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Fortnightly No 2000/4 - Paris, Wednesday, August 2, 2000

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  The human touch: the key to converting visitors into buyers  

LowAirfare.com has just announced that it has achieved record rates in converting visitors into buyers.

Whereas e-travel sites generally have a conversion rate of between 2% and 5%, LowAirfare.com claims that 18% of visitors to its site end up by making a purchase!

Beyond the figures and the hype that the e-tourism industry is so fond of, it seems that this spectacular rate of success is largely due to an online help feature allowing users to "talk" with an agent. The user is guided step by step right up to actually placing the order, if necessary.

Similar results have already been achieved in other e-commerce sectors by sites which highlight features with a "human touch", via tools such as liveperson or the more complex icontact.com used, in particular, by homestore.com.

LowAirfare.com's announcement shows how important it is for e-tourism sites to give users the possibility of accessing an instant personalised online help service.

However, the site's enthusiasm about its results as compared to the rest of the e-tourism industry should be put into perspective: LowAirfare.com is, above all, a site aimed at bargain hunters and this is a niche where high conversion rates are common, the proof of this being the success of sites such as Southwest Airlines, Easyjet.com and Ryanair.com.

It is still true, though, that it is now a requirement for sites to have a "human touch". This is partly due to the fact that more sophisticated e-marketing techniques are now being used and partly to the fact that many new Internet users are not very computer literate.

In fact, since the web is becoming a real mass-media tool, it is clear that most new users are far less familiar with computing than the first Internet users were.

In the months to come, these newcomers will therefore increasingly want online help features and sites will need to be able to provide this service, not only in order to convert their visitors into buyers, but also to bring down transaction costs.

In fact, on most e-tourism sites, such as Travelocity and eBookers, 40% of the transactions end on the phone; this generates operating costs which are often ten times greater than for transactions which are initiated and completed online.

Since the online instant-messaging systems allow up to eight users to be helped simultaneously, they bring down transactional costs considerably.


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