October 30, 2008, 12:00 AM

Retailers Go Shopping

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It’s doing the job as expected, Decker says. “We’re definitely seeing more customer engagement and more questions coming through,” he says.

Projections of such benefits were not enough to approve the project early last year, however, when Evo, faced with its usual long list of tentative projects, decided instead to focus on a new site search and navigation system from Mercado as part of an effort to make Evogear.com better indexed by search engine spiders for natural search results. That project is also paying off, Decker says.

At Golfballs.com, CEO Tom Cox is also planning to build on the passions of his golfing enthusiast customers, by working with Google Inc.’s OpenSocial development framework. The plan is to develop traffic-generating widgets, such as one that might be called “Hole-in-One,” that customers can place on their Facebook or other social network pages to share information on things like golf scores, the clubs they use and even personal designs of golf shoes.

“Golfers love to talk about their game,” Cox says. He’s also planning to launch the similarly sounding Golfball.com as a golfer’s social network site, possibly with a wish list that could connect to e-commerce pages on Golfballs.com.

Shopping in 3D

At Sears.com, the mass merchant has deployed new 3D-capable technology that lets shoppers search for apparel products by images and virtually try them on using a personalized avatar that can be turned around to see how a product looks from the front, side and rear. The application also has a social element: Once shoppers personalize an outfit, they can e-mail it from Sears.com to their friends. The feature relies on IBM’s WebSphere Commerce e-commerce platform combined with Visual Search 3D graphics co-developed by IBM and My Virtual Model.

“By allowing shoppers to visually search for and view items in 3D, to see how they’ll actually look on themselves in various combinations, and virtually share their finds with friends and family, Sears is providing a social and e-commerce experience we believe will increase satisfaction and loyalty,” says Rob Mills, vice president of Sears Online Business Unit.

With all the technology options open to e-commerce sites, nothing is more important than providing solid customer service, says Ron Kelly, vice president of customer care and logistics for Drugstore.com Inc. “It’s not as sexy as other technology projects, but if you do all sexy stuff and not help your customers, you may get new customers but not ones that come back,” he says.

Drugstore deployed new customer service technology from RightNow Technologies Inc. earlier this year. The program includes live chat and a CRM application that manages incoming customer e-mails and organizes product and customer data on employees’ desktops.

20% faster response

Each customer service agent, meanwhile, can serve customers more quickly with access to several applications and databases from a single desktop screen, Kelly says. “In the past, an agent may have had 10 tools to toggle through while serving customers, but with the unified desktop they can get these tools as well as inbound e-mail questions faster,” he says. The system has helped to reduce by 20% the average time customer service reps spend answering questions, he says.

“We’re dealing with 100,000 customer contacts in any given week. Now when a customer contacts us we can solve issues faster,” Kelly says.

Serving the customer, of course, whether through better contact center support or rich media that entertains and provides social networking, is paramount when choosing which technology to invest in and deploy.

paul@verticalwebmedia.com

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