March 28, 2002, 12:00 AM

Making e-retailing more real

Three technologies have the potential to make online shopping more like real-world shopping: Real-time inventory, Cross-sell and Up-sell, and Live chat.

Three technologies have the potential to make online shopping more like real-world shopping:

As online retailing becomes more mainstream, consumers will expect their online experience to be similar to their offline experience. Is the item a shopper wants in stock? In the store, she looks on the shelf or asks a sales associate. On the web, she relies on the retailer’s technology to alert her if the item is out of stock.

Perhaps the shopper wants a CD player but isn’t quit sure of the features he wants. In the store, smart product display-or knowledgeable sales associates-makes it easy for the shopper to compare CD players and determine price differences and features. On the web, technology is available that pops up different products that allow the retailer to up-sell or cross-sell the customer.

Does she need questions answered? In the store, a sales clerk can answer her question and suggest alternatives to save the sale if the store doesn’t have what she’s seeking. Online, she clicks the live chat button, where a trained customer service rep can perform the same functions.

In the following pages, Internet Retailer profiles three technologies that help the web experience become more like the store experience: Technologies that enable real-time inventory, cross-selling and up-selling, and live chat.

Creating that cross-channel similarity, say analysts, will be key to the future of online retailing. “For retailers to be more successful online, they need to make the decision process as complete as possible, just like in the store,” says Geri Spieler, research director for The Gartner Group Inc.’s GartnerG2 retail services group.

The technology doesn’t have to be expensive-several of the solutions profiled here were developed in-house. And it doesn’t have to be glitzy. In fact some, such as real-time inventory, meet customers’ expectations without the customer even knowing what’s going on behind the scenes. Others, such as cross-sell technology, act in such a way that the customer is unaware that a cross-sell is happening.

But since the ultimate goal is to sell more product and keep more product in the hands of the customers, the technology must be informative: Its aim must be to help the customer make an informed purchasing decision. “The more information you supply, the more intelligent the decision by the consumer and that will reduce returns, complaints and exchanges and increase customer satisfaction,” Spieler says. “That will be a competitive marker going forward. Retailers who provide that-who make online shopping more like offline shopping-will succeed.”

To proceed to the three segments, click below:

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