What Can Ecommerce Sites Learn From Customer Service Assistants


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The role of the customer service assistant is essential to any shop – but has this been forgotten when it comes to eCommerce sites?

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Image by Alan Cleaver

If you walk through the doors of a ‘bricks and mortar’ shop, there will be a smiling shop assistant ready to greet you, someone to ask if you are unsure about a product, and an assistant to help you through the checkout process. But it is possible to get this level of customer service online?

To a certain extent, yes. Admittedly, nothing can beat actually speaking to someone, but there are many ways in which you can replicate this personalised service online.

What Makes A Good Ecommerce Site?

With an eCommerce site, you should be aiming to create a fluid service that moves effortlessly from your physical shop to your virtual website. In other words, the customer should not feel like they are losing out in terms of service because they are shopping online. The checkout experience should be friendly, reassuring, informative and personal.

According to a study by the Service Management Group, a positive in-store service experience causes shoppers to spend 40% more on average. So how can you recreate this effect online? These simple steps aim to replicate the role of the shop assistant in the online world.

Welcome Customers

Similar to how a shop assistant would ‘meet and greet’ customers as they enter the shop, your site should welcome your customers.

Make sure your home page is friendly, welcoming, interesting and easy to use. Because there is not a real person there to engage customers, the site has to spark their interest and win their trust.

If a site has an aesthetically bad design, or the layout is confusing, customers will instantly be turned off and are likely to click ‘back’ straight away without even looking at your products.

When a customer visits a website for the first time, they’ll be asking themselves ‘does this website sell what I’m looking for?’ and most importantly, ‘do I trust this site enough to enter my bank account details?’ Your home page has to convince customers that you sell what they are looking for and that you are a trustworthy company.

Reassure Customers

During the checkout process, customers may have last minute doubts or worries. A shop assistant would normally be able to answer any questions and reassure the customer that they’ve made the right decision. Online, it’s a little trickier.

One thing you can do to boost customer confidence is to have an FAQ page, which can be opened as a pop-up during the checkout process. If customers have any last minute queries, they’ll usually be answered here. Alternatively, you could try a live chat function or ‘request call back’ button to help customers through a sale.

Expert Knowledge

See your website as an opportunity to showcase your business’ expert knowledge. In store you would aim to have knowledgeable people around to answer questions, but online you can create a similar positive impression with high quality resources such as a blog, guide, infographic and even a white paper.

This content not only reassures customers that they have made the right purchase, but that they are buying from the right company. Impress them with your expertise and they will feel more comfortable spending their money on your site – an informed, confident purchase is happy one.

Easy to Use

Using your website should be quick and easy –you shouldn’t have to be a computer-whizz to figure out how to make a payment. A complicated website does not give the desired impression of being friendly and warm and this lack of human touch will put customers off.

The checkout process is probably the area where the online experience differs most from in store. This is because, on the high street a customer assistant would do this part of the sale for you – all the customer has to do is pay. You should aim to replicate this easy experience online.

Design your checkout process so that the customer has to navigate through the least number of pages possible and don’t clog your checkout with long and complicated forms. It can be tempting to fully register every new customer but allowing a potential customer to buy as ‘guest’ can be very effective. If the customer likes their purchase, chances are they will register properly next time.

These kinds of complications often result in abandoned shopping carts – a common problem for most online retailers. Lengthy forms are likely to put off customers whose purchase was an impulse buy.

Another thing to remember is to make all costs and details clear from the beginning, similar to the way a shop assistant would explain the purchase. Don’t unveil hidden costs at the last minute such as expensive delivery costs or booking fees. Also, try to have more information available about different parts of the bill in a handy pop-up window.


It is very hard to make a computer seem as friendly and welcoming as a real person – it simply isn’t in its nature! But that’s where good web design comes in. A shop assistant would remember a face and be able to speak to a person directly and create a personalised service and to certain extent, this is possible online.

One of the most important words to use in customer service is the customer’s name. Once they’ve entered their name into your site, you should remember them each time they visit and use it in all communications.

Create messages that say ‘welcome back’ when a customer revisits the site and ‘thank you’ after a purchase. Also try to develop personalised recommendations like ‘customers who bought this, also bought…’

With good quality ecommerce software and the ability to put yourself in your customer’s shoes, you can learn from customer service assistants and create an ecommerce site that welcomes, entertains, informs and most importantly, smiles.

And there is one thing about eCommerce that will always trump the in-store experience – no queues in online checkouts!

Do you have any tips for creating the perfect eCommerce website? Share your thoughts and experiences below.

James Duval
James Duval is a marketing expert who has been cited by Mainstreet, ProBloggingSuccess and MarketingProfs. He works for Comm100, thinking about new tricks and techniques in the email and marketing industries.


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