March 27, 2012, 11:35 AM

Two-thirds of online shoppers have tried live chat

75% will have done so by 2013, according to the E-tailing Group.

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67% of consumers in the United States and United Kingdom say they’ve interacted with an e-retailer using live chat, up from 58% last year, according to a new E-tailing Group survey sponsored by live chat vendor Bold Software.

Live chat is a communication method in which a consumer and an agent type questions and answers into an instant message-type box that appears in the consumer’s web browser.

“With adoption likely to continue at this rate, 75% of the regular shopping population will have engaged in a live chat by the time we publish this report in 2013,” says Lauren Freedman, president of The E-Tailing Group and author of the Live Chat Effectiveness 2012 report.

The E-tailing Group conducted an online survey with 2,027 adults in the United States and United Kingdom who said they shopped several times a year online and spent in excess of $250 with web merchants annually. 75% of respondents lived in the United States and the remainder in the United Kingdom.

35% say their first experience with live chat came because the retailer invited them to chat—often called proactive chat. 66% of consumers say they’ve received invitations to chat at some point, up from 57% who said the same last year. The report also shows consumers are more receptive to receiving proactive invitations to chat. 66% of consumers say they are receptive to getting proactive chat invitations, up from 62% in 2011 and 52% in 2010.

20% of survey respondents fall into the frequent chatters category, meaning they have engaged in live chat four or more times in the last 90 days. These consumers are more likely than the entire population to be college-educated (74%), spend $750 or more online annually (75%), shop online weekly or more (65%) and have a household income of $50,000 or more (75%).

Consumer adoption of live chat in the United Kingdom is lower than in the United States, but is on the rise. 53% of U.K. consumers say they’ve tried live chat, up from 41% in 2011. 14% of U.K. consumers in 2012 say live chat is their preferred communication method, up from 10% in 2011; by comparison, 21% of U.S. consumers say live chat is their communication preference. “The U.K. is moving closer to the U.S. in both adoption and receptiveness,” Freedman says.

Across the entire sample, e-mail remains the preferred communication method for consumers engaged in e-commerce (58%), followed by telephone (20%), live chat (19%) and social media (2%).

Freedman will speak during a session entitled “What shoppers want: Listening in on the consumer voice” at the 2012 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago in June. The IRCE $200 early-bird discount expires March 31.

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