The following is a guest blog written by Mark Ryski. Ryski is the founder and CEO of HeadCount, an analytics firm specializing in store traffic and conversion, serving retailers across North America. He is also the author of Conversion: The Last Great Retail Metric. For more information, visit

Same-store sales are looking a little flat and retailers need to find ways to deliver better results. There’s still a scent of the financial melt-down lingering, but you have survived that crisis and it’s time to start getting the sales needle to move in a positive direction.

There are three main ways to drive sales in stores: (1) encourage more prospective buyers to visit your store; (2) increase your average ticket; and (3) increase your conversion rate — that is, sell to more of the prospects already visiting your stores, but don’t buy.

To a great extent, retail sales have been a two-trick pony: drive more prospective traffic and increase the average ticket. Driving more prospects into your stores usually requires an advertising or promotional investment of some kind, and many retailers focus on increasing the average ticket. But what about conversion rate? It is a third trick every retailer needs to learn, and another sales opportunity that most retailers today completely overlook.

First, every retailer needs to actually track prospective traffic, which is not the same as transaction counts. Many retailers are confused about this. Transaction counts represent the number of people who have made a purchase; traffic counts represent the total number of people who came to the store, including buyers and non-buyers. Conversion rate is simply calculated by dividing sales transactions by gross traffic counts. For example, if you logged 500 traffic counts in your store and there were 200 sales transactions for the day, your conversion rate would be 200/500, or 40 percent.

So for retailers who actually track traffic and conversion rates, roughly only 35 percent, here are five ways you can improve conversion rates in your stores.

1. Understand why people don’t buy.

Long lines, poor sales associates, out-of-stock merchandise, etc. are all reasons why some people who visit your store don’t buy, and you need to understand it. Every store manager should spend some time observing visitors in his or her store. Resist the temptation to help; just observe behaviors. Watch customers as they move through your store, and it won’t take long for you to identify some actions you can take to turn more visitors into buyers.

2. Align your staff to traffic, not transactions.

Staff scheduling can be tricky, but aligning your staff resources to when customers are in your store will help maximize the chances of converting visitors into buyers. Pay particular attention to lunch time, when store traffic can be way up, but staff lunch breaks can seriously drag down conversion rates. Associates need to eat, but customers also need to be served.

3. Look for conversion leaks and plug the holes.

Traffic volume and conversion rates tend to be inversely related. That is, when traffic is high, conversion tends to go down or sag. When traffic levels are low, conversion rates tend to go up. It’s not hard to understand why this happens.

When the store is busy, lines are longer and it’s harder to get help from an associate. The opposite is true when the store isn’t as busy. So, if you want to improve conversion rates, look at the traffic and conversion patterns in your store by day of week and by hour. Look for when conversion rates are sagging—these sags represent the times when sales are being lost.

4. Set conversion targets by store.

Having goals and targets are important if you want to improve results. It’s also important to remember that every store is unique and conversion targets should be set uniquely by store. One store might be doing well with a 15 percent conversion rate, while another may be under-performing even though it has a 30 percent conversion rate. The trick is to move your own conversion rate up relative to your store’s performance.

5. Make conversion a team sport.

It takes the collective effort of all staff members to help turn visitors into buyers. From cashiers and sales associates to merchandisers, everyone in the store plays a role. Ensure that your entire staff understands what conversion is and that each of them helps influence it. Ask your staff about why they think people don’t buy and what the store can do to improve. Discuss targets, get them to “buy-in,” and share results. Get them excited about moving the conversion needle and you will significantly improve your chances of actually doing it.

Everyday people visit your stores with the intent to buy, but leave without making a purchase. Getting your store to capture even a few more of these lost sales can have a significant impact on your store’s overall result.

If you don’t track traffic or measure conversion rate in all your stores today, you are missing out on an entirely new way to drive sales. Improving your in-store conversion rate is not hard to do, but it does take focus and attention; the suggestions above will help you accomplish this goal.