May 27, 2011, 2:46 PM

No mindless chatter here: Online apparel retailer ScotteVest gains sales via live chat

The retailer engages in 160 chats per week, and 25% of them lead to sales.

Lead Photo

For travel apparel manufacturer and web-only retailer ScotteVest Inc., which has been selling on the web for 10 years, providing answers to customers’ questions is a top priority.

That’s why nine months ago, the company, which makes and sells clothing outfitted with specialized pockets for cameras, iPads and mobile phones, launched a proactive online chat feature with technology from LiveChat Software SA. 

“In our market, because our sole focus is sales on the Internet, it is essential that our customers feel comfortable getting in touch with us,” says ScotteVest founder and CEO Scott Jordan. “There are a lot of companies out there that don’t even provide a phone number, but we are different in that even sometimes I, as the CEO, will even get on the live chats with our customers.  They are tickled and say, ‘Scottie, is it really you?’”

Here’s how the technology works: Imagine that a shopper has been on the site for a relatively long time, and is lingering in a certain section—for instance, the sizing page, which Jordan says is a critical decision point for customers. The live chat technology might trigger a conversation with that online shopper. Even just lingering on the home page results in a pop-up live chat box, complete with a cartoon representation of a square-jawed man in semi-rugged travel apparel.

Eventually, the retailer could use search terms to trigger live chats. A shopper who visits the ScotteVest site after searching for “outdoor vests” might receive a message that says, “I see you are looking for outdoor vests. May I help you find one?”

ScotteVest began offering live chat several months ago, and now the retailer engages in 160 chats per week, 25% of which result in a sale. “If we didn’t have LiveChat, those 25%  may not have purchased,” Jordan says. The retailer has realized other gains, too, he adds, from being able to discuss with shoppers such issues as shipping costs and sizing. “Our return rate is only 11%, when traditionally it’s around 25% or more for apparel retailers,” he says. “LiveChat is a big reason for that.”

At least 40% of ScotteVest’s customers are repeat customers and sales have grown 100% per year in each of the last two years. The retailer expects to match that pace in 2011.

Live chat is gaining in popularity, according to a recent E-tailing Group study sponsored by Bold Software LLC, a live chat vendor. 58% of U.S. consumers say they’ve interacted with an e-retailer using live chat, up from 54% last year. And 20% of consumers say live chat is their preferred way to interact with an online merchant.

LiveChat’s software starts at $36 per month for a single agent. 

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