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The End of the Anonymous Visitor

by  David Dwyer on  22/05/2014    1880 Reads

How Live Chat can better connect website owners & their customers

One of the many reasons e-commerce has exploded over the last few years is the anonymity it offers shoppers. No one, other than the retailer – who might be dozens or even hundreds of miles away – needs to know what you’re looking at or buying, there’s no checkout assistant to make cheeky comments about what’s in your basket or salespeople to distract you from your task when you’re trying to shop in peace.

 

People seem to like being anonymous. But is that a good thing? And will it change?

 

Paradoxically, one of the biggest complaints people have about online shopping is that there’s no one there to help them make choices, or offer advice on issues like sizing or product suitability – probably the biggest – if not only – advantage shopping in person has over its online equivalent.

 

A middle way seems to be developing in the form of the ‘live chat’ prompts that you might have seen on some retail or utilities sites. At some point during your visit an icon, cartoon or other visual clue pops up to ask, “Can I help you?” and offers you a box to type your question into. On the other end of the line is a customer advisor, doing his or her best to answer your query, or guide you through an online process in real time.

 

I think this technology has a lot of potential to bridge the gap between online and physical retail experiences. Used well, and backed up by well-trained, motivated staff, the ‘live chat’ function could offer the same sort of assistance a user would get in a shop, but in the comfort of their own homes.

 

I could see ‘live chat’ evolving into a type of personal shopper. Users of, say, a fashion retailer’s ‘live chat’ service ask their online assistant for recommendations – which top goes best with dark hair, perhaps, or which brand suits tall women best – much in the way they’d ask a real-life shop assistant. In some cases, I could see shoppers going straight to the assistant and asking them to assemble goods that suit the user’s requirements, rather than the shoppers browsing the virtual racks themselves. Alternatively, shoppers could fill their baskets with items and then ask the virtual assistant for advice on which are most suitable given their needs or preferences.

 

If you’re a retailer, adding a ‘live chat’ function to your website now can give you another, more subtle way to upsell your products, beyond the algorithm-driven ‘if you liked X, you might also like Y’ approach. ‘Live chat’ can also take pressure off customer service phone lines by providing another avenue for customer care; it can also reduce complaints by giving customers struggling to navigate a website, pay a bill or make a purchase online another direct way to get help. And keeping your customers happy – while also making more sales – is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

 

David Dwyer is Managing Director of Inspire Web Development. He has years of experience in a range of web and IT roles plus seven years in sales and marketing in a blue-chip FMCG company. David’s academic and professional qualifications include a BA (Hons) in Business Economics (Personnel & Ergonomics) from the University of Paisley, an MSc in Information Technology (Systems) from Heriot-Watt University and PRINCE2 Practitioner-level certification. He is also an active member of the British Computer Society, Entrepreneurial Exchange and Business for Scotland.

 

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