With “lightbox” overlays to a web site, consumers are now flashed a screen with two buttons, one that says “Get 20% off” and the other that says, “What? You don’t want to save money?”

I used to have a personal shopper at Bloomingdale’s — sadly for me, she retired — who would always find the shirt, suit, coat or sweater that not only looked good and matched my style, but also fit me perfectly. I would walk in to buy one thing and come home with a new wardrobe.

In today’s digital parlance, she had a high conversion rate and average order value that surprised me every time. And it wasn’t just me. She served dozens of friends and acquaintances with the same service, something we discovered in the weeks leading up to her departure. I’ll never dress as well again.

It got me thinking — how do online fashion sellers get people to complete a purchase, when the customer cannot touch and feel the product, try it on in front of a mirror, and don’t have the tasteful (and tactful) sales clerk to help seal the deal? So I asked a few of our fashion-focused retailer customers how they do it. What I discovered was surprising.

It’s Not About the Cart

In the early days of e-commerce, retailers focused on the process. The cart, data entry, taxes and shipping were the challenges in the late Nineties. Now, with the exception of fast fingers on a smartphone, the step-by-step process of online shopping is no longer a key barrier to conversion.

There are the new, but not unusual tactics — many e-commerce players use tools like those from Bounce Exchange to collect e-mail addresses and drive consumers through the funnel before they leave the site. With these “lightbox” overlays to the site, consumers are now flashed a screen with two buttons, one that says “Get 20% off” and the other that says, “What? You don’t want to save money?” These efforts to get e-mail addresses from consumers, while interruptive, are remarkably effective. They capture consumers who are about to exit, keep them on the site and drive up conversion, which helps build the critically important e-mail list. As a tactic, it’s easy to test and most retailers call it a win.

Brand-Building Drives Conversion

For fashion retailers, purchase and abandon rates are more experientially driven. Consumers buy or bolt from sites depending on product assortment, price and perception of the brand. Brand values, like trust, are important for conversion, particularly for emerging brands. To get consumers to buy requires a partnership among marketers, merchandisers and consumers. Let’s call it the three “E’s” of easier conversion:

• Engage them on the site. Content is king across marketing today, but the type of content is also important. Eloquii, a plus-size fast-fashion brand, addresses how the clothes will look on many sizes and shapes of bodies by using images of clothes on real women in their size category — from 14 to 28 — using user-generated pictures that show the item in the real world, and tag it with #XOQ.

This helps people see the real-world version of the garment, rather than just the studio image. These images are clickable, allowing consumers to add the item to their shopping cart with confidence in how it will look. They also recruit models from their customer base, adding both their customer-centric perspective and the real-world fit and finish of the garments they sell.

• Encourage action. Tools that highlight “only 3 left” or that the item can only be in the cart for 10 minutes create a race to the checkout line. For brands like Eloquii, they have a term for it. Rather than the Millennial “FOMO” or “Fear of Missing Out,” they have created a bit of “FOSO,” or “Fear of Selling Out.” This encourages women who might otherwise pass on a great outfit that only they will have to make the purchase.

• Eliminate operational barriers. Beyond the look and fit, the product needs to be available. Greats, a Brooklyn-based maker of sneakers, asked cart abandoners why they left and found that nearly half of them didn’t purchase because of availability.

The operational issue of having product available is solvable as demand and traffic patterns are better understood. The good news for companies like Greats, similar to when the iPhone was first introduced in 2007, is that the demand is there, now the company has to be able to fulfill it consistently.

Converting customers is important. If it costs 10 times more to acquire a customer than to get them to come back for more, then getting them from a “looker” to a “booker” that first time is critically important. Closing that first deal is the path to a loyal customer, and a healthy business.

David Cooperstein is chief marketing officer at PebblePost. Prior to that, he was founder of consultancy firm Figurr and also led the cmo practice at Forrester Research, and was a consultant at Booz & Co.

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