Live chat in the web shop: product competence meets spelling skills

While live chats have become standard in online commerce, video chats are slow to gain acceptance. The reason is trivial.

Live chat in the web shop: product competence meets spelling skills

When the German electronics retailer Saturn announced in April 2019 that it would also be advising online customers via video chat in the future, the electronics retailer was, once again, rather late to the game. The first wave of online shops that tried to improve customer help via video chat already experimented with the topic in 2013/2014. The British fashion mail order company Asos, for example, offered style advice via Google Helpouts. DocMorris provided interactive advice on medicines and Butlers equipped employees with hand cameras so they could individually present furniture to online customers in the store. What all attempts have in common is that they no longer exist today. The reason: too little customer interest.

Customer interest under one percent

The response to Saturn’s offering is also rather weak: the German industry service reports “up to 200 video calls per month”. With almost ten million visits per month on the site, the proportion of those who seek advice via video is just two per thousand. However, in the test phase Saturn is offering video consulting only for the product areas TV, projectors and large household appliances as well as computers, laptops and printers from HP. In addition, video chat is not always available. Outside business hours and when staff are required on the sales floor, the online consultation option is not displayed at all.

See and be seen? Video chat is a matter of trust

One of the reasons why customers are reluctant to use video chats is amusing at first glance and understandable at second glance. Many users fear that visual communication is not a one-way street, so not only do they see the consultant, but the consultant also sees them. Anyone in a jogging suit lounging on the sofa or sitting in front of a computer in a bedroom that has not been tidied up has inhibitions. In addition to this, it is difficult to shop secretly during working hours if sound is coming out of the speakers.

All this explains why video chat is not coming close to achieving the success of conventional live chat. Meanwhile, there is hardly a webshop left that doesn’t have a pop-up chat window and an avatar (“Hello, my name is Leonard. Can I be of any assistance?”).

The benefits of live chat: immediacy, speed and cost

The live chat is a classic win-win situation for customers and retailers. Consumers appreciate competent advice or quick answers to service questions. Retailers reduce their costs per customer contact because, unlike on the phone, they can conduct several dialogs simultaneously. They get first-hand information about customer needs and guide them through the buying process without media discontinuity. They can then evaluate chats to tailor the web shop, targeting and conversation even better to customer needs. And they can control when and where they want to include a chat option at all. Whereas a call center hotline is available to every customer, for example, an online chat can be limited to those customers who are actually most likely to buy. Or on the pages in the shop, which experience shows have the highest abandonment rates. All this saves valuable resources.

“Nearly 90% of consumers prefer more informal, personal advice through channels such as live chat.”


Providers of live chat solutions are, of course, reporting grand results. The software provider Optimise-it, for example, reports that conversion rates increase by an average of five percent and abandonment rates can be reduced by 80 percent if a customer has chatted with the retailer. In addition to this, skillful cross-selling increases shopping cart values by 18 percent. When it comes to customer care, customer problems can also be solved with a 45 percent higher initial resolution rate than with e-mail or social media inquiries. This is simply because it consists of immediate and direct customer feedback.

higher conversion rates
reduced abandonment rates
higher initial resolution rate

Speed is the top priority

However, successful live chat requires several things of the company. Above all, customers don’t want to wait long for answers in the chat. While they will grudgingly spend fifteen minutes or more on hold with a telephone hotline, a study conducted by HubSpot shows that 90 percent will move on from a live chat after ten minutes at the latest. Not every call center employee is also a good live chatter. Those who can’t type quickly, aren’t sure of grammar and spelling and don’t like to express themselves in writing shouldn’t engage in this way, even if the effort involved can be significantly reduced using ready-made text blocks.

No silos! Data must be available centrally

It is important that all individual solutions are integrated and that data is made centrally available for marketing, sales and customer service is centralized. Furthermore, companies should start small. Communication via live chats functions according to different rules than in a call center. Capacities and processes must work in such a way that the customer receives what a live chat should guarantee: a good user experience.

The bottom line

In German e-commerce, live chats have almost become a standard way to contact retailers. A major hurdle, however, remains the centralization of all available customer information and data in one place. A perfectly optimized live chat therefore also requires a comprehensive CRM strategy. In contrast to written chats, video chats have yet to experience a breakthrough. Retailers and brands will first have to dispel the concerns of their customers.