March 11, 2010, 12:00 AM

Need help finding the perfect pump? Heels.com has live video chat for that

Heels.com is testing a new service feature that enables shoppers to see a live video feed of a customer service representative who can help her navigate the site and complete a purchase. Heels.com hopes the personal touch will decrease cart abandonment.

When Eric McCoy, founder and CEO of Heels.com, took a look at his cart abandonment rate in January, he was concerned.

“About 25,000 shoppers put something in their cart, but less than 5,000 were checking out,” McCoy says. Then McCoy remembered a press release he had recently read about automobile manufacturer Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand. Lexus added a live video chat feature to its web site to make the shopping experience more personal. The goal was to get shoppers to establish a relationship with a live individual via video and then get them in to a local dealership for a test drive. McCoy thought the concept could work for Heels.com.

This week, the retailer plans to soft launch the live video chat service from U.K.-based vendor vee24. Heels.com will start by sending an e-mail to 100,000 of its most frequent customers asking them to take a brief survey about their shopping experience. Once on the survey page, the visitor will be invited to interact with a shopping assistant if one is available. If the customer agrees, the site will launch a live video link to the representative. The employee can then connect and chat with the shopper, show her different shoes, walk her through the site and even check out for her, if she chooses.

Watching a live video of an employee-with a name and a face-will help shoppers establish a personal connection with an individual, as they would in a bricks-and-mortar store, the retailer says. McCoy says the added intimacy is likely to entice more shoppers to complete the checkout process.

“There is such a big discrepancy between shopping at a store and online,” he says. “In the store, if you go to the register, you are committed-there’s a 90% chance you are going to buy. Online it’s only about 30%. The phone rings, you get a text message from a friend or you decide to go on Facebook. Online shoppers get distracted,” he says.

 

All the customer service representatives participating in the program will have personal profiles about themselves that shoppers can view and representatives will be able to look up shoppers’ purchase history so that they can show customers items they might like. For example, if a shopper loves Jessica Simpson brand pumps or has a soft spot for red shoes, employees can navigate through the site and showcase such items, McCoy says.

“Instead of shoppers telling their friends, ‘You have to go to Heels.com’ we want them to talk about our customer service reps,” McCoy says. We want them to say, ‘You have to go see Suleika at Heels.com.’”

To add the video feature to Heels.com, the retailer downloaded a snippet of JavaScript code and then embedded it into the site. Heels.com also had to invest in video production equipment, including a broadcast monitor, a traditional monitor, a computer dedicated to the service and a special desk and studio lighting to ensure the video would render well on consumers’ computers. McCoy says depending on the quality, companies can spend anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 on the video production equipment. The video software costs an additional $500 to $1,000 per month, McCoy says. Vee24, a start-up company, and Heels.com have yet to outline a fee structure for the service, but it will likely be based on how often the feature is used, McCoy says. Initially, two representatives will be available for live video chat, and McCoy says he may add more if the feature becomes popular.

 

Incorporating the service was relatively simple, McCoy says, except for one hurdle with the retailer’s content delivery network, Akamai Technologies, which didn’t recognize the new program at first. That led to issues with Heels.com’s SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, security certification. But McCoy says those kinks are being worked out and he hopes to fully roll out the program within the next two weeks.

Now the only challenge is getting customer service reps to smile.

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