The transformation of the eCommerce conversion funnel is a major paradigm shift that digital eCommerce teams can’t afford to ignore.

For starters, it helps explain the -3.5% Year-on-Year drop in eCommerce conversion rates that we saw last year—and the accompanying dip in session consumption metrics such as time spent per session.

We lay out exactly how much these metrics dropped across seven retail sub-industries in 2022 in our recent 2023 Retail Digital Experience Benchmark report, which we link to below. (You can also read a summary of the report’s key findings.)

To accompany the report’s release, we’re lending retailers a hand in addressing its diagnosis of conversion rate decline by publishing a series of articles on eCommerce conversion rate optimization. (This in-depth, albeit more general, article on conversion rate optimization should also help.)

In this article, we draw on findings from the benchmark report to investigate why the eCommerce conversion funnel is changing—and why this change demands a new approach to conversion rate optimization for retailers. 

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Download the 2023 Retail Digital Experience Benchmark Report for the metrics that really matter.

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What is the eCommerce conversion funnel?

Marketers use funnels to represent the customer journey from ‘top of the funnel’ (TOFU) awareness through ‘middle of the funnel’ (MOFU) consideration to ‘bottom of the funnel’ (BOFU) conversion. The object is to get as many customers from the top to the bottom of the funnel. 

A narrowing funnel shape is appropriate because while awareness casts a wide net and (ideally) brings in a big audience, only a minority of those who become aware of a brand will end up buying something from it, and there’s a steady drop-off along the way. 

Traditionally, the on-site eCommerce funnel has been mapped out like this:

  • Top of the funnel (TOFU): Awareness = Homepage
  • Middle of the funnel (MOFU): Consideration = Category/Search/Product pages
  • Bottom of the funnel (BOFU): Intent/Purchase = Checkout

With this model in mind, retailers have spent much time curating stories and working on TOFU (homepage-based) content to raise brand awareness, attracting new customers who can be nurtured further down the funnel towards conversion and retention.

But things have changed. For an increasing proportion of visitors to eCommerce websites, the homepage is no longer the first port of call—and they’re entirely bypassing the traditional TOFU.

So why is this happening?

Data from the 2023 Retail Digital Experience Benchmark report shows that visitors to eCommerce sites last year (on both desktop and mobile) spent most of their session time on traditionally middle-of-funnel ‘consideration’ heavy product and category pages—and hardly any time at all on the top-of-funnel homepage.

Ecommerce conversion funnel impactor 1: Share of session time spent by page, by device

Share of session time spent by page, by device

And this makes perfect sense when you consider where customers are coming from and the devices they’re using. 

Firstly, customers are increasingly alighting on eCommerce sites via paid search and social campaigns (not to mention influencer marketing). These campaigns often take visitors directly onto product description pages.

Ecommerce conversion funnel impactor 2: Traffic share by source, by industry

Traffic share by source, by industry

Secondly, it’s also crucial to remember that retail is the most mobile-led of industries. Last year, mobile drove nearly 3 in 4 (73.5%) visits to eCommerce sites. Of these visits, 55% were from new visitors (compared to 49% new visitors on desktop). 

And mobile visits are fleeting. Our research shows that visitors using mobile spend an average of only 2.6 minutes on eCommerce websites—under half the time (5.7 minutes) that desktop users spend. (What’s more, this time has dropped from 2.9 minutes in 2021.)

Ecommerce conversion funnel impactor 3: Time spent per session, by device, by industry, year-over-yearTime spent per session, by device, by industry, year-over-year

For a growing segment of eCommerce site visitors, the top of the eCommerce conversion funnel is (depending on how you look at it) being skipped entirely or is ‘sinking’ below the traditional top-of-funnel level. 

The new eCommerce conversion funnel looks more like this:

  • Top/Middle of the funnel (TOFU/MOFU): Awareness and Consideration = Category/Search/Product pages
  • Bottom of the funnel (BOFU): Intent/Purchase = Checkout/Purchase

What does the evolution of the eCommerce conversion funnel mean for retailers? 

The erosion of the traditional top of the eCommerce conversion funnel—and of time spent per session—has big implications for retailers looking to convert visitors into (ideally returning) customers.

Here are three things we suggest you do to adapt:

1. Bring your story deeper down the eCommerce conversion funnel

“Instead of spending the majority of your time and effort thinking around what we want to do higher up in the funnel, we should be thinking around, okay, what do we need to get across at PDP level from a story? How do we tell the story deeper in the funnel? Because that’s clearly where customers are migrating to?”

–Tom Parker, Site Optimization Manager, Marks and Spencer

Brand stories are extremely important. A brand story differentiates your business in the eyes of consumers. It helps build loyalty and lifetime value—vital when considering the hefty expense of relying on paid and new traffic.

