E-commerce businesses, like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, face the challenge of converting browsers into buyers. But because the Web does not allow for face-to-face interaction, it has historically been much harder for an e-retailer to offer the same level of service that customers can find when they walk into a store.

A new Web-based service, ZaZaCHAT, allows e-retailers to provide live help to website visitors via online chat. The tool lets customer-service representatives communicate directly with customers, answering questions about products or making recommendations.

The service also provides website owners with tools to monitor their traffic and examine the demographics of their visitors in real time. When customers visit a site, ZaZaCHAT gives the retailer their location, IP, host name, and the URL of the site from which they were referred.

A beta-version of ZaZaCHAT is available for free. Once the product is out of beta, a limited version will be offered for free, while a PRO version will cost $24.99 per month per operator.

Online Retail Made Easy

For entrepreneurs who need help developing an e-commerce website, Verio recently released a new version of ShopSite, its Web-based shopping-cart tool.

ShopSite 8.1 enables retailers to quickly prepare their websites to complete transactions with customers using multiple payment-processing services such as PayPal, Authorize.Net, and WorldPay. Because ShopSite is compatible with Google Checkout, retailers can also accept credit-card payments without having to obtain a merchant account. ShopSite 8.1 can easily be configured according to the Payment Card Industry Security Practices guidelines, which ensures credit card and other information is kept safe.

The software also provides real-time FedEx shipping quotes and makes it easy for retailers to list the merchandise in their Shopsite store on eBay.

A basic version of ShopSite 8.1 comes preinstalled with Verio's Hosting2000 and Windows eStorefront hosting plans or can be added to other Verio hosting plans for $9 per month.

Track Your Sales Force

If one of your New Year's resolutions is to improve the level of service your staff provides, you might want to look into BlueService, a software package which helps businesses track, manage, and schedule their service teams and expenses.

BlueService, made by BlueFolder, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based software firm, lets managers view all employees' schedules at the same time and notify their team of new or changed appointments via text messages on their mobile phones. The software package lets users track and prioritize appointments, expenses, comments, and history for all service requests.

BlueService, also provides a customizable customer and contact database. Information about labor and other service expenses can be easily exported from BlueService to the accounting software QuickBooks.

In addition, the software lets a business create a customer portal, which allows customers to submit requests, receive e-mail confirmation, or check the status of their request directly from the business' website.

Monthly fees vary based on the number of users and features needed, but no annual contract is required. BlueFolder is waiving setup fees through the end of the year.