E-commerce: Are you being served?

Web-based call centres could kick-start e-commerce by giving online shoppers that all important human touch that the Internet lacks.

This is one of the key findings of a new survey about Internet-enabled call centres from Datamonitor. Researchers predict there will be 3,400 Web-integrated call centres in Europe by 2003. Linking the telephone to the Internet will make e-commerce more attractive to consumers and will help get round the problem of abandoned transactions, according to Datamonitor analyst David Hall.

"One of the big problems with e-commerce sites at the moment is the lack of human contact. People like the facility for having a chat, especially for first time users. People like that comfort net," he said.

It is predicted many e-commerce sites in future will have a call back button, giving cyber shoppers access to a human assistant. "At the moment there is only text based interaction, but the next generation will use voice over IP, Hall said. "Initial applications for such call centres would be for expensive or complicated products like computers," Hall predicted.

The potential for business-to-consumer e-commerce is estimated to be huge. There are currently more than 11 million online PC households in Europe and Datamonitor predicts this could rise to 39 million by 2003. With many e-commerce sites reporting a high number of abandoned transactions, Internet call centres could turn window shoppers into buyers. "Hopefully it will convert those who fill up shopping baskets but stop short of giving out credit card details," Hall said.

The growth of interactive digital television will also kick-start online business. Currently only one percent of businesses in Europe have such a service.