Is Live Video Chat Technology a Good Investment for Retail Websites? A Heels.com Interview


For over a year now, the folks at Heels.com have been using a live video chat technology for real-time customer service right from their own website. Read my interview below with Heels.com’s founder and CEO Eric McCoy, and learn why he says that live video chat has been a worthwhile investment conducive to getting more purchases and improving customer relationships.

How Heels.com utilizes video to compete with larger companies.


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Heels.com is solely focused on designer women’s shoes for the 18-35 year age range.  “We called it a niche, but it’s not really a niche cause it’s a 2 billion dollar segment right now and in about 2014 it will be a 2 billion dollar industry according to Forresters.” says Eric.

Heels.com CEO Eric McCoy

With other companies – Zappos, Gap, Shoes.com – that are much bigger than them, Eric says the only way they could really compete with the bigger companies is have a two-fold strategy:

1) Finding their niche, and;

2) Utilizing available technology more quickly.

“Because of the fact that we’re a much smaller ship, we can turn much quicker and react to changing technology more quickly, which is an advantage to us in the space.” said Eric.

That very early adoption of technology has certainly been the case with their video offerings. Heels.com is the first and possibly only shoe company to offer live video customer chat service for retail shoes, and claims to have a video on their website for every single shoe they have for sale.

Why do live video chat on your commerce website?

  • Builds trust – Eric says that one way to minimize distrust of ordering something online was by incorporating video chat, so that customers can  see a real live assistant giving them real help.  “The idea was that if they see us, see that we’re a real legit company, then they would feel more likely to place an order.”
  • Helps customers place orders – “You can use video chat to actually walk a customer all the way through the check out and place an order.”
  • Customer appreciation – “After every call, a little customer service box pops up that asks for comments on how we can improve, and almost 50% of the comments are, ‘It was so nice to meet you.  I can’t wait to talk to you again.’” said Eric. “They really feel like they know you once they see you. You don’t get that on the phone. It’s just part of video.”
  • Customer retention – Eric reported to Internet Retailer back in April 2010 that “website users who chat with agents via video conference are staying on the footwear retailer’s site nearly 500% longer than those who don’t… as Heels.com chat agents become more experienced, the numbers are improving even more.”

But is live video chat cost-feasible, or cost-prohibitive?

Heels.com’s live video chat technology is powered by vee24.com, which is geared for medium-to-enterprise level business. Depending on the quality and the features, according to Eric, companies can spend can spend anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 on the video production equipment; and video software costs an additional $500 to $1,000 per month.  Plus you also have to pay for your own live help specialists, which can be expected to be around 24/7 if you’re doing international orders. Not to mention you’re going to make sure you have an inventory room close by for help specialists to inspect the products themselves (to best be able to answer live customer questions.)

So for a retail business that receives a high volume of traffic on its website, and is doing a high volume of orders (and for items starting in the range of at least mid-double figures), a live video chat feature could seem to be a solid investment for many more businesses. Some larger companies like apparel retailer, Land’s End, are already reporting their own success with the program, as we posted here recently. Whether the success can be duplicated across other retail sectors remains to be seen.

One important tip for live video chat service on your website

Eric strongly recommends that any company launching a live video chat service on its website to offer lots of help introducing customers to the new program:

  • Include tutorial and FAQ videos on the service, and;
  • Be prepared to do lots of hand-holding at first.

“When we first started video chat – and we were the first in the United States to do it – customers were blown away” said Eric. “A lot of customers actually clicked on the ‘help me now’ button; and when a person popped up, they would hang up really quickly. They had no idea that an actual person via one-way video was going to pop up and they were freaking out.  They were saying things like, ‘Oh my gosh, can this person see me?’ We actually had to create videos to introduce it before it even happened to get rid of the shock factor.”

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