Just 14% of UK online retailers offer live chat as a customer service channel.

In a recent survey by idealo, only a small number of UK retailers offered live chat as a customer service channel, and in the rest of Europe, an average of 18% of retailers offered access to live chat.

Live chat is the online support service that provides instant help for consumers who are seeking immediate help from a customer service assistant in real time. It normally appears on ecommerce sites or service providers in the form of a little text box that says “how can I help you?”

As you would expect, the most popular method of contact from the survey is by writing, with an average of 91% of all online shops offering contact via email or contact form. Although I’m surprised this figure isn’t even higher.

Perhaps this is down to many European retailers preferring customers to pick up the phone. Italy for example goes heavily against the email trend, with 98% of their online retailers offering phone contact, but only 56% offering email contact.

This leaves live chat somewhat in the doldrums.

How important is live chat to ecommerce? Would customers prefer this method over others if it was more readily available? Let’s take a look at some other studies to find out.

According to eDigital’s customer service benchmark, live chat has the highest satisfaction levels for any customer service channel, with 73%, compared with 61% for email and 44% for phone.

Even though just 24% of customers actually used this method, the satisfaction levels far outstrip other customer service channels. More information can be discovered in our latest Internet Statistics Compendium.

In another study, BoldChat found that in the USA, 21% of online shoppers prefer live chat, which is only slightly less than those who favour using the telephone (23%) and far ahead of social media (2%). 

The same study reveals why those respondents prefer live chat.

79% claim that it’s the immediacy of the response that makes live chat the preferred method. The ability to multitask also figures highly, with more than half (51%) saying this is the reason they use live chat.

Good and bad practice

In my experience, I’ve found live chat to be a highly efficient customer service channel. Outside of ecommerce, I’ve used Bluehost’s live chat to help with the transferring of a domain, a technical nightmare that at the time I was far out of my depth in.

I had minimal wait time, friendly customer service, and even though the problem was fairly complicated and I struggled to explain myself brilliantly because I was a novice, everything was fixed in a speedy fashion.

Live chat is the ideal channel for dealing with a company in a different country. Phone calls can be prohibitively expensive, especially with the high liklihood you'll be kept waiting on the line. You also don’t have the frustration of waiting for a reply to an email, with the added hurdle of being in a different timezone causing a delay.

I would however suggest that the live chat option is rather hidden within the Bluehost help section. 

This is a shame, as it was an effective service and much more preferabe to a similarly lengthed phone call.

Other companies I’ve experienced sit at the other end of the spectrum. 

I completed a user experience comparison of the Sky and Virgin Media websites last year and found both of their live chat services to be fairly obtrusive.

Sky’s live chat option appears immediately when you’ve clicked through to the bundle option page.

Virgin Media is similarly eager to help. Even though I didn’t need it, I almost feel pushed into using the service with its full page takeover.

At the time I found these to be as annoying as any pop-up. However Sky has seen an increase in both sales and customer service satisfaction after implementing its live chat service so it’s certainly nothing to be sniffed at.

The problem I had with Sky at the time was that at various points a link to the live chat wasn’t provided when I could have possibly needed it.

Best practice would be to have a constant link to live chat at every step of the journey, but without quite so much obstruction for the customer who wishes for a fast transaction.

In conclusion…

The positives of live chat are many. 

  • Live chat provides immediate contact with a company in a way that can be ambiguous with a prospective email.
  • It removes the frustration of using a telephone, waiting in a queue and the subsequent costs/anger/time wasted. 
  • The customer can do other things while using live chat, making multi-tasking an actual realistic proposition. 
  • If a problem is particularly technical, it’s sometime easier to explain things in writing.
  • Let us not underestimate how much some people just don’t like using a phone and talking to a ‘live’ person.

If those customer service wins haven’t convinced you, then how about this final stat from BoldChat:

  • 31% of online shoppers from both the US and UK say they would be more likely to purchase after a live chat.

For more information on live chat, read Graham Charlton’s post consumers prefer live chat for customer service.

Further reading for beginners

During my first year at Econsultancy I’ve been making a point of writing beginner’s guides to any new terms or phrases I find particularly baffling, or that I might suspect other people may find baffling too. 

The following related articles should help clear up a few things… 

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 3 February, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (7)

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stean tan

Online shopping is getting very popular now days. As the number of online shopping sites is increasing day by day. But to choose correct one of them is very difficult. So before online shopping this blog can really help-you. Thanks

over 4 years ago



Great article! Really interesting to see pieces like these.

Do you think the live chat could help prevent shopping cart abandonment?

over 4 years ago



Great research..

But In my opinion Live chat can do wonders to your business. More and more businesses are getting into it. Benefits of live chat services:

1. Save Money: You don’t need to hire a dedicated team for sales as their experts help you providing real-time customer support on your website.

2. Save Time: You don’t need to worry about the customer support in this way you can focus on other core areas of your business.

3. Increase ROI: Their expertise have better understanding of engaging the customers thereby providing real-time customer support hence increases the chances of conversions.

over 4 years ago


zain ali, Marketing Executive at LiveAdmins JLT

In this fats moving age, online marketing has become very famous in all nations. People want to buy things just on a click or call. That`s why we can easily say that live chat service is the only thing that can make your customer satisfied. Through live chat services, you can easily judge the behavior of your customer that what he wants. If you want to buy live chat software then I can offer you some good places with attractive rates to purchase worldwide. The information provided by you guys is really useful for buyers to understand the use of live chat service.

over 4 years ago


sanjay harnote, Seo Specialist at Developmentlogics.com

A live chat not only boosts up your online sales but it also increases your conversion rate drastically. Building a trust for your visitors is an important factor if you want to increase your website conversions.http://www.developmentlogics.com/

over 3 years ago


sanjay harnote, Seo Specialist at Developmentlogics.com

A live chat not only boosts up your online sales but it also increases your conversion rate drastically. Building a trust for your visitors is an important factor if you want to increase your website conversions. for more information visithttp://www.developmentlogics.com/

over 3 years ago

Mia Amani

Mia Amani, Research Person at Amani's Group

Informative article. I must say you have a keen eye on details and facts. I second your views here that Sky has definitely seen a boost in its sales and customer satisfaction after using live chat service. I get such service from http://www.onlinechatagent.org/, and it was wayyyy better than what I have expected. It’s more like a BPO company, and they have professional support staff that knows what to say and when to say to make your customers satisfied. Trust me, they can help you get a bang out of every penny you invest.

over 1 year ago

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