Many E-Commerce Sites Are Stupid

Should E-Commerce Sites Open Physical Stores?

E-commerce sites don’t make sense. In many cases they look like every other site, cluttered and not easy to search for the Contact Us number. If a telephone number can be located, it is usually buried in a maze of other categories or only available through the company’s search engine. Even when you find a telephone number to call, the menu options make it almost impossible to ask a basic question about a product. If the retailer doesn’t have 24/7 live operators, rarely is the option offered to leave your name and telephone number for a call back. That’s not using good business sense.

The other day I decided to conduct a mystery shopper e-commerce visit.  I searched the Macy’s site for jewelry and then sorted my selections by price. What popped up? An engagement ring for $36,475.90. (Yes, an extra 90 cents!) Is an average shopper going to buy an expensive ring without being able to easily ask a question?  I don’t think so. It gave me an option to increase the quantity so I added 6 rings to my shopping cart. It accepted the 6 items totaling $186,027.06 and let me know that I had saved $32,828.04. Wow! It also gave me a message, “Congrats, you get free shipping.” Well, I would hope if I just spent $186,027.06 they would include shipping charges, especially since 6 engagement rings probably weigh less than 1 lb.

After my first attempt to purchase the 6 rings, I decided to replicate my search to take some additional screenshots for background information for my blog. This time a “chat box” popped up. I was first requested to enter my name and email address before I could start chatting. I thought how many sales has Macy’s lost because some shoppers may want to get their question answered before sharing their contact information.

My conversation was as follows:

Richard: Hi, I want to know if I purchase 6 rings can I get an additional discount?

Chat agent, Hello, thank you for chatting with a Fine Jewelry expert at Macy’s. Please give me one moment to review your comment. (two minutes later). I’d be more than happy to assist you. May I have the Web ID number for the item you have questions about? The Web ID number can be found by scrolling down under the product details. I can see if any discounts apply. (I was surprised the chat agent didn’t have the technology to know what item I was referencing)

Richard: I told her I couldn’t readily find the number, but gave her a detailed description of the ring.

After a few back and forth questions I asked,

Richard: May I speak to an associate over the phone to ask some additional questions?

Chat agent: Yes, please call 1-800-289-6229

Richard: When I call will I get a person directly or do I have to go through menu options (don’t forget I’m thinking about making a purchase for $186,027.06)

Chat agent: You will be able to select the jewelry department and get a live associate.

Richard: Okay, thanks for your help. Have a nice day.

I dialed -1-800-289-6229 and was responded to by a voice recognition system that did not understand my question. I said, “I saw an item on your website and have a question.” After many back and forth conversations between the voice recognition system and me, I hung up.

I’m not picking on Macy’s, but can you imagine all of the e-commerce potential sales that are abandoned.  Wouldn’t it make more sense…

  • If there is a chat agent available, that you don’t have to be required to provide your contact information before the shopper’s question is answered?
  • There is technology available that allows the chat agent to automatically know what item you are viewing?
  • There is a direct line to the fine jewelry department. The potential order was for $186,007.06.

Many retailers have just reported highly successful financial earnings. A substantial percentage are touting their e-commerce focus and results. The economy is strong and consumer confidence is fairly high. If the economy hits a wall retailers need to think of ways now that make sense to continue moving forward.

If you are responsible for an e-commerce site, do a mystery shop like I did.  Inquire about purchasing one of your more exclusive or expensive items and see how the process is working. For higher priced items, a live associate who can easily answer questions can help make the sale. To me, almost all e-commerce sites would be much more successful if their telephone number was prominently highlighted on the home page. Added to that, a telephone posted that went directly into a customer service department filled with live and educated associates.

Unfortunately, most e-commerce sites are designed to be devoid of human to human interaction. In my view, a big mistake.

What do you think?

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