March 20, 2003, 12:00 AM

MicroWarehouse puts eCRM on the virtual sales floor

Technology-guided online sales assistance that helps shoppers narrow the field boosts conversions at

With 60,000 products online including as many as 180 in categories such as desktops, it could be easy for a customer to be overwhelmed on, the online arm of catalog and web computer retailer Micro Warehouse. To keep customers on track through the decision process, Micro Warehouse turned to guided selling assistance technology by technology provider Active Decisions Inc. last August and has since seen revenue and conversion rates rise “significantly,” Micro Warehouse executive vice president of marketing and e-commerce Brian Burch tells Internet Retailer.


Though most of the company’s sales are b2b, a significant 20% come from individual consumers. The hosted solution has helped boost sales with a decision guide that recognizes the difference, Burch says. In five product categories supported on the site by Active Decisions, ranging from notebooks to laser printers, shoppers narrow the field with a short series of questions that set search criteria based on either product specifications or on activities for which the shopper expects to use the product.


While business buyers might shop by product specs, consumers may need more guidance to make judgments on what best fits their requirements, Burch says. The Active Decisions tool allows for both audiences, then ranks its recommendations to shoppers based on feedback the customer has provided.


Assisting customers in narrowing the options in this way goes beyond search, says Burch. “It starts out like search, but it makes a much more compelling sales pitch than search can,” Burch says.


Results help close sales by incorporating fuzzy logic that does online some of what a live agent would do. “If one of your criteria was that you wanted to pay no more than $500, and there was a product that met 11 of your 12 criteria except that the price was $501, that might be okay with you. So it would present that as a choice and highlight in red the one place it fell outside your criteria,” says Burch. The technology also allows customers to compare the features of top options side by side, and a natural language-based algorithm opens a text window as users scroll on product recommendations to explain how closely each one matches the user’s criteria.

The next generation of the tool from Active Decisions, which Micro Warehouse expects to implement this year, will incorporate an e-mail engine with live links to products that ties recommendations to customer history for outbound marketing by Micro Warehouse’s customer contact center agents. “The reps will be able to prepare themselves for a proactive call,” says Burch. “They’ll be able to call the customer to say, you bought this six months ago--based on new developments I’ve used our engine to find the top five recs on what would fit best next in your environment, and I’d like to send you an e-mail on them.”


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