June 1, 2011, 10:15 AM

Sponsored Supplement - June 2011

(Page 7 of 9)

"Retargeting is really managing consumer behavior, but we've taken it to a whole other level with our behavioral commerce technology," says Mark Douglas, president and CEO of SteelHouse.com, provider of behavioral commerce solutions. "Effective behavioral marketing covers many consumer touch points, not just display ads."

Along with retargeting, one of the online marketing techniques that have caught fire in recent years is offering consumers limited-time deals, such as a discount that's good for only 24 hours on just a single item. Retailers can promote the deal on their own sites, as well as on sites operated by daily-deal specialists, such as Fatwallet.com and Slickdeals.com, to expand the reach of the promotion.

"Daily deals can be offered to existing customers to create a sense of exclusivity and encourage them to take the offer viral by sharing it with their social network," says Alex Schmelkin, president and co-founder of e-commerce design and engineering firm Alexander Interactive, or Ai. "There is no question that the deal of the day is becoming a more popular feature for online retailers."

New service features

Customer service has always been a staple of e-commerce, and there are new techniques that can make it more effective, and more profitable.

"Retailers typically don't view the call center as a profit center, but that's what it is," says Tom Davis, CEO of USA800, provider of multichannel contact center services. "Contact center agents not only have a chance to service the customer, but win their loyalty and make them a lifetime customer. Retailers can use an integrated voice response unit for a lot of customer contacts, but what they can't use it for is to build a customer relationship the way a live agent can."

Winning over the customer requires appropriate staffing levels to be sure that when customers need to talk to a live agent there are agents available to pick up the phone, as opposed to a retailer relying on an interactive voice response system or self-service tools on e-commerce sites, such as FAQ pages.

"About 15% to 20% of customer calls can be deflected to self-service, such as requests for store locations or having a catalog mailed, but the remainder tend to be more complex and are best handled by a live agent that can interact with the customer on a more personal level," says Davis. "Being able to provide that kind of support requires tracking a retailer's in-bound call volume during the course of the year and during promotional campaigns to adequately predict staffing needs."

A welcome chat

How fast a retailer reaches out to a shopper in need of help can make the difference between winning and losing the sale. Proactively using live chat to query consumers if they need help or more information about a product, much in the same way an in-store sales representative does, can convert the shopper into buyer.

"More and more, live chat is becoming a proactive customer service tool," says Greg Fettes, CEO of contact center provider 24-7 Intouch. "The goal is to reach out to consumers that exhibit behavior that indicates they are on the verge of making a purchase, but have hit a bump in the decision process. A lot of sales get lost by not reaching out to these types of customers, because they end up leaving the site and not coming back."

When a consumer enters a retailer's web store, 24-7 Intouch can track her behavior using its LivePerson live chat technology as she moves through the site, and analyze her behavior patterns to identify those shoppers most likely to welcome an invitation to chat. "If someone looks like they are just kicking the tires, we won't reach out to them because they are unlikely to buy," says Fettes. "Proactive outreach through live chat should be as helpful, yet as non-intrusive, as possible."

Integrating the contact center into the web store can also provide service agents with unique insights into the customer behavior patterns they can use to make cross-sell or up-sell suggestions via live chat. USA800, for example, can link its contact center to a retailer's web store so that agents can access information about which items are in a consumer's shopping cart. Armed with that knowledge, agents are better able to suggest accessories or help the customer take advantage of certain promotions, such as free shipping on orders of $100 or more.

"If an agent sees a customer with $80 worth of items in their shopping cart and free shipping is available on orders of $100 or more, sending a message that points out how close they are to qualifying for the free shipping promotion is a way to proactively reach out to consumers to increase the size of their order," says Davis.

Sales opportunities can also be created when consumers respond to toll-free numbers on ads. "If a retailer is running an extensive ad campaign, there is likely to be a lot of general inquiries that can be turned into sales opportunities," says Davis. "The retailer has already spent the money on the campaign so it is better to try and sell consumers as they call in, even if they have a general question about the product or the promotion, than take the chance they will go to the web site or the retail store."

One-to-one advertising

Another way to make online ads more effective is to make them relevant to the individual shopper. A consumer who put a sleeveless dress into her shopping cart, but then left the retailer's site without purchasing, can be shown an ad on another site offering 20% off on that dress. Or if she looked at a dress that was temporarily unavailable in her size, the retailer can make note of that and, when it's back in stock, show her a display ad that says the dress is back in stock.

"Targeting ads to the consumer behavior characteristics of the shopper creates a more meaningful ad," says SteelHouse's Douglas.

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