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Guest comment: Three lessons personal shoppers can teach internet retailers

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by Yuval Moed

Department store personal shoppers – both in the modern brick-and-mortar store and in the shops of past generations – could teach internet retailers plenty about converting customers. These professionals, who predict customer needs and make selecting and purchasing goods as easy for consumers as possible, would likely look at the do-it-yourself nature of some of today’s ecommerce sites and cringe. Where is the personal service? Where is the expertise to guide the customer toward better, bigger purchases and return business? It’s there. More and more website owners are learning how to harness the power of enhanced chat and multimedia applications to serve customers better and sell more.

Among the key lessons internet retailers could learn from personal shoppers are:

Use the resources you have to increase your conversion rates

If they’ve trained their support teams well and outfitted them with the right technology, website owners already have the resources they need to boost sales. Knowledgeable staff should be empowered to help website visitors find the most suitable products for their needs in less time and with less frustration than would have been possible through unassisted shopping.

The mere act of changing the title ‘customer service representative’ to ‘personal shopper’ can shift the way employees and prospects think about what they can expect from each other. And with the right engagement platform, an online personal shopper can use technology to stop and start product videos, annotate still images or a paused video, conduct video or audio chat with the prospect, and help the customer complete online payment through joint form fill or PayPal.

Help customers make the best product choices, and they will bring their business to you again

The department store personal shopper has to think about more than today’s sale. If she is smart, she aims to help her client find the right outfit for his body type, the right accessories for specific occasions, the right brands to last and last. When she is successful in this effort, her customer returns every time he needs similar products. When businesses make it easy, quick and satisfying to shop with them, customers reward them with loyalty.

Online customer service representatives who are experts on their products can replicate the above scenario. They know how to best use those products, how to choose the most appropriate items for any situation and how to pair certain items with other offerings. Internet retailers who empower their reps. to guide customers toward smart purchases gain a significant competitive advantage.

Don’t underestimate the power of visual aids

The department store personal shopper can point a prospect to lots of in-store product displays. A similarly experienced professional can do far more online. How? Consider the prospect that must buy a birthday gift. She might start by reading an online product catalog. Unlike with a traditional personal shopper, this customer doesn’t need to travel to a store, make an appointment or fill out paperwork to schedule a supported shopping session. Instead, she hits the call button on the website and a customer service rep gets the alert. The rep, trained to recognize customer indicators for additional support, might supplement text chat with real-time, multimedia-content-sharing. The agent, now acting as a personal shopper, can show and describe potential gifts using a host of tools, such as a live video feed, product videos, images, photographs and more.

Shopping – assisted or otherwise – is better online

Ecommerce is growing because it fulfills customers’ desire for speed, ease and affordability. It can also fulfill their desires for personal service. When customers get that personalised attention online, they are at least three times more likely to make a purchase, and the value of that purchase will almost certainly be higher than if those customers shopped independently.

Personal shoppers have been around for a long time, and for good reason. Picking out the best gift, putting together a smart outfit, or choosing a high-value item can be daunting to consumers. When a trained professional is able to support the consumer during the process of product decision-making, anxiety goes down and sales often go up. Internet retailers are poised to do this even better than their predecessors, thanks to text, voice and video tools that enhance chat and turn customer service agents into personal shoppers.

Yuval H. Moed is co-founder and chief executive of HBR Labs, which develops VeriShow

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