Coach Leads Pack in Online Chat Service

Coach.com was the only one of more than 100 U.S.-based e-commerce retailers to score in the top 10 in two categories in a study covering online chat functions.

The Coach Inc. e-commerce site’s capacity for online chat goes beyond the usual idle chatter.

This story first appeared in the September 10, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The company’s e-commerce site, coach.com, was the only one of more than 100 U.S.-based e-commerce retailers to score in the top 10 in both categories — “total time to live agent” and “issue resolution” — in a study covering online chat functions conducted by StellaService, the monitor of online service satisfaction.

Coach.com finished second in the top 10 for issue resolution and seventh among the top 10 for the total time it took for someone online to reach a live agent. Wayfair.com, a home furnishings site, finished first in the issue resolution category, followed by coach.com, rei.com, llbean.com and potterybarn.com. Rounding out the top 10 were shop.lululemon.com, katespade.com, landsend.com, crateandbarrel.com and victoriassecret.com.

The top 10 for issue resolution had a mean score of 94.6 percent, about 10 points higher than the average for the overall retail sample.

In the “total time to live agent” portion of the online chat study, Overstock.com led the pack with an average of seven seconds from placement of an online chat request to interaction with a live agent, with the average time for the top 10 a brisk 10.3 seconds.

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Typically, the average time for the start of a live chat session is 30 to 45 seconds, with apparel retailers closer to the lower figure, said Kevon Hills, StellaServce’s director of research.

Overstock.com was followed by Ideeli.com, Modcloth.com, Kingsizedirect.com and sierratradingpost.com, with the remaining spots taken by cabelas.com, coach.com, bestbuy.com, advanceautoparts.com and forever21.com.

Hills acknowledged that, for a variety of reasons, live chat is still a developing portion of online consumer interaction for many e-tailers, especially those in the soft goods area, where the need for technical assistance is lower than in electronics.

“It’s almost a combination of phone and e-mail,” he said. “It’s live contact, just like the phone, and gives you an emotional connection in that way. But because you can do things like sharing links during an online chat, it shares that advantage with e-mails.”

Yet it ranks a distant third among consumers asked to identify their preferred means of contact with an online retailer. Phone communication was favored by 46 percent of Stella’s respondents as their preferred means of contacting an online retailer, with e-mail just two notches back at 44 percent. Online chat garnered 6 percent of the response, with Facebook preferred by 4 percent and Twitter by 1 percent.

Nearly two in three respondents — 62 percent — said they would shop elsewhere if an online retailer failed to resolve their problem upon first contact.

Coach’s overall rating as an online retailer is “excellent,” just below the “elite” designation reserved for the top vote-getters. While figures for August are still being tabulated, it failed to qualify for a top five position in the apparel and accessories category during July but topped the phone category in June, was second to ralphlauren.com for phone interaction in May and finished fifth for shipping satisfaction in April.

StellaService conducted its research about online chat during a three-month period that ended Aug. 15. Its findings come from a staff of about 60 online mystery shoppers.

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