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Providing contact options for customers is a pretty basic requirement for online retailers, yet often users are forced to hunt around on websites for contact details.

While email can be a useful contact method, responses are rarely instant, so a contact number should be provided for customer support. yet so many retailers don't seem to want customers to call them.

Why should e-commerce sites list a phone number?

  • Customers may have a query with an order, or require some advice about the product they are thinking of purchasing. In this case, email is too slow, and FAQs may not answer the question, so a phone number or live chat option is the best solution. For these customers, not having a contact telephone number can mean losing potential sales.
  • Telephone numbers, especially when prominently displayed can reassure customers that they can trust a website. Users need to know that they can get in touch with someone if they have a problem with the product or delivery.
  • If customers want to chase an order, or have a problem that needs resolving, then many will want to speak to someone as quickly as possible. Making them wait for a response by email will make it less likely they will shop with you again.

Here are some examples...

Wal-mart seems to want to direct users to its email contact option, as it has tried to hide the contact numbers. In fact, there are no contact telephone numbers for queries about Walmart.com, which seems odd for such a large retailer.

In you hunt hard enough, there are contact telephone numbers on the site, but these are labelled as relating to store queries. If customers are about to make a purchase and have a query about an order, then providing the answer quickly can make the difference.

Wal-mart contact options

River Island, as well as still having an inaccessible Flash website (despite talk of a new version), also has no contact telephone number for customers. Email or post are the only contact options provided.

Toys R Us does provide a reasonably extensive FAQs section, but actually finding a contact telephone number is impossible. You can email, fax or write to the company though.

Sports Direct also goes out of its way to avoid customer contact by phone. After navigating through the links you may eventually find the 'how can I contact you?' question, but this only leads to an email address:

It's one thing having just an email address and no contact telephone number, but making customers work so hard to find these details is likely to annoy them.

Here's how to do it...

While most sites provide contact details at the foot of the page, it may be a better idea to place contact numbers, such as a general sales or customer service number, in a more prominent position.

Even if this is not constantly visibile, then at least showing a contact number during the checkout process can help the small percentage of visitors who will have a question as they are making a purpose. 

Even if the customer ends up ordering over the telephone instead, at least the retailer has saved a potential lost sales opportunity through an abandoned purchase.

Next does this during its checkout process, though it could be made to stand out more:

As in the two examples below, providing a contact number at the top of the page throughout the entire website leaves no room for doubt in customer's minds, and with smaller retailers, can serve as a trustmark for new customers.

Naked Wines has provided a contact number just below the logo:

Firebox provides a contact number at the top of each page ( I also like the Royal Fail'' banner, which reassures customers about deliveries):

Graham Charlton

Published 3 November, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (7)

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Sam Cartwright

Positioning of telephone contact information has actually become one of our very first considerations when redesigning templates. We generate such a large volume of sales via the phone that it would be impossible to ignore but on top of that it's one of our key feedback systems for problem areas on the website. It's often quicker to ask our customer service guys where customers are running into difficulty than it is to use analytics to achieve the same goal.

We'd prefer all customers to checkout via the website as this minimises human error as well as making the process more efficient however not giving our customers the option would instantly lose us around 10% of sales and the knock on effect in terms of customer satisfaction could be far more serious.

almost 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Sam,

That's an interesting stat. If you can save 10% of sales just by adding a phone number, I'm surprised so many websites don't bother.

almost 7 years ago

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Emmanuel Seigner

Great comment from Sam. Phones are not only a sales booster, they also provide a human link with an organisation - which in a virtual world is essential. Repeat custom has to be fostered now more than ever.

That said we need to remember that phones are (1) expensive (2) don't scale well and (3) have to be managed carefully to deliver on customer expectations (queuing, agent training, etc...). In short you can shoot yourself in the foot very quickly if you are not careful.

Last tips: (1) place the phone number in a place where you can remove it (useful in very stormy weather)

(2) Give your customer the choice: Phone, Email or self help (FAQ, forums). They know how they want to interact with you.

(3) Analyse your data and remove non added value contacts from the phone (things that can get answered faster on the screen).

almost 7 years ago

Adam Ross

Adam Ross, Chief Operating Officer at Affiliate Window

I appreciate the points being made here however, within the affiliate channel it is considered best practice to remove prominently displayed telephone numbers for affiliate referred visitors. 

Affiliates are only rewarded on converted traffic so if there is an obvious opportunity for the customer to complete the sale offline, this would negate the affiliate's efforts and therefore make an advertiser's affiliate programme considerably less attractive.  

At Affiliate Window, we do have a call tracking solution which some merchants choose to integrate as an alternative to removing the number but the vast majority of successful programmes opt to simply remove the number or place it in a more discreet place on a conditional basis.  This allows them to feature the number prominently for traffic from all other sources.  

Incidentally, to ensure continued accurate measurement of other digital marketing campaigns, some kind of call tracking is probably a necessity if telephone numbers are to be made more obvious.  Food for thought.     

almost 7 years ago

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Vincent van der Lubbe

Interesting points. Emmanuel, I agree: It seems these companies focus on getting all information in written form which is much cheaper to process, analyze and store. That makes sense. The focus seems to be: more simplicity and an immediate reduction in cost = better profits.

Two questions:

1. Do these companies have a metric which measures dissatisfaction with this failing functionality? And maybe even more important: do these companies put a monetary value to it? Every "missed" call might be a lost opportunity to learn/hurts the brand and may be a lost sale.

2. If they want to save cost, why don't they use the craigslist approach and let the questions be handled by volunteers in forums and very little staff?

almost 7 years ago

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Chris Goddard

All this talk of Phone numbers is fine and dnady IF you want to RING the company involved!! How about the LAW which says ALL companies who operate on the internet MUST display a Telephone number AND a web address? I know RYANAIR do NOT publish there email addressse and a telephone is the oNLY way to contatct them! And at a PREMIUM rate too! At least phone users have such as "Say no to 0870" to try and find a phone number which WILL be answered but what about a directory for email addresses?? Which can quite easily be ignored!

Chris Goddard

France

over 6 years ago

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Andrew Milton

Hi there, I have managed to find a customer service phone number for sports direct.com..through their corporate like at the bottom of the web page, then follow the contact us link.. and then company contacts link...well hidden! 

about 6 years ago

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