Web Buyers Don’t Complete Purchases

The majority of online users may put merchandise in their virtual shopping carts, but they never make it to the final check-out point, according to a recent study that points the finger at poor customer service translating into lost sales.

The five-month survey of 25 top e-commerce sites by e-commerce software provider Net Effect indicates the culprit as the sites’ lack of real-time online customer service and support.

“They’ve been busy getting their sites up and running,” said Julie Schoenfeld, president and CEO of Net Effect, who interviewed the sites. “When you think about it, there was virtually no e-commerce two years ago. Now that it’s growing tremendously, real-time customer service is the next logical step.”

“In fairness, the reason they haven’t made these provisions is, they just haven’t had time,” Schoenfeld said.

The sites surveyed include e-commerce powerhouses Amazon, Dell and eToys.

“The sites we interviewed are on top for good reason,” Schoenfeld said. “They spent the last 24 months developing the infrastructure that has led us all into the exciting new world of e-commerce.”

The survey conducted between January 1 and May 15, 1999 unveiled further disturbing news for e-tailers.

“Not only did we find that most online purchases are never completed, our survey further revealed that only 5.75 percent of the people who visit e-commerce sites even try to make a purchase,” Schoenfeld said. “We set out to find out why.”

According to Net Effect, while the majority of e-commerce sites are hastily built to enable shoppers with a quicker shopping experience, the sites aren’t able to keep up with the surge in customer service volume. Problems with deliveries, returns and product specifications were cited as top concerns.

“The irony now is that the primary benefit of online shopping – customer convenience – is being undermined by a lack of real-time purchase assistance for e-buyers,” Schoenfeld said.

“Despite the tremendous growth in e-commerce activity, the lack of real-time customer service means that hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars in potential sales is being left in those abandoned shopping carts and e-buyers are going away dissatisfied everyday,” said Schoenfeld.

According to Schoenfeld the e-commerce industry will not realize its full potential until such problems are addressed. Among her recommendations, she advises e-tailers to mirror traditional retailers, such as Nordstrom’s, who is known for outstanding customer relations.

“Imagine a Nordstrom service model applied to Web selling,” Schoenfeld said. “That could have a huge impact on the industry.”

“The online bottom line is customer service. Online companies must rethink how they can provide immediate expertise to their customers so that contemplated purchases become completed sales.”

Another suggestion from Schoenfeld is for e-commerce companies to ask themselves the following questions to determine if their customer service offerings are hitting the target.

  • Do we “greet” new arrivals in a way that will enable us to recognize them on subsequent visits? Develop an easy and non-threatening way to identify arrivals and use the information to customize the environment.
  • Do we offer service choices that logically move customers, based on how much assistance they need, from automated to personal service? Enable your customers to move quickly and easily through your system. Frequently asked questions (FAQs) can be handled by an automated-response system. More complicated inquiries might require one-on-one chat answers or an actual phone call.
  • Do we have a system that effectively tracks customer events? Providing the right level of service at the right time is only part of the solution.

    You also have to track your performance and continually refine it. For example, with effective tracking, you might identify additional FAQs that can be shifted to the automated-response system, making your customer service ever more efficient.

  • How complete and accessible is our knowledge base? You want your system and customer service representatives to be competent and knowledgeable.

    Make sure your email system, your online customer-support system and your telephone staff can use your knowledge base.

  • Are our shopping carts “smart”? A “smart” cart will give the customer quick, easy access to service tools as soon as a purchase is made. For example, when an item is selected, a “smart” cart might ask if it’s a gift and arrange for wrapping and separate shipping.

“The bottom line is that customer service ought to be managed by a dedicated function within the business,” Schoenfeld said.

Reprinted from internet.com’s E-Commerce Guide.

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