Ecommerce Use of Skype Remains Limited
By Greg Holden
Remember when eBay owned Skype, and was making a push to get sellers to use it to meet shoppers face-to-face? That effort never took off, and eBay eventually sold a majority share to an investor group. But that doesn't mean online merchants aren't finding uses for Skype, especially with the Spring launch of a new multi-person videoconferencing feature in beta. Instead of the one-on-one video or audioconferencing Skype is known for, as many as five individuals can talk and see one another in real time - as long as they pay the fee for this "premium service," which Skype has not yet set.
What does this mean for businesses that sell online? Does it mean new ways to interact with customers and make sales?
Although the use of Skype for online business is definitely a niche activity, a number of businesses are doing innovative things with it. And the availability of the new multi-person videoconferencing feature means that, if your Web-based business could be helped by meeting your customers face-to-face, you might want to consider adding this capability to the list of ways your customers can contact you.
I found a number of innovative, even offbeat, businesses using Skype for one-to-one conferencing. Just hearing what they do might get you to thinking about what Skype can do for you, whether you want to do multi-person conferencing or not:
- Catherine Cohen, creator of Barter21, a program that helps businesspeople trade goods and services with one another, uses Skype to demonstrate the program to new customers. "The exchange owner can see our screen while we teach them to use the software," she says. "The video is great because I may not meet many of my customers in person for years, but at least we can see each other face to face."
- Todd J. Gilman, CEO of United we Tab, a company that provides tablature that helps guitarists learn songs, says he may use Skype's new multi-person videoconferencing capability to have virtual meetings with far-flung employees. "Like many startups, we have several "virtual" employees who work from different places across the United States," Todd comments. "It's often necessary to meet in person, which requires a lot of traveling and expense. Hopefully Skype's videoconference feature works as well as Skype's regular video chats. If so, we'd be an early adopter."
But Skype can be used not only for employee or customer meetings, but to give customers a virtual shopping experience as well. The New York City website of ShopNYC Tours lets shoppers from anywhere in the world have the experience of shopping in the Big Apple.
"We offer shopping tours for those customers who want to shop in a New York City boutique but can't make the trip due to finances or time constraints," says Natasha Malinsky, Shopping and Lifestyle Consolidator for ShopNYC Tours. The company arranges shopping tours for people who are actually in New York; the virtual shopping option is an added feature that lets consumers browse boutiques either of their choice or that the service chooses for them. The virtual session costs $75 for a half-hour.
Just how popular will Skype ecommerce be, with or without the multi-person videoconferencing feature? Marc Appana, vice-president and senior consultant with FitForCommerce, sees Skype as a niche activity for businesses that are comfortable with such technologies.
"We aren't seeing a lot of retailers in the market using Skype for ecommerce business," says Appana. "Some companies are using it for replacing PBX systems, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) systems or 1-800 numbers. The problem is that the end-user or consumer has to have Skype installed and has to have an understanding of how to use it."
Appana is unsure whether the ability to do multi-person videoconferencing through Skype will have any impact on the market. "Social shopping is still nascent and it is unclear whether it will become truly viable and if Skype will have a place in that market," he says. But there is one area where Skype has potential, and it has nothing to do with laptops, desktops, or webcams. "There may be potential to use it on mobile phones assuming the consumer has the right phone, Skype installed, and knows how to utilize it."
In my opinion, if you add Skype to your list of contact methods for your customers or business colleagues, it won't hurt, and it certainly might help. Anything you can do to develop that all-important, one-on-one relationship with shoppers will build loyalty and repeat business, and that will help your bottom line.
About the Author
Greg Holden is AuctionBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website (gregholden.com), which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
About the author:
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
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