February 28, 2008, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: On-Demand Technology: The Gain Without the Pain

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Having access to this information can help retailers tweak their site search to reduce abandonment. 73% of shoppers will leave an e-commerce site within two minutes of not finding the item they are searching for, according to an SLI sponsored survey in late 2007. 36% of those surveyed said they would never return to that site and 56% said they would come back only if the site had completely unique items that couldn’t be found elsewhere. Overall, 96% of those surveyed said a web site’s search function is important to the online shopping experience.

“Trials are a way to prove ourselves as a provider and that we can meet the client’s unique needs,” says Brash. “They also help retailers predict their ROI after roll out. Vendors need to demonstrate their capabilities upfront so retailers know what they can expect from the vendor and how the vendor can help them achieve business goals.”

That is important because business objectives vary among retailers. “Some measure success by revenue increases, others measure it by reduction of complaints, and some measure whether the length of shopper sessions increases,” Brash says. “Providing an on-demand solution that meets the particular objectives helps to earn the retailer’s trust, which is important, because they can have concerns about giving up control with the on-demand model.”

SLI’s Site Champion is an automated search engine optimization service that tracks visitors’ search terms and uses them to create related search links for each page of a retailer’s site. Shoppers who click on a related search link receive results for that term, directing them to cross-sell or upsell opportunities or additional content relevant to the item they are researching. Related search links also increase natural search traffic by providing links to the retailer’s search results pages that are crawled by search engine spiders.

Getting a handle on costs

As opposed to most in-house applications, where a retailer can amortize an upfront investment so that the cost of using the technology goes down as usage rises, retailers in on-demand contracts pay on the amount of searches conducted by shoppers and fees rise in proportion to the volume, which makes the service affordable to small retailers. To help retailers get a handle on what they are likely to pay, SLI tracks volume during the trial period and projects it out on an annual basis. Contracts can include the cost for potential spikes in volumes around the holidays to bring a greater sense of certainty about costs to the retailer.

“A primary advantage of the on-demand model is that it is more nimble and helps retailers keep pace in a fast changing environment regardless of their size,” says Brash.

Dealing with customer service inquiries at web sites is also an area that can benefit from an on-demand model as shopper behavior changes and retailers are hard-pressed to keep up with the ever-increasing technology demands of that evolution. “Shoppers are multi-channel and retailers need a solution and strategy to bridge the movement between the online and offline channels,” says eStara’s Jenkins.

Consumers often research a product online and make the purchase offline. This dynamic presents a challenge for online retailers who struggle with low conversions, high abandonment and transient customers.

One way to address this issue is to offer click-to-call functionality on a web site. “Using this type of strategic engagement converts these shoppers at twice the rate of those placing an inbound call because they are looking to get over the final hurdle to buy,” says Jenkins. “The goal is to provide features that empower the retailer to drive customer contacts that convert into sales and reduce abandonment.”

One of the primary benefits of on-demand software is that upgrades are delivered to the entire user base throughout the calendar year, thereby reducing the cost of development. Retailers access eStara’s applications through the company’s web portal. The company provides quarterly upgrades. To implement eStara’s click-to-call application, retailers add a line of programming code to each page in their site. The code uses a set of rules to identify the type of customer to engage. When a shopper clicks on the button, the service request is routed through eStara to the retailer, which services the shopper. Retailers can identify candidates to whom it wishes to present a click-to-call button using several metrics, such as click streams. A prime example would be a shopper who places an item in her cart and then moves off the product page, only to return.

Cutting call costs

Automating the decision of which customers to engage, and when, is one piece of the puzzle. Another piece of the puzzle is call center agents’ ability to see the shopper’s session and the problem the shopper is seeking to resolve. The coding tags that identify each customer engagement capture live data from the shopper’s session and automatically forward it to the call center agent. To determine what data is necessary for the call center agent to service the shopper eStara tests how blind a retailer may be on inbound calls and what level of detail the agent needs to sees.

“Giving agents this information creates a better customer experience and faster resolution,” says Jenkins “If we can slice 30 seconds off every inbound call by not having to inquire about the problem that is a huge cost savings to the client.”

EStara’s co-browsing application works in a similar fashion showing the agent what the shopper sees. Agents can then enter information on the web page to aid the shopper. Shoppers do not have to download a software applet to initiate a co-browse session.

Retailers pay a monthly fee for inbound calls. The company charges additional fees if the retailer exceeds the contracted volume. Projected volumes are calculated using information from the retailer, which can test applications for 90 days.

Retailers also need to remember that in order to make customer engagement work they must mesh the objectives of the call center and web site. “The objectives and goals of each tend to differ, which is why a consultative approach is necessary to identify the pain points,” says Jenkins. “This is technology retailers need to take a closer look at.”

Given the growing the popularity of on-demand platforms, that is unlikely to be the case much longer.

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