A recent report commissioned by O2 predicts that, by 2020, online sales will account for 21.3 per cent of the UKs total consumer purchases. Thats a whopping 77.6bn.
This, by anybodys measure is a huge and extremely lucrative market that will not only encourage existing high street retailers to migrate to more online options, but also attract many new ambitious startups keen to cash-in on a slice of this growing business opportunity.
However, operating a business online is not easy. To remain competitive, e-sellers are expected to be open around the clock across multiple time-zones and continents. They have to be constantly on-trend in terms of the latest social media applications, and offer buying options and interactions via the most up to date smart device technology.
Even if they have their own in-house resources, peaks and troughs in demand and seasonal variations can make it difficult to predict even short-term overheads and staff utilisation, let alone what they may need to satisfy the requirements of their business ambitions.
All of these factors can add potential risk to their long-term business operation.
Staff shortages at critical times can also lead to abandoned shopping carts and lost up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.
In the UK, Experian reports that etailers lose over 1bn from frustrated buyers that fail to check-out; this equates to nearly three-quarters of shopping carts that are left abandoned in virtual aisles.
Of course, this is less of an issue on the high street, as an advisor is normally on hand to answer any queries but online there is often no one manning the checkout. Its a tough enough job to get customers to your site in the first place, so once theyre there it is critical that they stay with you and complete the sale, because once a buying pattern is established it is more likely they will return and become a loyal customer.
The third way
According to the ICS (Institute of Customer Service) 63 per cent of people who have a good customer experience with a member of staff would purchase again from the same organisation, while 69 per cent of people who have had a good customer experience with a member of staff recommended that organisation to others.
This highlights the importance of making the online buying process as easy as possible for customers. One way to achieve this is by using a third party to plug the gap in resources through using an outside company this provide cover during busy times and reduce the number of abandoned carts.
Offering live web chats or even SMS to engage with customers during their buying process have also been seen to encourage more customers to complete the sale.
Its no secret: if you can deliver high levels of customer service and support it will pay for itself many times over.
Dino Forte is the founder and managing director of Ventrica, which provides multi-channel customer services for brands such as UGG Australia, Hawes & Curtis and JML.