New York-based Oddcast's Vhost SitePal product -- an animated, speech-equipped character that talks to buyers and answers questions -- now supports publishing to live eBay auctions, and can serve roles ranging from customer support to sales.
"We do see some of our clients using it as an FAQ, so if you have a question, click and it answers you," said Oddcast Chief Executive Adi Sideman. "For the most part, because visitors have such short attention spans, often they'd just rather hear than read, so it's used in 90 percent of the time for a quick elevator pitch about why this business is great, why this product is good, why you should pick up the phone and call."
"The benefits that [businesses] see are basically what they call enhanced lead generation -- the ability to communicate better with people to give them most important product information," Sideman added. "The result is, they're seeing increased sales at the end of the month, increased leads, etc. Obviously, on eBay, one of the most important things is the ability to communicate so you can build trust between the buyer and seller, and ... by attaching a virtual salesperson, it helps do that."
Creating a Vhost SitePal, which is to be officially launched this week at eBay's eBay Live conference, is fairly straightforward. A merchant can customize the character's appearance using 20 basic models and a bevy of add-ons, like background, clothes, jewelry, and so on. Users can even upload an image of themselves to serve as the model's face.
To add audio to the mix, users can upload their own voice to serve as the character's, or use the system's built-in text-to-speech capabilities. Clicking on the "Publish to eBay" button enables sellers to add the final character into their listing, and customize its layout on the page.
Oddcast charges $10 per month for SitePal's Web service, plus an additional $3 monthly for supporting up to five simultaneous eBay auctions.
While the idea of using an artificial, animated salesperson to field customer questions might seem a tad unorthodox, Oddcast has attracted more than 1,500 small and medium-sized businesses to the product, using it on their Web sites.
Christopher Saunders is managing editor of eCommerce-Guide.com.
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