Enhancing E-Commerce With Sound

I’m on the phone speaking with Suzanne Brisendine of Audiobase this weekend, and she’s giving me the lowdown on the company’s recent decision to focus, fairly exclusively, on the e-commerce space. And suddenly it hits me.

Now, you need to know that Suzanne has this mellifluous southern accent, which I just love listening to. She is talking me through this PowerPoint presentation, which explains Audiobase’s strategic shift and the opportunity it provides, while at the same time I’m looking at the slides on my computer screen (since she had emailed them to me earlier).

I’m looking at the slides, and Suzanne’s telling me what’s on the slides. I’m looking, and I’m listening. And I suddenly get it: “Suzanne,” I say, “I finally understand what you’re talking about. I would much rather hear you tell me what’s on these slides than to read them.” And that, in a nutshell, is what Audiobase’s new business model is all about.

Conversion. Talk about a succinct elevator pitch! Audiobase is throwing out click-throughs, stickiness, and all the other dubious buzzwords in the lexicon of rich media to focus on the only one that really matters, at least to an e-marketer: conversion.

Audiobase has taken a bold new step for an Internet technology company: It actually looked around for a problem it could solve and solved it. A report issued last year by the Creative Good, an Internet strategy consulting firm, stated that 39 percent of those who attempted to shop online were thwarted from making a purchase because they were simply confused. And most of the confusion is over mundane things like how to properly fill in credit card information.

All this confusion is leaving quite a bit of money on the table or, should I say, web page: an estimated $14 billion for this year alone. Audiobase is focusing its sights on this $14 billion by making it easier for people to simply complete the sale. And it has some pretty compelling numbers to prove its case.

Audiobase has tested a “shopping cart” prototype, and the results are pretty amazing: The success rate for people being able to actually “check out” rose from 20 percent to 43.5 percent once audio was added to help them through the process. The percentage of users who were able to select the correct shipping method rose from 8.5 percent without audio to 28 percent with it. Even more interesting from a direct-marketing perspective: The percentage of people who felt more comfortable giving personal information rose from 55 percent to 64 percent with the audio version!

But what about a real-world example? Well Imotors, a site that specializes in selling used cars online, has been doing some live fire testing of the Audiobase technology for an implementation it is about to launch. There was a definite uptick in customers understanding purchase choices when the page was enhanced with the Audiobase solution: financing (60 percent up from 50 percent), warranties (54 percent up from 43 percent), and trade-in options (47 percent up from 38 percent). Interestingly, the percentage of people who found the site “customer-focused” rose to 62 percent from 52 percent without the audio.

Many of the big brick-and-mortar stores are convinced and are signing up: Gap Inc. Direct, The Company Store (Hanover Direct), and Macy’s are all implementing audio solutions from Audiobase to help increase conversion rates. To see this stuff in action, check out the Macy’s site and click on “customer service” at the bottom of the page. The audio help button is in the upper-right-hand corner of the customer service page. (This example will not work on a Mac. This was a client decision. Audiobase technology is compatible with the Mac platform.)

Sites can decide whether the audio should be user-initiated (such as in the Macy’s example) or simply run whenever the page is loaded. Because Audiobase is a Java solution, it does not depend on users having a plug-in, such as RealPlayer or Windows Media Player, installed on their machines. As a result, Audiobase claims a 95 percent penetration rate.

The cost for doing all this is based on a monthly subscription fee tied to a yearly contract. Fees start at $10,000 per month. In addition, Audiobase provides production and consulting services that are billed on an hourly basis. Audiobase handles all the hosting and delivery of the content.

Audiobase figures that if it can just convert a few percentage points of that lost $14 billion, it’ll have a pretty good business. After checking out the Macy’s example and some of the other prototypes Audiobase sent me, I have to agree.

Until next week, keep it rich.

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