Live from ECMOD: Search, Yes; Call Center, No

London–How can the self-described largest technology seller in the U.K. have no call center and no stores, aside from a few airport shops? Easily, said Jonathan Wall, sales and marketing director of Dabs.com, at a Wednesday session at the European Catalgue and Mail Order Days (ECMOD) conference here. The direct seller of computers and IT technology closed its call center six months ago. All orders and service queries are now taken exclusively via e-mail and the company’s Website: “We’ll even turn down orders that are phoned in to us,” Wall said.

In the session, entitled Converting Browsers into Buyers, Wall described Dabs.com’s philosophy regarding using search engines. Rather than buying very general–and more expensive–keywords such as “cheap computers” and “PCs,” the company buys a plethora of more-detailed keywords, including brand names. This enables them to capture shoppers on the verge of making a purchase, rather than those still conducting research, Wall explained, since by the time they’re ready to make a purchase, they’ve pretty much decided on the brand or even model of product. All told, Dabs.com pays for roughly 34,000 search engine keywords.

In contrast, bookseller WH Smith buys only 5,000 or so keywords, said former commercial director Ross Beadle. Nonetheless, Beadle described search as “the defining technology of the Internet. It is what distinguishes the Internet from other channels.”

Beadle was referring to not only outside search engine technology, such as that of Google, but also on-site search capabilities. Sixty percent of WH Smith’s online sales are generated by people searching the site, he said. This number came only after much honing of the search function, however. The company realized that its original search function wasn’t very accurate when it noticed that a significant number of site visitors were abandoning the site at the results pages.

“The mantra of online shoppers is probably ‘Don’t make me think,'” Beadle said. For that reason, Wall’s recommendation to follow the standards of Web page design makes sense. Don’t worry that by having navigation links across the top and the left that your site resembles that of Amazon.com or other leaders, he said. Such sites have become the template that online shoppers now expect. “When people go to a petrol station, do they care that Esso looks like Mobil?” he asked.

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