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The Key to Online Sales: Interaction Is Everything

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Posted July 15, 2003 By Dan Muse     Feedback

At the mall or on the Web, retail is retail. LiveOffice sets out to help small online shops lock in on potential buyers with instant messaging-based customer-service applications.

It may not be possible to make the experience of buying a product online entirely comparable to buying an item at the mall or at a downtown boutique, but there are some sales practices that translate from the physical world to the virtual world of e-commerce.

That's the thinking that drives the decisions of Allan Rich, owner of, an online store that specializes in keyless locks.

The 30-year-old company is now a Web-based business and attempts to mirror the real-world, real-time interaction of a physical store by offering customers the capability to launch a live instant messaging (IM) session at any point during the shopping or browsing process. Rich said the company, which is hosted at Yahoo! Stores, has been using LiveOffice's LiveSiteManager for two years to answer questions and convert visitors into buyers.

The Web-based (or ASP-delivered) LiveSiteManager is designed to allow businesses to connect with customers in real-time via a proprietary IM and analytics technology that can be integrated into Web sites, e-mails, auction pages and banner advertisements.

LiveSiteManager's monthly subscription fee starts at $39.99 (after a $99 setup fee), making a high degree interaction possible for even the smallest businesses. Of course, the big expense comes from sustaining the effort. "It's a big commitment. Talking to people is labor-intensive," Rich said.

It's a commitment that sticks with. "An online store should be open like a physical store -- eight hours a day," Rich said. The company staffs its IM service from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Rich said it is easily a full-time job at times. "We sell a technical product. We need to be available."

Instant Messaging a la Cart
In a move designed to help e-commerce sites interact more proactively with customers at the most critical points, LiveOffice yesterday announced a new version that features the capability to allow online stories to view what items a visitor has added or deleted from his or her shopping cart and initiate an IM session with shoppers at any time during their visit to an e-commerce site.

The new shopping cart viewer, LiveOffice says, lets Internet retailers see the exact items and quantities a visitor has added to the cart. Customer service personnel are able to initiate an IM session and answer questions or offer advice. The operator can also suggest additional items that may compliment their existing purchases.

The shopping cart feature enables online retailers to accomplish the following results, according to the company:

  • Determine the success of online advertising by matching the search words customers used to find a Web site with the actual contents of their shopping cart.
  • Maximize selling opportunities when customers' interest level is highest by viewing their existing shopping cart contents and cross-promoting related products
  • Increase the effectiveness of customer support personnel by using transcripts of previous chat sessions as training materials to give them a better understanding of customer purchasing behaviors
  • Close more sales by identifying, understanding and preventing shopping cart abandonment at the point of purchase

"LiveSiteManager's goal is to duplicate the in-store experience as closely as possible for online shoppers, giving them the opportunity to interact in real-time with knowledgeable company representatives. At the same time, retailers have the ability to greatly increase the value of each sales transaction," said Andy Estep, vice president of business development for LiveOffice Corp.

The new version of the LiveSiteManager is currently available to existing customers at no additional charge, the company reports.

As for, Rich says his company couldn't be happier with LiveOffice. "They listen to us. We ask for something and it shows up in the next version."

For more on e-commerce and small business computing, visit E-Commerce Guide and

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