Hire a call center? Are you crazy?

Internet Retailer reports this month that more and more online retailers are outsourcing their calls. In fact, they predict that spending on outsourced contact centers will almost double within a few years.

In our experience with call centers, I have learned the hard way that you should be cautious, very cautious when choosing one. Here are some things we have learned over the years:

1) Place a lot of test orders. Your business reputation is on the line with agents that probably could not care less. You had better check up on them a lot. When you call and place test orders, you will be amazed by some call center agents–amazed that anyone can be that stupid. Just remember that those people are reflecting on your brand.

Kudos to Yahoo! Search Marketing

I am sometimes a little negative about CPC advertising because I usually find it overpriced. On the other hand, Vitabase does participate on a limited set of keywords that work for us.

Recently, due to slow sales, we discontinued a certain product. Unfortunately, we missed deleting the associated Yahoo CPC campaign because so little money was being spent on it. Then the product got some very prominant press coverage that revived it dramatically. As a result, we had a huge spike in expensive traffic to a page that no longer existed.

Because of the amount of money involved, I personally called Yahoo! Search Marketing and explained the situation. I told them that we knew it was our fault, but asked if they would work with us. At first, they offered only a token credit, but then agreed to research it further.

2008 Predictions for Internet Retail

Everyone else is making predictions, so I guess I will get in on the fun too. The best thing about making predictions is that you will never remember them by the end of the year anyway. (unless I get them right, in which case I will remind you!)

Here goes…

1) Death of the little guy. This is already happening, and the trend is going to continue. It is simply going to become more and more unfeasible for small budgets to compete online. That is not to say that there will be exceptions, but you will hear about fewer and fewer of them.

A lesson from Bank of America — Keeping a customer perspective

As an internet retailer, I have had to learn the hard way that our customers do not necessarily see our sites the way we see them. In fact, when we conduct usability studies, I am often shocked to find that what is very obvious to me escapes them completely.

Does that make them stupid? Of course not. Their perspective is just different. In their eyes, the retailer is the one that is stupid.

This hit home to me this week in a confrontation I had with Bank of America. I had one of those 0% teaser rates and set up the account online to deduct the minimum each month. The day the teaser rate expired, I paid off the account in full and closed the account.

Post-Thanksgiving sales up 18% over last year

A comScore report shows that online spending for the week after Thanksgiving was over $4 billion, which is 18% higher than the same week last year. The heaviest day was the Monday after Thanksgiving with $733 million.

Other highlights from the report included the tidbit that more people order from work than at home and international sales are actually down from last year by 6%.

At Vitabase, we saw a 60% spike in sales the Monday after Thanksgiving, and last week was our top revenue week of the last few months. This is very abnormal for the products we sell–natural supplements tend to be weak during the holiday season, so we are pretty excited here at the moment.

Eight Good Holiday Season Statistics for Internet Retailers

Forrester has some great statistics related to the holiday season for online retailers:

1. 61% of online shoppers prefer an e-tailer that offers free shipping. However, 49% say shipping prices do not deter them from buying.
2. Only 26% say they would pay for expedited delivery. (It was 45% last year.)
3. 55% say they shop online to find products they can’t find offline.
4. Only 18% would pay extra for gift wrapping (down from 33%).
5. The top categories for online shopper this holiday season? In order: apparel, books, electronics, gift cards and toys
6. 68% of internet users shop online or research products online. 50% of those users window shop only (research information) and then buy offline. This is interesting—it seems to indicate that only about 1/3rd of internet users are really online shoppers.
7. The higher the income, the more likely a user is to shop or research products online.
8. Here are the biggest deterrents of online shopping in order: credit card security, privacy, shipping costs, quality, return policies, delays and product availability.

Developing Personas to Boost Your Retail Success

Internet Retailer has an article this month about developing personas to boost ecommerce sales. If you do not know what I mean by “personas,” don’t feel bad; personas is just a code word consultants use that really means expensive customer behavior research.

Many large companies spend a lot of money on this kind of study and try to identify the mindset and goals of customers. In many cases, they might identify 2-6 different groups of customers and try to sell to them in different ways. For example, some customers are price-driven while others might be very dependent on user reviews. If you can figure out what types of consumers are visiting the site, you can attempt to determine on the spot which group each consumer is in and give them content that is more likely to result in sales.