Online Merchant Mistakes: Failure to Use E-Mail Effectively

How to use email to increase your online sales.

In 1998, more than 3.4 trillion e-mail messages were sent in the United States, according to market research firm eMarketer. E-mail has quickly become part of many people’s daily routine and an integral part of business today. Despite the growing importance of e-mail, online retailers are lacking in their ability to handle customers’ queries through this medium.

According to a recent report by Jupiter Communications, an industry research firm, 42 percent of top-ranked Web sites either took longer than five days to reply to customer e-mail inquiries, never replied, or were not accessible by e-mail at all.

One of the pluses of online shopping is the lack of an annoying commission-based salesperson incessantly badgering you to try this or purchase that. However, if you have questions, that annoying salesperson becomes much more tolerable. With online shopping there is no salesperson and for many sites their e-mail becomes the consumer’s only link to assistance.

“Companies that delay responses to user questions instantly lose a significant degree of credibility and user loyalty,” says Ken Allard, group director of Jupiter’s Site Operations Strategies. “Not responding perpetuates the consumer notion that using the Web site is not a reliable method of doing business with that company.”

Not every site performed poorly. Retail shopping sites did the best, with 54 percent responding in less than one day. But most other industries have room for improvement, says Allard. For example, 19 percent of the travel sites tested took at least three days to respond or never responded to Jupiter’s inquiries at all.

Responding to potentially thousands of inquiries is no easy task for any Web site and most are simply unprepared to handle a flood of questions. However, most customers don’t care about such difficulties, they simply want their questions answered promptly.

A lot of companies have begun to use automated customer service e-mail programs. These programs take all of the e-mail that comes into a company’s various e-mail accounts, separate it and route it to the proper people.

However, if solutions like automated responses don’t effectively answer consumers’ questions and enhance their shopping experience, competition is just a few clicks away.

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