July 7, 2005, 12:00 AM

It’s time to bring online customer service into the store, Aberdeen says

70% of retailers with more than $5 billion in annual revenue are actively expanding their points of online customer service, through such means as in-store kiosks and hand-held devices, Aberdeen Group says in a report released today.

70% of retailers with more than $5 billion in annual revenue are actively expanding their points of online customer service, through such means as in-store kiosks and hand-held devices, Aberdeen Group says in a report released today. But many other retailers are lagging behind, it says.

“There are any number of places retailers can extend a hand out to customers,” says Paula Rosenblum, director of retail research at Aberdeen and author of the study, “The Empowered Point of Service Benchmark Report.”

She notes, for example, that carmaker BMW has been attracting a lot of traffic to its web-based kiosks in shopping malls and other locations that let consumers log on to BMW’s web site to configure a car with their preferred options.

But retail stores are also leveraging the web more as an in-store customer service tool, providing shoppers with self-service kiosks for getting product information or direct assistance from store employees with web-connected handheld devices that can check inventory records and back orders.

Rosenblum says more retailers are seeing the value of customer-centric online systems that make shopping more rewarding for consumers, as opposed to concentrating more on web-based supply chain systems that provide retailers with lower operating costs. “Supply chain systems may help the financial bottom line, but not necessarily bring value to customers,” she says.

Supporting a move toward extending online customer service, she adds, is that most retail stores now have consistent access to the web. “We know that 75% of stores have persistent connectivity,” Rosenblum says, adding that future moves toward more wireless web access will let retailers extend online customer service even further.

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