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Entrepreneur Magazine

July, 2008

"Technology Roundup:
An automated chat agent can help reluctant online shoppers take the next step and close the deal. "

By Heather Clancy

GourmetStation founder Donna Lynes-Miller, 49, was tired of seeing shoppers leave her specialty foods website (gourmetstation.com) empty-handed. So two years ago, she hired Jenny to greet visitors personally and offer them extra financial incentives to complete transactions. But Jenny didn't increase Lynes-Miller's payroll costs because she isn't human--she's an automated software agent from internet startup UpSellit.com. Using a combination of artificial intelligence and web analytics, Jenny monitors each site visitor's progress. If a customer tries to leave the site without making a purchase, she pops up in an IM window to chat up the shopper without being overly solicitous. For example, she might offer 50 percent off shipping.

Since Jenny joined the team, sales of GourmetStation's home-delivered gourmet meals have increased by more than 10 percent to a projected $1.2 million this year. Shopping cart abandonment rates for the site have decreased substantially. Lynes-Miller figures that about 12 percent of her sales last year were inspired by Jenny's extra help. "With any online merchant, you do a lot of back-and-forth with the customers, but you don't get to talk to them much," says Lynes-Miller. "We were able to take away another trepidation they had."

What's more, by evaluating chat logs collected by the software, Lynes-Miller has been able to identify new product opportunities. For example, many would-be customers made inquiries about whether they could buy whole desserts rather than just individual servings. So Atlanta-based GourmetStation added a whole-dessert category. Pricing for UpSellit.com's service follows a pay-for-performance model: Your company pays a pre-negotiated fee each time the software intervenes to complete a sale. This could be a set dollar amount or a percentage of the sale.

Heather Clancy, a freelance journalist and consultant, has been covering the high-tech industry for close to 20 years. She can be reached athccollins@mac.com.

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