What gave The Popcorn Factory the highest conversion rate on the internet?

Picture from the homepage of the Popcorn Factory, the website with the highest conversion rate in 2007.

In December of 2007 the Popcorn Factory had the highest conversion rate, 29.50%, of any major website (MarketingCharts.com, 2007). For most retail websites, a conversion rate of 10% is considered excellent. Anything below that is considered average (Eisenberg, February 3rd, 2008). What can we learn from The Popcorn Factory to help us improve our own conversion rates? In this article we will answer that question by looking at one very important reason behind their success.

No doubt there are many reasons that The Popcorn Factory has one of the highest conversion rates online. However, as I researched this article, one reason kept coming up, product selection. Not all products sell well online (Warren, 2000). The Popcorn Factory has done a good job of identifying what sells well online and investing their resources in those products. They have done this in the following ways:

  1. The Popcorn Factory sells a product the customer already wants to buy.
  2. Their online product mix is specific to online tastes and is different than their offline product mix.
  3. Their products are well suited to being delivered by mail.

Let’s discuss each of these points one by one.

The Popcorn Factory sells a product the customer already wants to buy. If you manufacture a product, improving on this point may be difficult for you. However, if you are an online retailer retailing other vendor’s wares, then this is entirely within your control. The simplest way to increase your conversion rate online is to start with great products. This quote bears that out:

“People’s motivations trump any great or poor [website] design. If people have made up their mind (persuaded themselves), that they want to buy flowers or popcorn from the particular retailer then they’ll work through almost any poor shopping process…” (Eisenberg, January 29th, 2008)

How can you improve your product mix? Put extra effort into the product selection process. Read product reviews, see what people are talking about. Are there any trends you can take advantage of? Product strategy is not my area of expertise. Nevertheless, the key point I want you to take from this article is that bad product selection will trump good website design. So don’t invest more money in improving your website or increasing your online marketing if you don’t already have products that the customer desires. After all, we can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. A better website might just end up being a better color of lipstick for a litter of ugly piglet products.

That brings us to the next point.

The Popcorn Factory’s online product mix is specific to online tastes. The Popcorn Factory has a print catalog as well as their website. Cheryl Zatz (the Vice President of Marketing for The Popcorn Factory as of at least October 2006) made clear in a ComputerWorld.com case study that, “the Web site doesn’t simply replicate the paper catalogue: the number of products is limited, to avoid creating navigation problems for users, but the site does include a number of exclusive lines.” (Warren, 2000)

If you already sell products offline, moving online may not be as simple as putting pictures of your products on your website. Here the Popcorn Factory specifically faced a navigation issue. They didn’t want to overwhelm users. Nevertheless, not all products are tailored to the online world. For example, a clothing store that sells suits and dress shoes will probably find dress shoes are far easier to sell online than suits. Clothing that needs to be tried on first may be harder to sell than shoes that have fairly universal sizes. Such differences may affect policies such as return policies. Return policies online may have to be different than the return policy you’ve used successfully in the past.

These are just some of the things to think about. There are probably dozens of factors I could list. However, hopefully you see the point. When you decide to go online make sure you think through how the customer’s preferences are different online than when he is buying from you in your store or even over the phone. Your online policies, prices, product descriptions, may need to be different.

This brings us to our last point.

The Popcorn Factory’s products are well suited to being delivered by mail. The Popcorn Factory started as a mail-order business, so their products are already nicely suited to being delivered through mail. What does this mean for those of us who don’t have mail-order businesses to learn from? We can take a look at the products we’re trying to sell online and make sure they really fit the online purchasing model. For example, the majority of cars will probably always be purchased locally. The internet is a powerful marketing tool for cars, but most customers want to test drive the car they ultimately buy. On the other hand, tin cans of popcorn are very easy to sell online. The cost is low; if you don’t like the popcorn, you’re not out a lot of money. Popcorn is a pretty standard product that is hard to mess up, so there isn’t much fear of completely botched service.

Thus, it is wise to ask yourself the following questions: Do customers understand your product well enough that they would feel comfortable buying it online? Is your product’s value proposition only convincing when seen in person? All of these factors will affect your conversion rate. Again, these factors are far more important than the overall look and feel of your website.

In conclusion, product selection on your website is going to have a larger impact on your conversion rate, than even the best website design can have. The Popcorn Factory achieves a high conversion rate, not because of outstanding website design, but because of outstanding products. Focus intensely at improving the product selection on your website and you will naturally see an improved conversion rate.


    References:

  1. MarketingCharts.com. 2007. “Top 10 Online Retailers by Conversion Rate – December 2007
  2. Eisenberg, Bryan. January 29th, 2008. “Top 10 Online Retailers by Conversion Rate: 12/2007
  3. Esenberg, Bryan. February 3rd, 2008. “Top 10 Online Retailers by Conversion Rate: An Analysis
  4. Warren, Liz. May 18, 2000. “Positive approach to e-business will pay dividends for SMEs