It told me my postcode was not found.

    My crime? Not including a space.

    Given I don’t leave a space when addressing my letters (as the target audience also might not), I shouldn’t have to do this.
    The site should have a table of UK inward codes to enable it to determine a correct postcode entered in any format.

    There is only one thing better than a good help system, and that is assisting the user without them realising they have made a mistake at all.

    A couple of small fixes like this and you could have seen a 20,000% increase! Overall though, nice work.

    • Hi Daniel, just tried this postcode and it worked fine?
      In fact, we correct a lot of issues with postcodes, such as replacing o (oscar) with 0 (zero) when it’s the first character in the sector part of the postcode.

    • Daniel K

      Hi Matt, that postcode was an example and it does look like it works, you are correct. I actually entered “N18BU”, which will give you the error.

      It is simple enough to assist the user with this behind-the-scenes, using a freely available dataset.

  • I really enjoyed this article, I rarely find the need to post comments but this one really appealed to me – loads of great tips, more like this please Paul!

  • Piero

    Nice plugin the one that links the tag with the icon.. may I ask the name?

  • Number 9: Make it degrade gracefully for users without JavaScript enabled in their browser, thus making your site more accessible to all users. Seriously, I hope I’m wrong, but even the very basic level of functionality in this website (adding stuff to your basket) appears to break without JavaScript.

    • You will be pleased to hear that you are wrong :-) The site is designed to work both for those without JS but also for those using screen readers. When your demographic is in their 80s you cannot take anything for granted!

  • Some really interesting points here. Like the messaging and very well directed customer service elements. Clean, unfussy and clear for anyone be it web-savvy or not.

  • Great post! I haven’t had the pleasure of working on a ecommerce site yet and the advice addressed here will be helpful if the opportunity ever arises. However, a lot of the points you raise are great tips to increase usability on any website.

    I would enjoy more posts like this in future.

  • Wow, this post is simply amazing! Bookmarked.

    I love that the product fades out and the minicart pops up when you add an item to the cart, very effective.

    So many great ideas.

  • Andrew Wiggins

    The site’s design and functionality is gorgeous. Was there a reason you built it in classic asp as opposed say .net like some of your other web sites.

  • Thanks, finally I can say with renewed confidence that copying Amazon isn’t the best e-commerce strategy. Time to show clients this post, or perhaps just them a copy of your book :)

  • What e-commerce cart does WFF use? Magento, OS Commerce etc???

  • SEO

    You have a great eye for design, nice chunky stuff.

  • As a new start up ecommerce site, this article is really good on giving perspective to what is important. Of course you run through your mind about security seals, and product selection but you are right about keeping it simple. I think this should also broach the subject of who you go with to help design and develop your ecommerce site. If the support isn’t there to help you grow your site to be the best it can be then you’re all ready in the hole without a shovel! Thanks for the good advice!

  • As an ecommerce-focused company, this list is a fantastic reference guide… even for us!

    Think the one thing a lot of sites lack, is the focused ‘steps’ on the home page. Not only does this communicate just how easy it is to do business with a website, it adds credibility that the site owners can demonstrate how easy that process truly is!

  • Excellent idea for increasing sales of e-commerce sites.
    It will be helpful for any e-commerce web site business owner.

  • Anonymous

    These are excellent ideas, and I agree simplicity is the best move for eCommerce sites to implement moving forward. People want to checkout fast, and being simple is the best way. Kiss it. Keep It Simple.


  • another great article. i know only the code side of things so this info is very helpful to me

  • another great article. i know only the code side of things so this info is very helpful to me

  • another great article. i know only the code side of things so this info is very helpful to me

  • another great article. i know only the code side of things so this info is very helpful to me

  • another great article. i know only the code side of things so this info is very helpful to me

  • another great article. i know only the code side of things so this info is very helpful to me

  • another great article. i know only the code side of things so this info is very helpful to me

  • This is just a great post. The attention you guys have made to the details is incredible. You almost make the user feel he is special and so he is. I am a Digital Marketer and part of this role includes helping eCommerce sites boost their sales, what we call increasing Conversion Rate. Would surely recommend these tips to all my clients. However, I find eCommerce clients especially from the US highly reluctant to changes on their website, thereby such an article could help me convince them with much ease.
    Again, thanks for your efforts in putting up such great case study in plain English which can easily be implemented across other websites. This also comprehends to my mission of making this web a more beautiful place. Adios :)

    [P.S. Am sending this blog post to our designing team right away :) ]

  • This is just a great post. The attention you guys have made to the details is incredible. You almost make the user feel he is special and so he is. I am a Digital Marketer and part of this role includes helping eCommerce sites boost their sales, what we call increasing Conversion Rate. Would surely recommend these tips to all my clients. However, I find eCommerce clients especially from the US highly reluctant to changes on their website, thereby such an article could help me convince them with much ease.
    Again, thanks for your efforts in putting up such great case study in plain English which can easily be implemented across other websites. This also comprehends to my mission of making this web a more beautiful place. Adios :)

    [P.S. Am sending this blog post to our designing team right away :) ]


  • Great article, very useful and practical advice that I will be putting into practice for my own site. Thanks!

  • Hey paul Nice tips out here. I recently joined Pinterest and must say that it’s actually a hub for all those internet-geek women out there! Cheers!!

  • Hi. I just think this article is jewel, high quality content for free…congrats in for this success case.

  • Jimmy

    Hi sir.
    Very nice article and high quality. I really looking for this solution for my web..

  • Ranvijay Rayzada


  • Ranvijay Rayzada
  • Jason
  • Bharath Kumaran

    Hey its right Paul Boag,Increasing e-commerce sale’s double can’t imagine,Your blog offers step by step methods to show us how to increase sales to 10,000%.Your title itself energetic and vibrant. Optimizing proper e-commerce blog’s drive huge traffics.Covert them into sales.Bring customer simple and easy for checkout’s.Too much of hard templates hurts customers.Try out http://www.teetalkies.com

  • refiral12

    Very Nice Article!! but if you have Very Low marketing budget then Referral marketing can be the another good option for you. you can integrate Refer and earn program on your online store to get more sales. for more info go to http://www.refiral.com/

  • Less navigation for buying a product is very necessary to create a good impression to customers. I guess along with that product images need to be good enough to attract the customers. If the taken shots are not perfect enough then basic photo editing need to be done.

  • Nice informative post. It will be beneficial for all eCommerce owner. I must keep in mind your tips. Thanks for your effort.