A recent eTail survey that infiltrated many Prolific water cooler conversations this week contains the unsettling stat that “59% of retailers say mobile traffic is decreasing their conversion rate.
” That is a difficult number to ignore, and may worry those that are making mobile marketing decisions going into 2014 (and rightly so!). Mobile broadband may be the fastest growing technology in history, but how is one expected to champion the push for mobile in their organization if the boss sees conversion rate decreasing as mobile traffic grows? It may be time to evolve the way we measure digital conversion.

Conversion rate is typically defined as (Total Purchases / Total Sessions). This definition has made sense for a long time and is how Google Analytics, along with many others, calculates its standard conversion rate metric. As the overall digital experience continues to move towards multi-device interaction we question if device-specific session count is still the most accurate and useful denominator in the conversion calculation. When a retail brand launches a popular new app, overall brand engagement skyrockets among the app users but the per-session conversion rate of the app is typically less than that of the website. Counter-intuitively this is the best thing to happen for brands in a long time.

A well-crafted app makes a brand more accessible and integrates more tightly into a user’s routine, but it does not automatically increase the budget users can allocate towards the brand. The loyal user that has historically visited a website 2 times to make a purchase may now engage the app 10 times or more in the same period of time before they make that purchase. That is a 400% increase in engagement and an 80% decrease in session-based conversion rate, yet the user-based conversion rate remains unchanged. This is great! It is every marketer’s dream to get their brand in front of their users on such a regular basis, and with all the unique functionality that mobile devices are now offering they have become a playground for new, innovative ways to provide utility to users. Utility from a brand develops trust, trust develops affinity, and affinity creates long-term value.

Web marketers need their digital performance KPIs to better reflect the changing relationship brands are having with their users. Web marketers have been historically reluctant to use unique visitors as their conversion rate denominator because of the fact that it is so damn hard to track a single user across multiple devices… but there is hope! As the marketing analytics world continues to become more sophisticated (Super Cookies) and we can better track users across devices, more companies will use cross-device unique users as the base to measure conversion rate. This twist creates an evolved, device-agnostic metric we at Prolific call the Unified Conversion Rate, which will paint the true picture of how often a brand’s net experience is able to convert users to sales.

In the meantime, it critical to at the very least consider BOTH session- and user-focused conversion rate calculations when analyzing and comparing the variety of platforms on which users are engaging your brand. Once it becomes easier to measure cross-device user interaction, there will be a shift away from pairing total sessions and session-conversion rate as KPIs in favor of pairing total users and unified conversion rate, plus average conversion frequency.

So if you don’t already, we challenge you to try measuring both session- and user-focused conversion rates for each of your digital touch points and see if it changes your opinion on the relative performance of each platform. You might just be surprised.

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