How is Customer Support in E-commerce Different from Retail?

Service and support play important roles in every company, and that’s especially true for those who sell directly to individual consumers. But as an e-commerce retailer, you can’t simply replicate the customer support approaches that your favorite traditional retailers use.

While some business owners make the mistake of viewing customer service as little more than the process of dealing with inevitable problems, it can play a much larger role in the company’s overall success. Excellent customer service can be a key differentiator that converts casual buyers into loyal customers. In fact, 59% of American consumers say that they’d try a new brand or company for a better service experience.

If your company already provides top-notch customer service, this is great news for your potential to acquire new customers. If your customer service is lacking, on the other hand, it means that you could be at risk of missing out on sales and retaining loyal customers. It’s time to step it up.

So with that in mind, keep reading to learn how e-commerce support differs from that of traditional retail and how you can create an approach that works for your business.

How E-commerce Differs from Traditional Retail

Although e-commerce stores and their traditional retail counterparts both sell directly to consumers, they involve very different purchasing processes. Of course, the most obvious difference between the two is that e-commerce transactions take place entirely online, while customers can purchase products in person at brick-and-mortar retail stores. As a result, the entire buying journey looks slightly different for e-commerce shoppers.

e-commerceFrom a customer service standpoint, the biggest difference here is that the entire process can take place in a shopper’s own home. Unlike in a retail store, your team can’t approach them to offer assistance or walk them through their options. As a result, one of the most challenging parts of e-commerce customer support is simply figuring out how to get shoppers engaged with your team virtually— which is not an issue for traditional retailers. Even for simple questions like sizing and stock information, you want to make sure that customers know how to get in touch with your team and that doing so is easy.

E-commerce customer support

Though the process is different than asking an in-store employee for help, it should be just as easy. Making sure that this is the case should be a key goal for your e-commerce customer support strategy.

5 Ways to Improve Your E-commerce Customer Support

If you’re ready to improve your e-commerce store’s customer support strategy, the following five tips will help you provide experiences that are in line with (if not better than) the service that shoppers receive at traditional retail alternatives.

1. Encourage Customers to Get in Touch

Unlike in a traditional retail store, your team can’t simply walk up to customers as they browse your e-commerce site and ask if they need help. This means that if you want them to get in touch, you need to encourage them to do so during crucial points in the buying process. One of the best ways to do this is to consider when a shopper may need assistance. Then, you can add contact information in spots that are convenient for them to reach out to your agents.

For example, if you’re a clothing retailer, your customers may have questions about sizing and how your clothes fit. And while measurement charts can provide a general idea of what size they need, some shoppers still hesitate to buy products without trying them on first. That’s where a well-placed note about your customer service team can be extremely helpful.

Take a look at how the clothing retailer Marine Layer includes a note at the bottom of their size chart that encourages shoppers to call or email their team with any questions. This allows them to play an active role in the buying process, and they don’t have to worry about missing out on sales because shoppers aren’t sure which size they should buy.


2. Offer Multiple Support Options

Today’s consumers are accustomed to having options at every stage of the buying process. This includes the brands they shop with and the products they choose from — as well as the channels they can use to get in touch with companies for support. As a result, it’s in your best interest to offer multiple options for your customers to choose from.

This is especially important if you don’t offer 24/7 service on certain channels like live chat or a phone support line. In this case, you’ll need to provide an alternative so that their questions or issues don’t go unaddressed.

For example, the clothing retailer Frank and Oak offers live chat support on their website during certain high-traffic hours. If a customer attempts to use this feature outside of these hours, they’ll see a message that explains that the team isn’t available. Then, it gives them a contact form for their email support. This way, they don’t need to dig through the site to find other methods of contacting the company. They can get in touch without any additional steps.

customer support

3. Personalize the Support Experience

Your customers are individual people, and it’s important to recognize this fact in each of your support interactions. Even if you use automation for certain parts of your strategy, your customers should never feel like you’re reducing them to mere numbers. Fortunately, it isn’t difficult to avoid this pitfall.

For example, if a customer encounters a problem, taking the time to write a personalized email can go a long way in remedying their perception of your brand. You can even use a simple template like this one as a starting point:

Subject Line: We’re Sorry!

Dear [Name],

I’m sorry to hear that you weren’t satisfied with your experience with [company name]. [employee name] explained to me that [brief explanation of customer’s situation].

This is not the kind of service we aim to provide, and we’re sorry that your experience did not reflect our dedication to our customers.

If you have any additional questions or concerns, please contact me directly at [phone number] or by responding to this email.



[Phone number]

Taking the time to add a few details that are specific to their situation and needs can go a long way toward showing that you care. And in many cases, this is all it takes to turn a negative experience into a positive one for a customer.

4. Enable Customers to Find Answers

If a customer is looking for information related to their specific needs or preferences, they’ll likely need to speak with an agent. But if they have a general question about your business or products, there’s a good chance that you can provide the answers they’re looking for directly on your site.

And providing this information is a great way to improve the buying process and help your customers feel more comfortable while making a purchase. In one study, 91% of people said that they’d gladly use a self-service knowledge base if one were available.

So if you haven’t yet done so, add resources to your site with answers to common questions. It’s a great way to improve the overall buying experience and ensure that you’re not missing out on sales due to a lack of information.

Self-service banner

5. Look for Opportunities to Improve

As you upgrade your approach to customer support, it’s in your best interest to always look for ways to improve. One of the best ways to do this is by simply asking your customers. They’re the reason that you’re offering support in the first place, and they can help you identify weak spots in your approach. This process doesn’t need to be difficult either — especially now that most helpdesk platforms offer built-in survey tools to help companies get feedback on their support.

This is how Frank and Oak asks customers to rate their experiences after each live chat interaction.

customer feedback

The form is simple, and it lets customers provide as much (or as little) information as they want. This way, the brand is constantly collecting feedback that they can use to improve their approach to service and make each customer’s interactions with their brand better.


The quality of your customer service can have a major impact on your e-commerce store’s success. As a result, it’s essential to have a strategy in place for assisting shoppers and making sure they have positive buying experiences with your brand.

And as an e-commerce retailer, one of the biggest challenges is simply making sure that customers are comfortable reaching out whenever they need help. Thus, improving your customer support is well worth the effort. After all, your customers are essential to your company’s success, and great service is the best way to make sure that they stick around for years to come.

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