Study: Live Chat Ups Conversions Tenfold

    June 21, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

Sales, online and off, are closed when the customer trusts the seller. To that end, how far does including live chat in the online sales and checkout process go toward sealing the deal? Numbers are coming in, and they’re looking good.

It seems it would make intuitive sense: customers can ask questions before buying the same way they could in a brick and mortar store. No phone calls, no automated systems, no echoing silence from across the Internet.

Trust is such an important concept. This may be why, according to, multiple pages in the checkout process converts better than a single page. Their data suggests that three pages or steps are optimal, converting at 6.2 percent.

Even seven pages or more (which is unbelievable to me, impatient jerk that I am) converts better than a one-step checkout process. Only one of the top 100 retailers use a one page checkout, and they convert the least at just 2.5 percent.

But why? Maybe it’s because one step seems too easy, just like a scam would seem too easy. Maybe it takes more steps to reassure a buyer, who is dealing with an invisible seller, that this deal is legit.

It would make sense, then, that providing the opportunity to actually converse with a human before a purchase could boost the chances of the purchase actually taking place. Conversations build trust and conversations look like they build conversions, too.

GetElastic has its own numbers on live chat in a nifty 46-page whitepaper on the entire checkout process, which can be downloaded in PDF or viewed in HTML, and includes data on shipping offers, coupons, security, et cetera.

"Live chat has the potential to bridge the customer service gap that exists between online shoppers and retailers," the authors say. "It can be the extra little push a shopper needs to get over any conversion hurdles that may exist such as purchase uncertainty, product questions, or technical and policy assistance."

But they’re still unsure about its actual efficacy, only slightly outperforming in the Apparel and High Ticket categories, and underperforming in every other. The authors attribute this "counter-intuitive" result to a potential annoyance factor, which can turn any would-be customer off.

Coremetrics and CompUSA have a different tale to tell on live chat, though. Coremetrics followed CompUSA’s implementation of InstantService’s live chat technology to make a case study of it. They found that website conversion rates went up by a factor of ten.

“By adding InstantService live chat to, we’ve given our customers the ability to communicate with a live agent who can help answer their questions,” said Al Hurlebaus, managing director of marketing and advertising at CompUSA. “This added value mirrors the in-store experience where customers rely on our knowledgeable salespeople to obtain assistance when they need it. "

Coremetrics’ analysis showed that 60 percent of visitors who chatted and added an item to the cart, did so from the most recently viewed category before initiating a chat session.

A keyword there might be "initiated," as in the customer initiated the chat session, cutting down on the annoyance factor mentioned by GetElastic. Nearly 54 percent of CompUSA customers ended up purchasing from the category they most recently viewed before chatting.

It is still unclear, though, whether CompUSA’s recent change in customer focus, from business-to-consumer to business-to-business had an impact on the results.

Jane Paolucci, VP of marketing for Coremetrics, shares some more numbers in an interview with WebProNews. She said that 68.5 percent of CompUSA customers chatted while browsing the site and that 32 percent chatted while in the shopping cart during the late stages of the buying process.

"Out of that," she said, "over 10 percent of those sessions convert to a sale, 10 times the average website conversion rate." Paolucci says that only 28 percent of ecommerce sites are currently offering live chat.

But they are "increasingly spending more money on technologies that are bringing them closer to their clients."   

Not to endorse one chat product over the other, here’s a Google search for "live chat widgets for ecommerce" to speed you along the chat discovery process should you think that’s right for your site.