Practical Ecommerce

Are 1-800 Numbers And Live Chat Important?

As online shopping matures, merchants must avoid the tendency to be complacent in their merchandising efforts. Here are five ways merchants can truly innovate in the coming year. In the end, there is one point all five recommendations have in common and that is “listening to the customer.” By creatively interpreting this feedback, merchants can set themselves up for a distinctive user experience that is sure to satisfy today’s demanding consumer from the shopping experience to customer service solutions.

Tools to help

Vendors like SLI Systems and Mercado can help your have products that can boost the merchandising functions at your site including “recommender” and product comparison functions while, at the same time, boosting your site’s search capabilities. These products also typically feature robust analytics packages to provide metrics to monitor your site, identify products that are selling well, etc. There are also a host of analytics packages in the marketplace that can provide helpful data from your site.

If you’re wanting to add more dynamic images to your site, there are various product display vendors that can help. Equilibrium, Scene7 and RichFX are three companies offering software to create a more visually appealing site. For instance, an auto parts site could give site visitors an opportunity to blend together certain tires and hubs on and virtually “put” them on a car to see how they look before buying them.

Live chat may not be the type of feature that works well for every ecommerce business, but if you want to add live chat to your site, some of the more popular providers include:

Start with the Numbers

We have recently completed a study on metrics-driven merchandising. My experience in researching the numbers is that they are an excellent starting point where merchants can learn what has worked, what has not, where shoppers click and when they abandon one’s site. Armed with this knowledge, savvy merchants should be inspired, and subsequently get creative, about how they approach the customer experience to engage today’s seasoned shoppers.

Allow Shoppers to Manipulate Product Their Way

Our consumer research during the holiday season finds that customers tend to be control freaks; they like to take advantage of on-site tools that put them in charge of their shopping destiny. When asked, “Which content tools were most important to you when buying gifts online,” 62 percent cited product comparison as very to most important, surpassing even customer reviews (54 percent). Guides and how-to’s had a 40 percent showing.

These tools have long been standard in consumer electronics and technology, but have value in other categories as well. I recently happened upon an excellent example in the intimate apparel world where Macy’s allows shoppers to compare bras by style. The option to see available colors made the experience efficient, as knowing you can find what you’re looking for in the color you need is a starting point for many shoppers.

Customize and Personalize

Along the same lines, today’s shoppers are truly individuals, enjoying the chance to create products for themselves and as gifts. The explosion of “design your own” items can be seen across the web, but footwear has taken the lead of late with significant innovation.

Puma stands out as an example. Shoppers start with a menu where they select their gender and size and then move on to a buffet of options that extends as far as their own creativity. Customers develop a vested interest in the experience, and I must believe that an enhanced level of brand loyalty results from such an interactive experience.

Think Experience

With the explosion of broadband, merchants are increasingly using video to more effectively tell product and category stories. Our 4Q06 Mystery Shopping indicates that the presence of streaming video on the 100 sites surveyed rose from 20 percent to 37 percent in a year.

Take Service to a More Satisfactory Level

Many shoppers feel a sense of urgency when they make their first visit to a site. They want to be able to complete their shopping then and there, without any roadblocks. In our consumer survey, 72 percent of shoppers found live chat “very important” to “most important” when purchasing gifts online, just behind the tried-and-true 800 number.

It may be interesting for merchants to A/B test this functionality in 2007 as our mystery shopping only saw 30 percent of the merchants employing this tactic. If deployed, we caution that customer service representatives must be trained and responsive. Our tests of service levels were disappointing when product knowledge was poor. Conversely, we had several experiences where merchants were proactively prompting their live chat functionality, as was experienced at Lands’ End.

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

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  1. Legacy User February 15, 2007 Reply

    Dear Frank:

    Sales reps answering the phone is sometimes good. This depends on your product line and average sale. Your website sells electronics which are high ticket items. In addition, they are brand names and frequently the customer knows the which brand and model they would like from the start. In those cases, it reduces your phone time cost. It doesn't work for many others. In addition, many electronics salespeople are commision only, which really doesn't cost the company a dime.

    And even so for your business, which statistics and tests have you done to know that yours sales are "really high" compared with an automated attendent?

    — *Jeffrey Levy*

  2. Legacy User February 15, 2007 Reply

    Dear Jeff,

    I would have to disagree with you on the point of customer knowing. Have you ever gone in to a best Buy or a Sears and watch the customer pick out a TV? They really don't know what they want. Brand loyalty went out years ago. And technology changes so rapidly, the average customer hasn't a clue.

    So they dial the 800# or click for live chat and start asking the questions.

    As for telling how the sales are when compared to an automated attendant:
    1) Ask any retailer who employs the phone tree about their calls abandoned rate.
    They usually will start crying. They can tell you about the wonderful sales they get from their #800 and how great the phone banks are. But don't want to talk about all the calls that got away because the customer had to "press one for English."

    2) Ask family or friends how often they hang up on the "Press nine for." After about the sixth choice, they head for the next retailer. People are burned out on automation. When they have questions, they want people with answers, not buttons with choices.

    3) Look at your own phone usage. Spend some time and send your callers to voicemail. Don't answer it. Just let them get voicemail and look at the percentages.
    Number of callers that get sent to voicemail, but don't leave a message verses those who do leave a message. How many hang up without a message?

    Here in America, answering direct also has the image that you may have a shot at actually talking to an American right here in America. Not some person in India or Asia that has an accent that you can not understand. Another call killer.

    — *Mark anthony*

  3. Legacy User February 16, 2007 Reply

    Thank you Mark, ladies and gentlemen the time has come for us as business owners, CEOs etc. to spend the extra buck to finally give the customer some good old fashioned customer service, a southern hello goes a long way, all the way to the top line.

    PS. Jeff what company do you work for?

    — *Frank Dappah*

  4. Legacy User February 15, 2007 Reply

    A direct and fast way for a potential customer to contact an online retailer helps the puts the customer at ease, they trust you and know that you are there for them if they need it. At our company ( our sales reps answer the phone directly without putting the customer through "press #1" and "2." It is a bit expenssive, but it really drives sales.

    Frank Dappah (director of e-commerce)


    — *Frank Dappah*

  5. Legacy User February 27, 2007 Reply

    In my own experience, a phone call answered by a human has a better chance of turning into a sale than an automated answer. Nearly half calls received after hours and during "all lines busy" times result in hangups.

    While it's not always feasible for a company to be 100% "human answering" any step made to bypass complete automation is likely to make customers feel more appreciated.

    If you're automated, I urge you to look at incoming stats. You'll likely find a high percentage of hang ups, and several will be followed with immediate dial backs – something many customers do thinking that maybe a human will be free to finally pick up the phone.

    If you have to go automated, do it right. There's a specific high-end company I call and they're menus are logical, and hold time is minimal. They get a great amount of my business on this factor alone.

    — *Pamela Hazelton*

  6. Legacy User November 19, 2007 Reply

    I agree with Pamela Hazelton. It is better to have the human technology on the other end as compared to a computer generated, automated answer. However, since I work for one of these companies, I can safely say that online customer support for people looking to buy and sell on the Internet is also a step in the right direction. I do know this for a fact that we can retain upto 90% on the people who visit our client websites which would have clicked away within two minutes otherwise. I think this service will definitely carve a niche for itself and has already captured attention of entrepreneurs.


    — *Betty*

  7. Legacy User February 20, 2008 Reply

    Frank you number 1888-232-7792 is forwarding to someone's personal cell phone and not a priceshoppe representative. Is there another number to contact

    — *Lori Wiggan*