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I'm also wondering because I think I have the capacity to setup such a service.
I think I've seen them before. Experiences?
I make it a point when visiting any website to see what address information there is on the site and how easy it is to find. I'm surprised how often merchants want you to give them your address and credit card information when their location data is missing or difficult to find.
Are you suggesting some unattended system to do this for you? I believe that this will create more confusion than you intend.
vast majority of people will not buy online because of security concerns
"Vast majority" seems like a dramatic overstatement, but it's always a good idea to give your customers options. If they want to give you money, make it as easy on them as possible. And as jbinbpt pointed out, an automated / unattended system might only make things worse.
It does help that I have someone available to answer the phone when the call comes in. I'm not sure a voice mail solution would be anywhere near as good. And despite initial waorries, the latest call that has come in was 10pm. Many of the calls are concerning special requests which are not handled as well in an internet environment as a simple one minute phone call.
Besides I live in canada and to have a 800# that works in all of north america is only 9 cents(CND) - Thats dirt cheap for the benifit and sales it will bring.
I agree that it definitely establishes trust and my sales would go up as a result, but the time commitment i would have to make would go up so much more. we're a small business and have decided to stick with email for now. as we grow, we will do phones our self, i'm not as reluctant to hire an outside firm to handle phones since they won't know the product as well.
Many people call in - some have technical difficulties with the site (often they have the difficulty, not the site, but not always!), some fear security issues, some simply cannot access secure pages or don't want to order through someone else's computer (work restrictions etc...). You can find out a lot about the way people use your site when they call to tell you they can't find certain information and it is there. It helps to improve the site for the customer, and not for what you think the next change should be.
I won't order from any company that hides their contact details.
Regarding the "majority", I can't remember but I thought I read somewhere that only 15% of Americans are willing to buy online (?) Anybody know the actual %?
What we do is have them place the order using the web site, selecting "call in" as the payment method and then we give them instructions in the e-mail confirmation.
But we also get a fair number of phone calls directly, and we're only too happy to take orders on the phone. All we do when they call is gather the information they would have entered on the web site and go do it for them, but we don't enter their credit card information.
We also offer ordering by fax, but not a single person has taken that route (who even has a fax machine these days?)
The way I see it, if a customer wants to buy your products, you ought to make it as easy as you can for them. If they want to call, I'll either answer the phone or return their call shortly. If they don't want to enter their credit card information online because of some perceived fear, that's fine - call me and I'll take it that way.
We added an 800-number shortly after starting up, and for all but in-state calls, it's cheaper than my outbound long distance. And having the number adds immeasurably to the "legitimacy" factor for your site, just as having your business name and address listed prominently does.
For us in the UK getting a toll-free number can be quite expensive. BT or Eircom charge up to £90 per quarter and then something like £0.40 per minute for every caller, which is just ridiculous.
The best way round it for me was to get a US toll-free number as most of my customers are American. I got it from a company that was recommended to me by a WW member and it worked really weel, got the number immediately and only needed to spend $25 to set up the account, including a balance.
I have already taken orders through the number, and yes, it was above average in terms of the spend. Telephone options? Well worth it!
Nothing is more useful than actually talking to your customers. You can find out what they like, don't like, why they bought, what they are going to use your items for, and what else they'd like to see.
Its nearly impossible to get that sort of thing online.
At least with many lines of business, you'll also tend to sell more items with the order than you would strictly on the web. Our site sells women's clothing, and I've answered countless questions on the phone that have resulted in additional sales that I don't think would have occured just from the website. (e.g. Hmm, I need some pants to go with that top, but I don't want something that sits too low on my waist. What do you recommend?)