For all of the advances in e-commerce technology, the majority of businesses selling products and services online are still providing much the same experience to their customers as they were five or ten years ago. The average web store is still cumbersome and unintuitive, bombarding consumers with too much information which is often disjointed and difficult to navigate and as a result, a large proportion of site visits fail to convert to sales.
More often than not the experience is flat and uninspiring and fails to make the customer feel secure. Consequently, consumers often question whether they have made the right decision and whether or not their personal details and consumer rights are protected.
As more brands take their products direct and use the Internet to bypass retail partners, companies will continue to exploit the growth in online spending to bring more complex propositions and higher value items into web stores. Therefore the purchasing experience needs to be fundamentally rethought.
Higher-value items, more complex sales
A survey conducted last year found that internet shoppers are now increasingly prepared to buy a wider range of goods and purchase higher value items such as PCs, tablet computers and mobile phones online, all in addition to associated contracts and subscriptions.
However, if a customer is to seriously consider buying a high-value device, mobile phone contract or more complex products such as an insurance policy, a mortgage or travel package, it is vital that they are clearly informed, feel confident and secure as they peruse the options and commit to a purchase. Traditionally, such transactions have needed the personal touch offered in store, allowing the customer to ask spontaneous questions relating to their unique circumstances. In such transactions, a rudimentary web-based FAQ page simply doesn’t cut it.
It is for this reason that brands and retailers have started to add live web-chat and call-back facilities to their web stores, so that customers are offered personalised assistance as they consider making these more involved purchases online.
Re-introducing the personal touch
Live web-chat is gradually being integrated into websites selling everything from furniture to financial products. The logical extension to this is to introduce a visual element, so that consumers can put a face to the live agents. This needn’t mean two-way video chat, but rather an immediate free call-back option, with a synchronised video stream online so that the customer can see who they’re talking to.
In conversion terms, this can make all the difference. Online consumers can be turned off quickly because it costs them nothing to exit one ‘store’ and enter another. They will, therefore, choose a site that offers them the easiest and most enlightening experience and the one that makes them feel the most secure and re-assured.
Having a friendly face ready to engage in conversation is inviting and makes the customer feel more engaged from the outset. Often it is the lack of the personal touch and the lack of a face to the business that undermines consumers’ trust in making purchases. Add a face to a voice or name and suddenly the game changes. In a complex sales situation adding the option for the consumer to be able to speak to that same person again during any follow-up interactions changes the game even more.
Introducing a two-way communications dimension with a visual element also provides a way to overcome limitations associated with mobile screens, where detail can be lost. For example, a consumer’s initial research around a purchase is conducted on a tablet or mobile, and the purchase (if followed through) completed on a system with a larger screen. With a video-enhanced live call-back facility, retailers have more chance in getting consumers to complete the purchase while still on the smaller screen.
Another advantage to the retailer, in addition to the increased chance of conversion, is that they now have an opportunity to cross and upsell products and services. For example, in the case of a telecoms retailer, adding the extra dimensions of voice and a video link means not only being able to talk the customer through different handsets and billing options, but also a means to begin a conversation about premium contracts or other deals such as combined fixed-line, broadband and mobile packages.
The changing face of e-commerce
The smart online retailers are now moving towards a model where the e-commerce experience combines the convenience and choice of web-based shopping with that of the personal face-to-face support offered in shops. In the early days, embracing video-agent assisted technology will offer companies a competitive edge. It also gives them a chance to experiment and refine the way they use the technology before it becomes the norm.
The metrics supporting the use of enhanced, multi-dimensional web-based sales are impressive too. In trials, in a mature market, which is accustomed to percentage point increases, telecoms companies are seeing online conversions soar by double and even triple digit improvement! Our own figures show that as many as one in four customers (25%) that engage in an online video conversation will convert to firm purchasers as a result of being able to see who they are dealing with, as if they were in-store.
An abundance of companies are revising their contact centre sales models at the moment, bringing agents back on shore and steering activities away from cold-calling and towards consumers’ preferred methods of engagement. The smart players are those that are able to combine the best of on- and off-line channels to provide a seamless multichannel, multimedia experience which achieves the magic combination of increased efficiency, higher sales and more satisfied customers.
This is the next wave of e-commerce. Brands and retailers can either ride with it or risk being taken under.