Live chat helps e-commerce customers understand 'stuff' from Shinola

Profile picture for user jtwentyman By Jessica Twentyman December 10, 2015
E-commerce conversion rates get helping hand from customer engagement software.

As brand names go, Shinola comes with more baggage than most. Just as a British person might describe an ill-informed colleague as not knowing “their arse from their elbow”, someone from the US might describe them as being unable to tell “shit from Shinola”.

This refreshingly frank colloquialism references a once-popular brand of shoe polish, the manufacturer of which went out of business back in 1960. But in 2011, the rights to the Shinola name were bought by Tom Kartsotis, for a range of US-made watches that the former CEO of Fossil, a watches, clothing and accessories brand, planned to launch.

As well as its willingness to take a gamble on a bold choice of name, there’s much to admire about Shinola. Wherever possible, the company uses American suppliers and American labour to create its products and it chose the rustbelt city of Detroit for its headquarters, bringing new employment opportunities to an area hit hard by the decline of US manufacturing.

And it’s done an excellent job of building brand awareness for its range, which now includes leather goods, bicycles, notebooks and pet supplies, as well as watches. These have been featured in Vogue, Vanity Fair and GQ, as well as on countless fashion and lifestyle blogs. Shinola’s business model, meanwhile, has been discussed in Fortune, The Economist and The Washington Post. Former US president Bill Clinton’s a fan - he bought 13 watches from Shinola last year.

Today, around one third of the company’s revenues - set to reach around $60 million this year, according to reports - come from its e-commerce operations. (The remaining two-thirds are split evenly between its 10 bricks-and-mortar stores and wholesale deals with major retailers.)

And when online shoppers visit the company’s webstores, they often have questions about Shinola’s products. Since early 2014, they’ve been able to converse with the company’s customer service staff via a live chat facility, underpinned by technology from customer engagement specialist Moxie Software. Dennis Kopitz, Shinola’s director of ecommerce, explains:

Live chat basically enables our customers to instant message with a member of the customer service team. Getting your questions answered immediately, when you’re in shopping mode, is a big deal for customers.

Conversion rise

So much so, in fact, that Shinola sees conversion rates of between 10% and 15% when customers use live chat, compared to less than 1% when they don’t. Says Kopitz:

Now, some of that is to do with the fact that those who engage with chat are already closer to purchasing. They’re not simply on the website to browse - they’re deep into the purchasing decision already. But they’re exactly the people we want to be able to interact with in real time.

In other words, live chat often gives customers the nudge they need, shifting them from inclination to purchase to commitment. And during 2015, Shinola’s upgraded its Moxie implementation, so that in addition to live chat, customers can also consult a FAQ knowledge base, if they’re in self-help mode, or send an email, if they’re happy to wait a little longer for a reply.

This upgrade has also brought better mobile capabilities - which is important, given that around half of web traffic to Shinola’s web storefronts come from mobile devices, says Kopitz:

People today are used to being able to access almost any information they need, regardless of the device they’re using. And they’re time sensitive - they want answers quickly. A large percentage of the questions we receive are customer-service oriented: they’re about policies, warranties, shipping.

Customers just want to be secure that they fully understand what’s involved in their purchase. Around 20 percent is merchandise-related: it’s about specific products, materials used and so on. Either way, getting an answer in around 10 seconds makes a big impact.

Moxie Software is now helping Shinola get its name known in Europe. Customers can converse with customer service staff in five languages beyond English: French, German, Italian, Spanish and Dutch (although the company’s ongoing commitment to those final two is being reviewed, according to John Argento, managing director of Shinola Europe).

The company already has a bricks-and-mortar store in London’s Soho, and wholesale deals with Mr Porter (part of online fashion company Net-a-Porter), Liberty and Selfridges. And what it’s finding, says Argento, is that the arrival of Shinola products in these outlets often sparks a corresponding uplift in traffic to the company’s website:

So regardless of where customers eventually make their purchase, our e-commerce operations are often where they have their first direct interaction with Shinola as a brand. It’s absolutely essential we get that conversation right first time.