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How Helpful Is Live Chat?

Very—for some issues, at least

August 19, 2009 | Retail & Ecommerce

Some e-commerce sites looking for a way to deal with confused or inquisitive online shoppers have begun offering live chat capabilities, where shoppers can interact with customer service representatives in real time to ask questions or get help.

Bold Software, creator of one such e-commerce live chat solution, conducted a survey of US online buyers to investigate whether the feature had an effect on online shopping habits.

The study found that online buyers who had used live chat were more likely to make online purchases at least once a week (40%) than buyers who had never chatted (22%). Respondents who hadn’t used live chat were likely to be infrequent online buyers, with 36% making a purchase less than once per month compared with 18% of chatters.

Online Buying Frequency Among US Online Buyers Who Have Used Live Chat vs. Those Who Have Not, January 2009 (% of respondents)

Talkative online buyers also made a greater portion of their purchases over the Internet during the holiday season. Almost two in 10 live chat respondents did more than 75% of their holiday shopping online, compared with 14% of those who did not chat. A further 25% of chatters made 51% to 75% of their purchases on the Web, versus just 10% of those who did not participate in the chat service.

Percent of Holiday Buying Conducted Online Among US Online Buyers Who Have Used Live Chat vs. Those Who Have Not, January 2009 (% of respondents)

Most live chatters ended up satisfied enough to return to the e-commerce site in question, a particularly important point during the recession, when customer retention is crucial. Fully 63% of respondents who chatted said they were more likely to return to the site, and 62% reported being more likely to purchase from the site again. A further 38% of respondents said they had made their purchase due to the chat session itself. All these attitudes were even more prevalent among respondents who bought online at least weekly.

Attitudes Toward Live Chat Among US Online Buyers Who Use Live Chat, January 2009 (% of respondents in each group)

Live chat cannot solve every e-commerce problem, however. ATG’s “Customer Service Survey” found US online shoppers preferred live help over the phone via click-to-call when dealing with sensitive or complicated information, technical problems or a large amount of money.

Preferred Live Assistance Method (Call* vs. Chat**) for Select Online Shopping Scenarios According to US Online Shoppers, June 2009 (% of respondents)

For simpler queries, such as those about order status, promotional information, shipping options or cheaper services, live chat was the preferred customer service option.

In a market where inducing shoppers to make a purchase and getting those purchasers to return are critical, live chat is a valuable service.

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