With showrooms either closed or limiting hours and traffic, and many shoppers still hesitant to visit stores, live chat has become a crucial conduit to the consumer in the age of coronavirus.
As Grant Hancock, Merchandising Director of the AVB/BrandSource buying group told appliance, furniture and consumer tech dealers on a recent merchandising webinar, chat represents a critical touchpoint that can improve customer satisfaction and grow retail revenue.
“It’s a smarter way to engage,” he said.
Tim Hillebrand, principal of BrandSource member Don’s Appliances in Pittsburgh, wholeheartedly agrees. With his 10 showrooms closed for three weeks by Pennsylvania edict, his e-commerce site, supported by live chat, became an indispensable lifeline.
Don’s implemented chat about a year ago, but the feature assumed a new urgency in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Chat activity as of late April was up about 220 percent from February, he said, and one of his two full-time, dedicated chat operators had already doubled her best sales month since starting the job in June.
“A lot of people are working from home and they have time now to chat,” Hillebrand observed. “And the engagement is much more meaningful. We can copy-and-paste something from our website and send it to the customer. They can look at it and say, ‘I’ll take it,’ or we can direct them to our in-stock inventory and our virtual services.”
All told, he said, “We wouldn’t be open right now without the website,” which was upgraded by AVB in March with live chat and real-time inventory. “It’s 10 times better now.”
Other BrandSource members are equally enthusiastic. Joe Legato, Chief Operating Officer of Bill & Rod’s Appliance & Grills serving Greater Detroit, said customers have embraced the widget wholeheartedly. “We’ve had 36 chats since 12:30,” he shared on an afternoon teleconference for dealers. “Chat has translated into multiple sales and we’re excited to see the response. We may need to assign a full-time person online.”
Jackie King, principal of Nampa Appliance TV & Mattress in Nampa, Idaho, and president of BrandSource’s Rocky Mountain region, similarly reported that “Chat activity is off the charts.” Sharing best practices with fellow members during her own regional teleconference, she noted that the chats start coming in “before we get here in the morning and it starts getting really busy at midnight.”
BrandSource members are employing chat solutions by third-party provider Podium, as well as a proprietary platform from AVB’s Marketing division called CONNEQT.
For Alex Cole of Lincoln, Mich.-based Cole’s Appliance, the simplicity of setting up CONNEQT is a major plus. “It’s easy to add,” he told fellow members during a regional call. “We had it up in a few minutes and we’re able to operate it” at home during off hours.
Alison Carrico, Brand Manager at AVB Marketing, concurred, noting that “Chat is easy to set up on your website; all it takes is pasting a snippet of code.” And the payoff, she said, is exponential: as of early April, chat engagement was up 60 times on member websites from just a few weeks prior, and the easy-to-navigate dashboard lets members know how often customers are chatting and what time of day they are most likely to be online, so dealers can staff up accordingly.
Not surprisingly, the number of members employing chat has doubled in recent weeks, Hancock reported, and is expected to expand further still with the launch of a new vendor subsidy that renders the basic-level CONNEQT service cost-free through the end of the year for dealers using AVB’s ALTA e-commerce platform.
BrandSource is the leading merchandising organization for independent appliance, home furnishings and consumer tech dealers. Its parent company, AVB, is a $19.5 billion member-driven co-op that provides merchandising, financing and digital marketing services to nearly 5,000 independent dealers in the U.S. and Canada. BrandSource affiliates include ProSource (consumer tech and custom integration); TRIB Group (rent-to-own); Mega Group (Canada); and HFA Buying Source, serving home furnishings dealers nationwide.
Visit brandsource.com for more information.