Close More Online Sales
Catalogers know the Web can be a valuable place to sell product. However, it’s likely that many are missing the chance to generate even more sales via the Web.
To boost your chance at success, pay as much attention to closing the sale online as you would in your print catalogs—perhaps even more so due to the nature of the Web.
Therefore, to convert more of your Web shoppers into buyers, consider three key points in your Web-shopping process: online customer service; shipping and handling; and order-taking and processing.
Online Customer Service
Here are two commonly held misconceptions about online customer service:
1. There’s less of a need for customer service representatives (CSRs) to let a customer know if, say, the shirt he wants to buy will match the pants he purchased from your paper catalog six months ago.
2. Every customer service issue doesn’t have to be routed through a call center, because undoubtedly there’s a handy FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page somewhere on your site that will answer all of your customers’ questions.
If you disagree with the statements above, and believe more traditional customer service is just as important online, you’re on the right track. Catalogers expect to generate an average of 25 percent of their total sales from their Web sites by 2004, according to industry statistics. So they’ll want to focus on closing sales that otherwise would be lost.
One catalog that’s excelling at online customer service is outdoor outfitter Cabela’s. The cataloger uses NetAgent™, which is part of the Divine Corp.’s software services division. Part of the NetAgent suite—and what Cabela’s makes sound use of—is a chat utility that allows one CSR to handle up to six online NetAgent sessions simultaneously. Question and answer scripts can be pushed to customers while they wait to be connected, and CSRs can transfer sessions to colleagues better able to handle specific queries.
Other components of NetAgent include an auto-response e-mail application that provides responses without the need for human assistance; an inbound e-mail manager; and wireless and international language utilities.
Now let’s dispel Myth No. 2. By listing a toll-free customer service number on every Web page and responding to e-mail inquires within the same day, you encourage e-shoppers to contact you with questions. The alternative? They simply abandon their online carts and click over to your competitors.
S&H Shouldn’t Mean “Shocking and Hidden”
Often, online sales go unclosed due to unexpected shipping and handling (S&H) costs—especially ones that are presented to a customer during the final stages of the online transaction. John Deneen, president of SiteForm, a Web site development and consulting group that specializes in building catalog-based Web sites, says hidden S&H costs is the top reason buyers who intended to purchase online end up saying “no thanks.”
In addition to the different domestic shipping options based on carrier, another hurdle associated with being forthright concerning S&H costs is the globalization of e-commerce and the ability to ship products around the world.
The U.S. Mint’s online catalog gets around this thorny issue by listing the more than 50 countries to which it will ship, all for one price of less than $18. Every time a customer views what’s in his shopping cart, it’s clearly stated that the costs listed don’t include S&H. However, there’s a plainly visible link to a detailed page of rate information.
SiteForm’s Deneen, whose catalog clients include Winterthur, Real Goods and National Wildlife Federation, suggests showing S&H costs as soon as possible. In fact, it’s his No. 1 tip to catalogers who want to close more sales online. (For more, see “Cart Smarts—Reducing Online Shopping Cart Abandonment,” Catalog Success, February 2002.)
Order-taking and Processing Opportunities
For some reason, many marketers forget some of the most basic order-handling practices when taking orders via the Web. Similar to early disclosure of S&H fees, applicable order discounts should be calculated and shown to the customer as soon as possible.
And of course, when operating in the online space, it’s wise to take a tip from Amazon.com once in a while: Don’t miss the chance to cross-sell at the close of the sale.
Amy Africa of Creative Results in Williston, VT, suggests that catalogers upsell three items at the end of the order. “These items should be things that everyone needs and/or wants. Test related and unrelated items to see which ones work best.”
An order confirmation is another basic practice not to be neglected. Have your CSRs mention to customers that an e-mail confirmation will be coming their way, and if it’s not received, they can e-mail or call to be sure the order has been placed. “A good, speedy confirmation process makes up for a poor ordering process,” says Africa, who points to Crutchfield as one marketer doing a fine job with its order confirmations.
Another way to help close the sale is to identify product availability. This should come before the customer confirms his or her order. “Inventory counts,” says Africa. “Don’t make the user go through a whole order only to tell her at the very end that you don’t have the product.”
Office-supply merchant Staples (www.staples.com) offers inventory availability checks by ZIP code. The Staples site works with existing inventory management systems to determine product availability and delivery times for customers. Staples’ officials had to work out some bugs in the early stages to ensure customers understood the process. It seems that some customers originally thought Staples was implementing a way to capture demographic data.
This perception was turned around by simply rewording the statements to read: “To view real-time inventory availability, please enter the ZIP code where products will be shipped.”
Try these strategies, and watch your online close ratios climb.
Rob Yoegel is a freelance writer from West Chester, PA, and also is vice president, online services, at North American Publishing Co. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.