March 9, 2004, 12:00 AM

New retailer’s directive for customer relations: No cross-sell or up-sell

As wholesaler Inventive Solutions begins selling direct to consumers, it wants a reputation for being a helpful but not aggressive seller. It has directed customer service reps not to cross-sell or up-sell.

As it expands from wholesaling into retailing, Inventive Solutions wants to gain more control of managing relationships with customers, it says. And to build an image as a helpful retailer, it has directed its customer service team to avoid up-selling and cross-selling, president and CEO John Gibney tells Internet Retailer. “I don’t want any of my customers to ever call Inventive Solutions with the fear of getting cross-sold,” he says.

Inventive Solutions, a wholesaler of unusual tools and gadgets for household and automotive use, sells through some 200 retailers ranging from Costco and Lowe’s to local mom-and-pop stores. Its wholesale operation has grown steadily through traditional retailers since it launched in 1999, but the company has been unhappy with the way its products were marketed and sold by online and catalog retailers, Gibney says.

Its products, such as foldable storage containers and special ratchets for working on car engines, often disappeared into online and catalog retailers’ product lines and weren’t supported well by customer service operations, Gibney says. He adds that Inventive’s unusual products may need extra input from customer service reps to help consumers understand how they operate and why they’re unique.

He expects to change the way Inventive’s products are sold in a direct-to-consumer environment with the launch next month of its own consumer e-commerce site, Einventive.com, and quarterly catalogs. To assure that its direct-to-consumer market doesn’t compete with its wholesale clients, Inventive has built a database system that maintains separate coding for products sold through the two channels. And to assure that consumers visiting its site get all the information they need without experiencing high-pressure sales tactics, he’s planning on launching the site with a very accessible – and friendly – call center.

The toll-free number for the call center operation--which is being outsourced to I Sky, based in Inventive’s home town of Bend, OR--will appear on each web page along with an e-mail feature for consumers who’d prefer to write rather than call. Gibney has targeted an e-mail response time of 2-3 hours, and he’s getting I Sky’s customer service reps trained in the 300 products he expects to offer online and in catalogs. He’s also training them in how to best navigate the site. “We want the reps to spend as much time as needed to make customers feel comfortable and walk them around the site,” Gibney says.

Although Inventive will begin advertising its site’s products through both online and offline media, it won’t advertise its consumer-friendly nature, Gibney says. “I’ll just let it grow through word-of-mouth,” he says. “People will get the idea.”

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