When visitors come to your eCommerce brand through the top of the funnel, you have ample opportunities to tell them your brand story, showcase your identity and progressively nurture the sort of relationship with them that will keep them coming back in future.

However, with an increasing chunk of visitors (particularly new-to-you visitors) now coming in via paid campaigns and straight on product pages, you can no longer assume they’ll be exposed to that top-funnel story—or at least, not on the pages where TOFU content traditionally sits.

And given the decreasing time spent per session, particularly on mobile, they’re not necessarily going to have (or want to spend the) time to familiarize themselves with your non-product pages.

That’s why you need to think about working your brand story into the pages visitors are arriving on first: category and product pages.

A product page now needs to sell more than the product itself—it needs to sell your brand, too. Category, search and even checkout pages also need to pull more weight. 

2. Segment your audience to personalize every experience

With a myriad of traffic sources now bringing visitors to eCommerce sites, segmenting your audience is more important than ever. 

You need to segment when analyzing customer behavior to understand what each segment is motivated by. Then you need to be mindful of that motivation when tailoring your experience to serve each visitor a personalized experience, based on the segment they belong to, that takes them exactly where they want to go, as fast as possible. 

And this awareness needs to extend to the device they’re using to interact with your experience. Desktop users may have more appetite for delving into your product range, or consuming in-depth content that familiarizes them with your brand. 

Mobile users, by contrast, will probably be less inclined to browse around your website and delve deep into content, especially if they’ve arrived via a paid ad campaign that highlights a particular product. For them, efficiency will be paramount.

Data from the 2023 Retail Digital Experience Benchmark report shows that a buying session tends to be a lot deeper than a normal session. Across all retail, the average page views per buying session is 25.4 pages, compared to the overall average session depth of 5 pages.

This insight highlights the need to continue optimizing product pages—including out-of-stock product pages—and encourage users to view more product pages with ‘You may also like’, ‘Wear it with’, ‘Bestsellers’ carousels. 

However, when it comes to certain consumer segments, a low session depth doesn’t necessarily indicate a failure to convert—far from it. In fact, the evolution of the eCommerce conversion funnel suggests that many customers want to get deeper into the journey faster—and get to the checkout as fast as possible.

3. Forget the funnel: Optimize your experience from end to end

“Every detail matters. When you go through your site page by page, write down anything that bothers you. When you test these small things and take a data-driven approach to optimization, you’ll find a lot of savings in the details. It’s all about making a frictionless purchase experience for your customers.” 

—David Ting, CTO, Zenni Optical

When optimizing your customer journeys, prioritization must go to the pages customers are engaging with most frequently: Category, Product and Search. 

But with entry points to your sites now being so varied and unpredictable, it’s absolutely imperative that you have a clear understanding of what’s going on at every stage of the customer journey.

The fact is that wherever in the funnel your visitors are when they’re on your website, they’ll be frustrated by friction and engaged by User Experience design that encourages them to interact. To that extent, at least, the on-site conversion funnel matters less than the overall experience. 

And what you should be aiming for with that experience is to remove friction (such as, but not limited to, slow loading pages) and increase engagement (and user activity) throughout. 

For the full details on what’s causing friction in eCommerce experiences—and about the value of promoting user activity, you should check out the report.

See how your digital experience stacks up.

Download the 2023 Retail Digital Experience Benchmark Report for the metrics that really matter.

Get my free copy


Only by having (properly segmented) insight into how customers are behaving on every page on your website—and why they’re behaving as they are—can you ensure that your experience is truly optimized for conversion from end to end.

And only an AI-powered Digital Experience Analytics (DXA) solution like Contentsquare’s Digital Experience Analytics Cloud will give you that insight.

(It will certainly save you from trawling through your website and writing everything down as David Ting suggests above, though you should still keep your notepad handy!)

Optimize for the eCommerce conversion funnel with Contentsquare

Unlike traditional analytics solutions, our DXA platform doesn’t stop at showing you how many visitors are arriving on your website, clicking on stuff and bouncing, exiting or converting.

It also shows you what’s going on between clicks (via Zone-Based Heatmaps) , how customers are progressing through your site (via Customer Journey Analysis) and what the root causes of customer behavior (via Session Replay).

Plus, platform features like CS Insights leverage machine learning to bring high priority client-side issues (such as technical errors) to your attention before they lose you customers

To learn more about how leading eCommerce have used Contentsquare to optimize their experiences, check out our article on eCommerce conversion rate optimization strategies.

Or why not see for yourself what Contentsquare can do for your website and your eCommerce conversion funnel with a quick product tour? 

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