By Bob Woods
Late last year, a study from Basex said that e-tailers could lower shopping-cart abandonment rates by 20% and increase their sales by $20 billion per year by integrating into their Web sites presence services and instant messaging (IM). The $20 billion figure comes from the estimated value of merchandise left in those abandoned virtual carts, Basex said in its report.
Further support of the abandonment quandary came in the form of a report from Datamonitor. That study showed 69.4% of all potential online transactions in 2001 were abandoned. While most of the popular reasons for abandoning carts centered around processing time for purchases, security concerns and high shipping/handling costs, 8.1% of that 69.4% of stopped transactions were because retailers failed to offer consumers a method to have queries answered while they were shopping, Datamonitor said.
A new service from business-messaging and customer-service provider LivePerson Inc. and e-commerce product provider LaGarde aims to change all of that with a new and fully functional business messaging e-commerce platform.
LivePerson's Business Messaging product, which supports online sales and customer service, is now included in the LaGarde commerce platforms-StoreFront 5.0 and StoreFront Now. The user-friendly interface is available to shoppers by clicking the LivePerson Live Help button, which is automatically embedded into a merchant's Online store.
LivePerson's Business Messaging lets merchants chat with multiple individuals privately and simultaneously directly via their Web sites. Online customer service agents will also be able to use the LivePerson Click-to-Chat technology within e-mails, officials also said.
Here's how it works: When a shopper visits a StoreFront Now/LivePerson-enabled site, the merchant is immediately notified that a visitor is at the "front door." As customers move around the Web site, the merchant can "engage" them by proactively greeting them and inviting them to chat online. The merchant can then provide personalized assistance and even recommend items.
Customers who need assistance also have the option to "speak" to the merchant by clicking the LivePerson button on their StoreFront Now site.
I recently visited a demo site to experience first-hand what the customer goes through when using a StoreFront Now/LivePerson site. We also got a chance to see how things run from the merchant's side of the equation.
First, the customer end of things.
When a visitor visits a StoreFront Now/LivePerson site, they'll see a button that says words to the effect of "Click here for live help." After the button is clicked, a IM-style window pops up with the site owner or a customer-service representative on the other site. At that point, a visitor can ask questions and "talk" with the company rep.
The system works well, too. There seems to be a bit of a lag between questions and answers, but that could be explained by the speed (or lack therof) of the person typing on the other side of the conversation.
A demo of StoreFront Now is available to Web users.
On the e-tailer's side, the integration of the service into a retail site is "totally seamless," said LivePerson Vice President of Online Marketing Philippe Lang - who, coincidentally, was interviewed for this article via IM at the online demo site. The site owner doesn't have to code or program anything. All they have to do is "just check a box in the store set up, and the merchant is up and running," Lang said.
The merchant can also see which page a customer is visiting, as well as the adding or deleting of items in a shopping cart. "This gives (e-tailers) tremendous insight about the visitor's needs," Lang also said.
Lang provided me with a full copy of LivePerson Corporate (version 4.9), to get a first-person feel of how the system works. Simply put, it works well.
I used it on a personal site of mine, which means that it doesn't get a lot of traffic and I can keep up with the inflow and outflow of people.
When a person comes to a LivePerson-enabled Web site, the client on the merchant's end -- LivePerson actually hosts the service in an ASP arrangement -- rings like a doorbell. At that point, the Web site owner/host can follow the track that a potential buyer makes through the site. An "info" window in the client shows the user's IP address, the number of pages visited and the browser the visitor is using. No personal information is collected by the LivePerson client, though.
Several "canned" introductions and replies to questions, like "Welcome to our live chat service" and "Please hold one moment," are included with the program.
The owner can even pop in a floating "balloon" asking if the visitor has any questions. If the visitor clicks on the window, a separate chat window pops up. That balloon can be quickly canceled by the Web surfer as well.
Besides chatting, Web site owners/reps can push Web pages to a user, and send formatted HTML within the chat window.
A site owner doesn't need to be online 24 hours a day, either - if the owner is offline, the LivePerson button says something to the effect that chatting is closed. If that button is clicked on, though, the visitor can send the owner an e-mail.
The LivePerson buttons used on the site can be customized as well, Lang said.
As Lang indicated, hooking a site up to the LivePerson Corporate system is a snap - only a few boxes need to be checked on the 2.2MB downloadable client.
About the only possible shortcoming of the service, especially for small businesses, doesn't lie within the software itself. Customer-service support - in other words, the people helping out a site's visitors - is not provided by LivePerson. So a business that wants to use LivePerson had better be prepared for the possibility of many, many visitors wanting to chat, possibly all at the same time.
But for companies that can support the staffing of Web site interactions, the StoreFront Now/LivePerson service is definitely worth a look. If a business already has an e-commerce site and wants to only add interaction, the LivePerson Corporate software is an easy solution.