Retailers accelerated their shift toward e-commerce during the pandemic. But for all the excitement around e-commerce — a category eMarketer projects will grow by 13 percent in the U.S., totaling more than $900 billion in annual sales — the online shopping experience still has plenty of room for improvement, especially when it comes to assisted sales.
E-Commerce is Great, But There are Some Pain Points Retailers Need to Address
We’re witnessing a seismic shift in consumer behavior. As a recent Ernst & Young report found, 60 percent of consumers are currently visiting brick-and-mortar stores less than before the pandemic, and 43 percent shop more often online for products they would have previously bought in stores. This is great news for those with a strong e-commerce presence! But there are headwinds, too.
Online orders often come with free shipping, which can be costly for retailers. Online carts tend to be smaller than in-store carts because consumers are accustomed to buying items one at a time. Finally, high return rates are par for the course in e-commerce because “right first time” is a bigger challenge online than in-store.
Assisted Sales Workarounds Aren’t Great and They Don’t Address E-Commerce Headwinds
While e-commerce has seen lots of innovation over the past two decades, the experience is a far cry from what consumers can get in-store. In terms of interactivity, chatbots are state of the art. But have you ever met anyone that loves chatbots? Yes, chatbots are useful for routing customer questions, but they aren’t sales people. They fix problems rather than anticipating the customer’s needs.
Of course, an e-commerce site is more akin to a digitized catalogue than a true in-store experience. Consider the Apple store. As a brick-and-mortar experience, the Apple store is fully interactive because it’s staffed by knowledgeable employees who often outnumber the shoppers. People, not products alone, bring customers to the Apple store because consumers know that talking to an Apple employee is the best way to make sure they’re getting the right product for their needs. In contrast, the Apple store online is certainly on brand, features all of the product information, and allows customers to transact, but the customer doesn’t get exposed to the Apple employee that's trained to get the right product in the customer’s hands and close the sale. The in-store customer experience is supported by experts. The online customer experience is DIY. What could happen if we bring experts online using the latest in live video streaming technology?
Live Video Powers Assisted Sales by Empowering Salespeople
The interactive live video on Instagram Live and TikTok is a powerful tool for influencer marketing, and increasingly is being used to sell products so long as the retailer is comfortable using the social company’s marketplace and forgoing their access to direct first-person data about the customer. The same live video technology that powers the social marketing platforms can also be used to create an assisted sales experience directly on a retailer’s website so as to leverage the retailer’s own e-commerce, supply chain, product expertise, and customer loyalty platforms.
Armed with a laptop, camera and microphone, retailers can put their expert employees to work to demo products, suggest purchases, and answer customer questions. Some retailers may want to establish robust video production capabilities along the lines of QVC. However, most retailers can deliver an assisted sales experience online by leveraging existing sales teams and giving them live interactive video tools that can be used in-store. As long as the back-end technology is on the website, the retailer can collect their own first-person customer data, and use that data to optimize online video-driven sales workflows and sales strategies.
As long as the video is interactive, consumers will be the ones driving the conversations through their questions. An interactive, video-based e-commerce platform on the retailer’s site promises to improve the assisted sales experience for customers, increase cart size through live product suggestions, increase gross margin based on the mix of products discussed and reduced shipping costs, and help make sure that the customer makes the right purchase the first time. But above all, the real advantage is one brick-and-mortar retailers have long understood: quality sales people are the key to driving brand differentiation. By making investments to bring sales people into their e-commerce experience, retailers aren’t just addressing the challenges of the moment, they’re setting their stores, both physical and digital, up for customer-driven success in the future.
Mike Schabel is the CEO and president at Kiswe. Previously, he was the general manager of small cells business at Alcatel-Lucent and the general manager and co-founder of the Wireless Network Guardian at Alcatel-Lucent.
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