November 7, 2003, 12:00 AM serves what some online grocery shoppers want most: help

Some first-timers want help in site navigation, and can walk them through it by phone or in-home. Merchandising that assistance front and center on its home page is pulling in formerly hesitant shoppers.


Twin Cities-based Internet grocer has always offered help in negotiating its web site for first timers and those more hesitant about Internet shopping through its customer service phone agents. But it wasn’t until it merchandised the availability of that help by featuring it in the center of its home page that those visitors really noticed--and started picking up the phone.

Within the last two weeks, has piloted a feature called Simon S.O.S. set squarely in the middle of its home page. “S.O.S.” stands for Simon’s Offline Service, under which a local Internet-shy shopper who wants help in negotiating the site for the first time can set up a time with a representative who will come to her home and walk her through the process.

“Since we launched that about 10 days ago, we’ve done a dozen home visits," says CEO Christopher Brown, as well as about five times as many calls with questions that customer service reps were able to handle over the phone. “People who were hesitant to call before now know that we welcome their questions. They may just have one or two, and our customer service people can go online with them, over the phone, to walk them through it.”

“It’s taken the individual who has browsed the site but didn’t want to make the leap and given them extra support,” says Brown.

Brown had a hunch that a stay-at-home spouse or parent--frequently, also the household member responsible for grocery shopping--may be less experienced with the Internet and therefore less comfortable shopping online than household members using the web at school or at work. “We also learned that these people don’t want to feel embarrassed about that in front of kids or spouses,” Brown says. “So now when everyone else is at school or at work, we can send in someone to teach them. When everyone else comes home, now Mom or Dad is a genius.” Brown notes that all reps are bonded and licensed. promoted both the new S.O.S. service and the availability of phone assistance with an e-mail to about 40,000 local people who’d browsed or even made a few orders but had not become regular customers. The company is tracking all the questions about the web site or services that are received over the phone or during in-home visits to prepare for an upcoming reformatting of the web pages it uses to welcome and register new customers. “We’ve always offered help on the phone, but now we’re marketing it better,” says Brown.


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