Tis the season to shop, as retailers are noticing. An improving economy and a proliferation of smartphones are encouraging people to open their wallets. According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, more than 151 million people in the US stated they shopped in-store and/or online over the Thanksgiving weekend. If you were in a store or shopping mall at the time, you can probably attest to that. Another estimate put this year’s Cyber Monday (Nov. 30) sales at $3 billion, up 12% from 2014.
Like you, I have been shopping recently. And like many, I recently placed an order online, though through a retailer’s website. The incident offers some lessons that online retailers might learn from.
1. Be accessible 24/7. I encountered a glitch while placing my order, so I thought I’d call. They list a toll-free number very prominently near the top of each page. I called at 8:10 a.m. and got a recording which said, “..we are open 8:30 a.m. to….”
A toll-free number, especially when displayed boldly near the top of the page, suggests that the firm accepts calls 24 hours a day. At least to me it does. That was one of the reasons firms started using toll-free numbers years ago. If the business didn’t want to use its own staff, they’d contract with an answering service. Either way, callers got a live person.
Perhaps you can’t afford an answering service year-round. Contract for it during your peak months. For many retailers, that means November and December.
We now live in a 24/7 environment. People expect to be waited on any time. My case was different–I encountered a technical problem, which you wouldn’t expect an answering service to resolve. But what if I wanted to place an order or had a question about a product?
Invest in an answering service if you offer a toll-free number and can’t provide staff around the clock. Else, show your direct number, and list your hours of operation. Most people have free or discounted long-distance service, so that cost is not as much of an issue today.
2. Respond promptly to email queries. As noted, I experienced a problem trying to place a order online. I first called, then used the web form on their contact page. That was last Friday, the 11th. To date, I have yet to receive a reply.
Make sure you monitor your email account(s) and other platforms regularly. This is a juggling act, especially for smaller firms. Employees are needed to fill orders and perform other tasks. But responding to messages by email, Facebook (see below) and other avenues is important. Assign several individuals to monitor your accounts on a rotating basis. Try to reply within 1 hour.
3. Speaking of Facebook, make sure it’s obvious how users can take advantage of loyalty discounts. This firm offers a 10% discount for “liking” its page. I did so, but there was no follow-up message providing me the coupon code for my order. Because I was in Facebook, I sent a direct message. A comment on their page said I should expect a reply in one day. As with emails, replies should be sooner. (They now state that replies are “within a few hours.” Good for them.)
Turns out I received a reply about an hour later. That was quite acceptable, and allowed me to place my order that day.
In this hectic time of filling orders, it’s important to keep an eye on your channels of communication. Don’t risk losing a customer because someone failed to respond to a query. Be diligent, and you’re likely to be rewarded with a very loyal customer.
What steps would you like to see businesses take to make online ordering easier? Feel free to comment below. If you found value in this post, please share it so others may benefit from what you and I have written. You may use any of the following buttons. To contact me, send an email.