Customer Service with a Digital Smile

Back to Contents of Issue: December 1999

Lands' End Launches Real-time Customer Service

by Gail Nakada

In late October, American catalog and online shopping leader Lands' End rolled out its newest shopping features: Lands' End Live and Shop With A Friend, on their Japan website. "What Land's End Live allows you to do (is) when you're shopping on the Lands' End website, you click this button -- Land's End Live -- (and) you are instantly connected with one of our Land's End customer service reps in Yokohama," said vice president of Lands' End e-commerce Bill Bass at an October 14 press conference. "As you are connected, you can either talk to them by phone or through a chat online." The two screens synchronize so that both the customer and the personal shopper -- a customer service representative (CSR) -- are looking at the exact same thing. The CSR then calls the customer directly or, for those without a second designated phone line, uses the chat feature to answer questions, help complete a purchase, or guide shoppers to other areas of the site. Another option allows the CSR to split the screen to show two different items side by side. Developed in conjunction with WebLine Communications, Lands' End is the first e-commerce company to introduce this function on either side of the Pacific.

Shop With a Friend carries the technology one step further. "Shopping online up until now has been a very lonely experience," notes Bass. "What Shop With A Friend will allow you to do is sit at your computer and shop with someone else anywhere else in the world." Like Lands' End Live, once you connect, your browsers will synchronize and whichever user clicks on the link, it will carry both browsers along. A U.S. commercial for the service shows a brother and sister on different sides of the country talking on the phone while clicking through different pages as they choose a gift for their father. Shop With a Friend was developed exclusively for Lands' End.

Launched in September in the U.S., the company expects both features to be very popular in Japan. "We think that by making the online shopping experience much easier and friendlier, e-commerce in Japan will explode in the same way as it has in the U.S.," says Bass.

Explode is a good choice of words. The American online arm of Lands' End sold $61 million worth of clothing last year -- 4.5% of total sales -- and this was three times over the online sales of two years before ($18 million). Says Bass: "Through the first half of this year we are running at two and a half times more sales than we sold in the first half of last year. I think that constitutes an explosion!"

Frank Buettner, international vice president, admits that online sales at Lands' End Japan, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lands' End, are not as high as in the United States. He is more cautious about predicting growth of the redesigned Lands' End Japan site, "We have high expectations but we feel we need six to 12 months of experience to know what this will mean to our strategic plans." (If you subscribe to the idea of Internet years being equal to dog years, i.e., a ratio of 7 to 1, that's a lot of study.) Japanese customers have the choice of buying from the U.S. or ordering locally. Unit costs are higher, since pricing is based on operating costs in Japan. The company buys from the U.S. to sell here and carries a much more limited selection. Catalogs are issued four times a year, with the largest at only 86 pages. Online sales are growing, though not at the speed of the U.S., said Sawako Takahashi, assistant manager of PR and advertising at Lands' End Japan, in an earlier interview. "We are at the position where Lands' End (U.S.) was about two years ago." She is confident about the company's e-tailing future, adding, "However, our sales from the website have tripled. It will come."

Bass is quick to point out there's more to customer service than a state-of-the-art website, "(It's) not about the technology but about the person sitting on the other end of the phone. Anybody can go out and buy the software, but it's the customer service rep you're talking to that determines the quality of the experience." A Market Facts survey commissioned last month by Lands' End found that 43% of Internet users in the U.S. would shop online more frequently if they received immediate responses to online questions. Similarly, a recent survey by Jupiter Communications, showed 90% of online customers prefer some sort of human interaction during an e-commerce transaction. Retailing to service -- obsessed Japanese is sure to parallel these findings as online use grows.

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