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Paperstone's second variation

This case study is written by George Harris, Director of eCommerce at Paperstone uses Visual Website Optimizer to optimize their website and this post explains how they increased sales by showing visitors that products on Paperstone were cheaper than their competitors.

Office Supplies Ecommerce overview (UK)

The UK online office supplies market is dominated by two or three established brands but there are many smaller dealers all selling the same or similar products. Office supplies Ecommerce stores that are not blue chip brands compete on price first, followed by customer service. Customers increasingly want lower prices on office supplies and stationery, but they primarily buy from the few established brands who are usually more expensive. Our experiment was designed to make office supplies buyers aware that Paperstone were mostly cheaper than recognised brands to see if this increased our market share.


“Displaying our competitors’ higher prices on 5,000 product pages will increase clicks on ‘Add To Basket’ and our overall website conversion rate.”

Here’s the original
Paperstone Control

Risks/Our Concerns

  1. Would displaying our competitors’ prices drive potential customers to our competitors, if the saving is only small?
  2. Would displaying our competitors’ prices drive potential customers to our competitors, if the user was not previously aware that our competitors sold the product?
  3. Would we appear more expensive on product pages that do not have the competitor price module? Competitor prices were not available for all products.
  4. Would adding the competitor price module to our product detail pages create poor UX which distracts and puts off our users?
  5. Would we get statistically significant results? With only 5,000 products out of our range of 18,000 showing the competitor price module, users were only entered into the experiment if they visited one of these price-comparable products.

Methodology (Version 1)

Paperstone's first variation

We ran this test for over 12,000 unique visitors 50/50 split between control and variation. Result was inconclusive for both conversions and add to basket, although both were reported as performing more poorly in the variation than the control.

Methodology (Version 2)

Paperstone's second variation
Changes made in this variation:

  1. Moved competitor pricing module below add to basket. We wanted to see if moving the add to basket button down in variation one was having a negative impact on add to basket.
  2. Put the Paperstone price next to the competitor price in the module and highlighted the saving. This was to make it easier for users to see the saving.
  3. Made the design more “corporate” looking and gave the module a header of “Price Comparison”. We thought that the previous style may have been causing banner blindness.


We ran this test (variation 2) for over 12122 unique visitors 50/50 split between control and variation. Result was conclusive for an increase of 10.67% in conversion rate (95% confidence) and inconclusive for clicks on “add to basket”.

Editor’s note: While this case is about price comparisons, we feel Paperstone is playing on its competitive advantage. If you’re able to optimize your processes & operations, negotiate better with suppliers and logistics providers, or are willing to accept lower margins then it makes sense to pass on that value to your customers, and use the difference to gain an advantage over the competition. Wal-Mart is doing it and they’re the world’s largest retailer, though not exactly the most loved brand out there.

Here’s George’s clarification on why Paperstone offers lower prices
It’s very common for ecommerce stores or supermarkets to claim they are cheaper than each other because they will be cheaper on some products but not others. We are not cheaper on every product and don’t claim to be. A larger ECommerce store does not need to be cheaper than a smaller store, as consumers will often go to the recognised brand as a starting point and not shop around. It is not a “competitive advantage” of ours, because the larger store could charge less if they want. They have a cheaper buy price than us (as they buy in larger quantities from suppliers) and simply make more profit because they can. It is a strategic move by us to try to win market share by giving people a reason (saving money) to buy from us and not a larger competitor.

About The Author

I do marketing at VWO.


  1. Mr. Harris, thanks for sharing this data — I think it’s very useful.

    If I could give some suggestions for future tests, I’d recommend checking out how Amazon uses white space. My hypothesis is that your homepage would increase its revenue per visitor if it featured fewer items because it would be easier for users to focus on a few.

    In addition, unless something is overwhelmingly important, I’d recommend against making it pink on a white background because I think it will distract viewers from what actually is overwhelmingly important.

    Another possible option for testing later on would be whether pink is the most effective choice for the attention-getting color. I don’t know what your demographics are like, but if it’s even 40%+ male, I’m guessing that a bright yellow or orange or green would probably work better. (If I could give an anecdote about pink, my university had an aid mission to Lesotho that was trying to give everyone in a village a flashlight but was running into problems because men would steal flashlights from ladies. The volunteers solved this problem by painting half of the flashlights pink — many men passed up on stealing something valuable because in their eyes the color pink made it undesirable).



  2. Hi Brian,

    I really like the anecdote – although I’m not sure it completely translates from real world to web because there are many factors at play: It’s possible that the men didn’t want a pink flashlight because of how it would be perceived by others – e.g. As being feminine, as being someone who steals from women, or as being a thief.

    When browsing the web in private, this pressure of being observed by others possibly isn’t as great.

    That said, we haven’t tested the pink yet, so I can’t say whether it could be improved upon or not!

    Thanks for the suggestions though :)


  3. Ah, that’s a good point about the possible concern about being identified as a thief rather than an aversion to the color pink itself. However, there have also been several psychological studies on color preferences by gender (e.g. ) that find that men and women tend to prefer blue-green colors.

    Personally, I don’t think the color pink should be the highest priority for design testing, but my instinct is that it probably should be in the top 5.

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