Telephone Sales Bag Bigger Orders for eBags

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Internet retailer eBags experienced a higher average order size for telephone sales than online sales during the holiday season, which the company attributes largely to its decision to outsource its inbound telephone sales operation.

Online purchases averaged $75 per order, and telephone sales were $100 per order. Overall sales for the holiday season surpassed $20 million, according to the Denver-based direct marketers of luggage, handbags, backpacks and duffels.

Some might find it unusual that an Internet retailer would find its telephone sales growing. One great attraction of e-commerce is how it automates the sales process and eliminates the need for costly call centers.

But Eliot Cobb, chief financial officer at eBags, says some customers who will browse online are still not ready to transact business over the Internet.

"We've determined that if you give a number out, you can get the people who are afraid to give their credit card numbers over the Internet," he said. "People are ordering over the Internet. But there's a human element in a phone call."

EBags outsourced its inbound telesales more than a year ago to Finali Corp., Westminster, CO. This let eBags reduce its staff of eight customer service agents to three full-time employees and one part-timer who focus on service issues.

To encourage the Finali agents, about 20 of whom work on the eBags account, eBags provides incentive programs. A $500 sale wins agents a $25 eBags gift certificate, and there are contests with prizes of eBags merchandise and gift certificates to local restaurants for successful salespeople.

For every $1 that eBags spent during the holidays on Finali, it made $3.79 in sales, according to the company.

Finali is a small contact center provider with 150 agents at its single facility. The agents are college educated, and many are dedicated to serving a single client full time.

The idea of professional, sales-driven agents appealed to eBags, given the small size of its telephone operation and its objective of providing personal service. Finali is on a year-to-year contract with eBags, and the contract has been renewed for 2002.

"December was a profitable month," Cobb said. "Finali had quite a bit to do with that."

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