Wanted: Human Interaction

It’s not what they had in mind when the idea for e-commerce was developed, but a recent survey found that some online shoppers would buy more products online if they could speak with a customer service representative at the time of their purchasing decision.

The survey, conducted by NFO Interactive, found that nearly 35 percent of the 2,321 recent online shoppers said they would buy more if they could interact in real time with a sales person from an e-commerce site.

Of those Internet users who have not yet purchased online, 13.7 percent said they would buy online if they could speak directly with a customer service representative.

“As Web site developers search for ways to attract people to their sites, they may well be missing a crucial element of effective retail strategy — personal interaction. Customer service is key to success. A helpful salesperson goes a long way to effecting a purchase,” said NFO president Charles Hamlin. “Introducing live sales people into the sales process, either through online chat or direct telephone connection as in conventional catalog sales, would serve to boost online sales.”

When it comes to purchasing automobiles, Web shoppers can do without the infamous car sales people, however. Almost half of the same 2,321 online shoppers in NFO’s survey said they would use auto-oriented sites to gather information on dealer invoicing and pricing information. Nearly 45 percent said they would use auto Web sites for reviews and opinions on automobile. As far as buying an automobile online is concerned, 10.6 percent of those surveyed said they would consider purchasing a car online without ever visiting a dealership.

This is important news for the auto industry, according to Hamlin, because online shoppers are an affluent segment of the population, controlling more than 50 percent of US household income.

“While the number of households that have or plan to actually buy a car online is still relatively low, the Internet is now perhaps the strongest communication medium for automobile manufacturers to convey the features and benefits of their product,” Hamlin said. “This could well bring about major changes in the industry’s choice of advertising media as well as the roles and responsibilities of the dealer networks.”

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