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5:38 AM   April 17, 2014
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Processing: Orders, Returns & Customer Service

The top ten tools that enhance retail websites and help increase sales.
By Joe Dysart

While a number of  “clickable” customer service features can enhance a store’s website, retailers need to seriously consider adding, at the least, 10 core technologies (listed below) that can significantly increase web sales over time.

  1. Click-to-Call Button: This is a handy little feature web designers can drop into store websites. A web customer clicks the button, and a store representative answers the phone—it’s that simple. A click-to-call button is a great tool to help close a sale when a customer needs just a bit more product information before making a purchase.
    While some web designers know how to create these buttons in-house,  plenty of third-party solution providers offer this technology.
  2. Live Chat: This solution is perfect for customers who prefer to communicate with a store via text chat. Customers simply click a button on a website, and a text chat box pops up on-screen, enabling live chat with store personnel. Most live-chat solutions include an audio alert, which notifies store personnel that a website customer has a chat request.
    One of the most sophisticated  and expensive packages is LivePerson. In addition to offering basic chat, LivePerson’s solution can track shopper activity on a store site and enable a store representative to invite a shopper to chat after the potential customer has spent some time on the site; clicked on a predetermined amount of product links; or appeared to need help with the store’s shopping cart. LivePerson can also embed a chatbox promotional in e-newsletters and other e-mail sent by the retail business.
  3. Knowledge Base/FAQ: Instead of answering the same, basic questions ad infinitum, savvy web retailers rely on knowledge bases and FAQs to help do the job. Generally, FAQs are a collection of the most commonly asked questions with clear, concise answers. A comprehensive knowledge base collects every question ever posed to a retail website, and stores it in a searchable database online.
  4. Customer-friendly Returns Policy: Posting a clear and fair returns policy reassures potential customers that the store is a fair trader and can be trusted over the long haul. The most customer-centric retailers post the link to their returns policy very prominently, often at the bottom of the homepage, as well as at the bottom of any cyber shopping cart.
  5. Customer Community Forum: Customer forums—places where consumers congregate on a site to discuss products and services—enable customers to feel more involved with a retail brand and, in some cases, act as evangelists for a store.
    “It’s a good time to become a niche online community and do it right,” said Don Philabaum, CEO of Internet Strategies Group, a consultancy that helps retailers build customer communities. “You have millions of people who know the value of being a part of an online community, and they’ll bring experience, enthusiasm, content and their network to your online community.”
    The basic web-hosting package for a store often includes a tool that creates a community forum in seconds. Retailers who are looking for more sophisticated community forum solutions can turn to companies such as Communispace and webCrossing.
  6. Customer Reviews Forum: A complement to community forums, customer review forums enable shoppers to offer unvarnished reviews of a store’s goods and services. Allowing customers to post negative reviews may cause queasiness for storeowners. However, over time, uncensored reviews can engender greater trust in a retailer, and enable the store to weed out losing products in the process.
    Moreover, recent research also indicates reliance on online product reviews has reached a tipping point. Indeed, a 2008 study released by Opinion Research found that 83 percent of all online consumers say online product and service reviews influence their purchasing decisions. In addition, 32 percent of the same group said they had personally posted a review or feedback online.
    Customer review forums can quickly be fashioned by a web designer by doing a bit of tweaking on a standard-issue community forum. Turn-key solutions are also available from BazaarvoiceKudosWorks and Zuberance.
  7. Customer History/Contact Management Database: Software solutions that track customer interaction with a business over time abound. The best, which are instantly searchable by store personnel, can track a customer’s history via every communication channel, including exchanges made on the web, and by e-mail, phone and good old-fashioned face-to-face interactions. These solutions also retain all relevant personal information about each customer.
  8. E-Newsletter Personalization Module/Software: Personalization software uses a retail website’s collected customer history to create specialized promotional e-newsletters, which target customer preferences and buying habits. E-Newsletter personalization tools are sometimes included with contact management software. Stand-alone solutions include Broadcast and Email Marketing Director.
  9. System Integration with Existing Store Software: Stores can leverage a web customer-service system more powerfully if that system seamlessly integrates with commonly used software (e.g., MS Office and QuickBooks) and everyday computer hardware, such as Blackberries and Windows Mobile Devices. Retailers need to weigh the integration capability of any customer-service system before making their final choice.
  10. All-in-One-Solutions: Many of the aforementioned tools come in one bundle from solutions providers specializing in customer relationship management (CRM). Some of the least-expensive solutions include those offered by AppShore, $11/month; SalesNexus, $299/year; Commence, $30/month and eSalesTrack, $40/month. <HOME>

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.

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