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Mobile chat: Role grows in creating seamless holiday shopping

Mobile chat is poised to play a significant role in holiday shopping as consumers increasingly make purchases through mobile devices, despite a limited number of chat tools in the marketplace and technical challenges.

With smartphones in the hands of more than 70 percent of the US population, according to comScore, consumers expect brands to support their cross-device/channel shopping journey with mobile chat. Especially during the holiday season, when the need to shop fast and efficiently becomes paramount, consumers have shown an affinity for live-chat systems that can lead to more informed purchases.

“Shoppers who prefer chat will wish to use it in every channel,” said Lauren Freedman, president of the Chicago-based e-tailing group. “The bigger challenge is finding retailers who make it available.

“Everything mobile will play a bigger role,” she said. “The challenges include there not being enough retailers (with chat tools).”

Shopping frenzy
More than six out of 10 people expect live chat to be available on mobile, and more than eight out of 10 would use it, according to a

Moxie Software commissioned study, which surveyed more than 2,100 U.S. residents about their online and mobile shopping habits.

Seventy-five percent of survey respondents stated that they would prefer to use live online chat versus calling to speak with an agent.

The appeal of chat for harried shoppers seeking to short-cut their work and research is no mystery.

Seventy-two percent of respondents reported they were satisfied or very satisfied with their customer support experience when shopping online, but the level of satisfaction increased to 92 percent when live chat was used on a mobile device.

“We expect mobile chat, along with many other commerce features such as coupons and store availability, to play a bigger role this holiday season on a larger scale of adoption,” said Derrick Lin, mobile strategist for Resource/Ammirati.

For brands, online chat represents an opportunity to enhance the customer journey and increase customer satisfaction, specifically on mobile devices.

To meet shoppers’ demand for mobile chat, marketers will have to overcome challenges. A key hurdle is the cost of establishing a bigger customer service team to handle the volume of inquiries via chat tools.

Another issue is whether the brand can provide services and information based on the context of a consumer’s mobile-use scenarios.

“Does the brand have the ability to provide relevant location-specific information such as inventory or personalized services based on customer needs?” Mr. Lin asked. “Can they follow up with information or incentives that are appropriate for mobile? Do they have SMS program or Push notifications in place that can provide timely 1:1 messaging?”

Brands are intrigued by mobile’s chat’s potential to be integrated with mobile application features to provide engaging customer experiences.

Chat tools can be linked to cameras, wish lists, mobile coupons, geo-targeting, purchase history and features that allow the shopper to buy online and pick up in the store; all of which provide more tailored customer interaction that strengthens brand loyalty.

The numbers are in favor of chat being leveraged more often to seamlessly link customer experiences across devices.

Fifty-one percent of visits to retailers’ Web sites today are made via mobile devices, meaning that the mobile channel has finally displaced desktop computers as the main source of online shopping, according to mobile commerce platform Branding Brand’s recent Mobile Commerce Index report.

Accordingly, many brands and retailers are making big moves to support the huge increase in mobile shopping, including installing chat tools.

“We have seen various brands test the chat feature on mobile, either on the mobile site or in-app,” Mr. Lin said. “Many brands who emphasize their premium service are already are offering mobile chat, like Zappos and Clinique.”

Fashion brand Juicy Couture’s overhaul of its ecommerce site is now compatible with mobile shoppers and uses tools such as live chat and swipe and zoom options.

Footwear and accessories label Nine West also recently said it would expand its live chat to mobile after seeing an increase in sales and customer satisfaction with the feature online.

Nine West has seen a 10 percent rise in average order value through offering live chat experiences, a 15 percent rise in conversion rates and 3 percent rise in overall customer satisfaction following live chat sessions.

Nine West’s live-chat system involves agents engaging in no more than two conversations at once, allowing a better consumer experience. The system also includes a set of frequently asked questions for faster responses.

Targeting high-value customers, the software uses a number of features combined with targeting rules to create proactive chat interactions such as product name, price and user information. “Click-to-Chat” buttons are located at the footer, on product pages and in the shopping cart.

Service levels
For chat to be an effective marketing tool, it must render well on the smartphone. Making sure high levels of service are delivered should be a top priority.

“Live mobile chat is actually quite rare for mobile commerce sites,” said Wilson Kerr, Boston-based vice president of business development and sales for Unbound Commerce. “Connection speeds vary and, as such, live chat is not a great way to connect with a live customer service rep, on a smartphone.

“More, most sites can use FAQ pages to address most questions and many retailers use click-to-call to allow consumers to convert a sale with a live person,” he said.

When done properly, mobile chat can result in orders, experts say. A brand’s relationship with a customer also gets a boost when a customer chatting with a salesman sees the representative going the extra mile to be helpful.

“Besides mobile chat, we think brands that embrace an omnichannel strategy will stand out,” Mr. Lin said. “They leverage mobile as part of a cross-channel effort that seamlessly serves their customers.

“Mobile chat is a good start to ensure service and maintain loyalty, but it will take holistic efforts in mobile to impact sales.”

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.