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Ecommerce and customer service

by Chris Sutton | July 7, 2010

This week I’m going to take the opportunity to talk about a couple of passions of mine. It might seem odd to some people that anyone could be passionate about something as seemingly commonplace as ecommerce, but coming from the pre internet generation, the ability of online tools to change how business is done still excites me. It’s not actually the technology but simply the fact that incorporating online tools can completely change the game for so many businesses. But what many businesses miss is that ecommerce and customer service need to go hand in hand.

In the last 18 months we’ve seen some real changes in attitudes to ecommerce and online transactions. For consumers, ecommerce or transacting online is now mainstream and accepted as the norm, whether that’s banking, buying books or gifts or most other things besides; and for businesses, adding an ecommerce element to their website has become a necessity. We’ve also seen in the last few years many of our customers who have created online businesses that have grown to be very successful indeed. Ecommerce can no longer be a token gesture for business, it’s vital for survival and growth.

So how does that affect another of my passions, music?

As someone who bought his first piece of pristine, shiny vinyl in the mid sixties, it’s fair to say I was initially reluctant to embrace new formats. I resisted buying a CD player for many years and as vinyl releases became more scarce I could frequently be found grumbling loudly to shop assistants about how much better vinyl sounded and why didn’t they have my favourite artist of the moment available on the black stuff? (my wife quickly learned to avoid music shopping expeditions).

But how things change; driven by the need for new music, CDs finally entered the household, and no they didn’t sound as good as my treasured LPs, but in the end it was actually all about the music, not the medium. Fast forward a few years, and now I have all my music (except the vinyl that is) in digital format that streams wirelessly around the house to most rooms, and for the albums I don’t buy, our subscription streaming services give us access to millions of albums.

The supposed woes of the established music industry have been well publicised, and it is indeed a challenge to not only have different channels being established that potentially cut out the record companies, but to also have buying patterns completely changed from album based sales to track by track sales. In this changing environment the old music superstores can no longer compete with Amazon, CD baby, etc. and are disappearing quickly.

But oddly, some of the better, smaller independent stores are flourishing. My own favourite is So Music in Newtown, Sydney, a store that has a number of specialties and can be relied on to stock even some of the most obscure albums. They take an interest in all their customers, and I can walk in anytime and get recommendations on new music that suits my taste exactly.

It’s that expertise and customer service that keeps people going back, especially in an industry like music where the choice of artists and albums can be truly bewildering. Even with hugely comprehensive music sites such as www.allmusic.com, which has endless cross links to related styles and artists, etc., it’s impossible to keep track of even some of the smaller sub genres, and while there are also many independent review sites, they too can take a lot of time to sift through, time most people certainly don’t have. In this case, expertise and customer service is actually more important for So Music’s customers than other factors such as price.

That brings us back to ecommerce, because it’s true that in many industries customers are looking for expertise as well as price and convenience. You may have read our recent guest blog by Kathryn Porritt; Kathryn established her Pink Frosting ecommerce business not many years ago and with a lot of hard work has built a very successful business. One of the elements Kathryn has provided for her customers has been her expertise and knowledge through the medium of her blogs. That sharing of knowledge increases the sense of value that customers have about a site, improves credibility and helps create a personal connection that is otherwise absent from an online transaction.

So while it is vital for so many businesses to start or develop their online sales, adding a shopping cart is just one part of the equation, sharing your knowledge and providing outstanding service is just as important online as it is in any “High St” store! And the combination of ecommerce and customer service can create an irresistable combination.

 
SiteSuite Website Design - Online Marketing Blog Author Chris Sutton

Co-founder and Managing Director of SiteSuite Australasia, Australian pioneers in web design and ecommerce since 1997. For more from Chris you can follow him on Google+ or Twitter, and for further professional musings and thoughts on his other passions in life, www.chrissutton.com

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