Could these add-ons improve your online store’s customer experience? They’ve been road-tested by experienced dance retailers. Here’s the scoop.
Apps that plug into your e-commerce platform hold the promise of better customer service and more sales, but they can also mean a significant investment of your time to get them to work smoothly.
The leading e-commerce platforms such as BigCommerce, Magento, Shopify, Weebly (Square’s e-commerce platform) and Wix have gotten very good at integrating partner plug-ins, but you may still need to put in some effort before a helper app runs seamlessly and does precisely what you want it to do on your site. That’s why you want to be certain it is worth the effort before adopting an app: Will it spur upselling? Make customers happier? Free up staff time for in-store business?
Here are a handful of e-commerce add-ons that have been road-tested by experienced dance retailers and come recommended, albeit sometimes with caveats.
For Online Bookings
Josephine Lee of The Pointe Shop, which has three brick-and-mortar locations in California as well as three mobile units, says that in the past year, “We’ve shifted our business quite a bit. We’re fully appointment-based right now.” Lee had previously been relying on a combination of SignUpGenius and Appointy to book pointe shoe fittings, but she has since switched to Calendly. “It’s more intuitive to use,” she says. “And it was super-easy to switch to.”
Calendly can handle both event-based and location-based appointments, which is why Lee was previously using two different apps—one for traveling dance studio visits and the other for in-store appointments. Once a date is booked, the app sends out appointment reminder notices on whatever schedule you choose.
After four months of testing, Aly Heintz Raddatz, operations manager for the Chicago-area Allegro Dance Boutique, chose Sesami, Shopify’s online booking app, over Calendly and BookThatApp. It took some tweaking to get it working; Raddatz says that out of the box, it wasn’t fully functional for Allegro. “We have two stores, and the app isn’t set up for that. And our length of appointment times varies, and that was not intuitive.” Raddatz did get it working on her own, but, she says, “It’s been a journey.”
Calendly integrates with: Shopify, Weebly, Wix
Cost: Basic (one user) is free; Premium, $8/month; Pro, $12/month
Sesami integrates with: Shopify, Shopify Plus (enterprise level)
Cost: One-user version is free; Small, $19/month; Medium, $49/month, Pro, $129/month
For Live Messaging/Chatbot
Andy Beal, head of consultancy Reputation Refinery and author of Repped: 30 Days to a Better Online Reputation, likes chatbots in general and says he thinks they help build a store’s customer loyalty. “Having an automated chatbot on your site is a great way of capturing a customer’s attention and having automated customer service,” he says.
Allegro Dance Boutique uses Shopify Ping, and Raddatz says that adopting it was a smart move for the store. “Ping has for sure led to sales that wouldn’t have happened otherwise,” she says. During business hours, Raddatz’s team monitors and replies to incoming messages (asking about product availability or sizing, say) —smoothing the customer journey toward purchase.
It can sometimes be challenging syncing with customer expectations, however. After a sale, customers get automatic updates on order status via Ping. But they may get frustrated when the app’s rudimentary artificial intelligence can’t handle a question—and there’s no human being available to answer their middle-of-the-night query. Still, says Raddatz, “When it works, it works really well.”
Ping integrates with: Shopify Chat, Facebook Messenger, Apple Business Chat, HeyDay
To Manage a Subscription Service
Heather Aldi, president and CEO of Metronome Dancewear in Northern California, loves ReCharge. (Lee has also used it since the beta version.) ReCharge allows Metronome customers to sign up for recurring deliveries, which has converted many occasional customers into regular buyers. It’s been especially valuable for making her investment in mobile fittings pay dividends: “If I capture a girl as a customer for life, and I sell 20 shoes based on that one fitting, it’s more worthwhile.”
Having an app to manage recurring deliveries has also been a boon for inventory management because it allows Aldi to anticipate upcoming sales better. “It has helped us plan inventory,” Aldi says.
One of Aldi’s favorite functions, though, is that ReCharge automatically triggers reminder emails one week before shipping, giving the subscription customer a chance to add items to her order, which has been a good sources of upsells.
Aldi also notes that although ReCharge is relatively pricey, its secure credit-card repository (so that the store never holds customers’ credit card information) justifies its cost in this era of data breaches: “There’s too much liability for us holding people’s credit card numbers.”
ReCharge integrates with: BigCommerce, Magento, Shopify, many others
Cost: Standard: No monthly fees, plus 1% +$0.10 per transaction; Pro, $300/month plus 1% + $0.19 per transaction
To Promote and Optimize Shipping
Adrienne Hansen, founder of On Your Toes Performance Wear in Oklahoma, says she really likes package-shipping app Shippo because of its robust integration: It links to inventory so that when product is shipped, inventory is updated to reflect what’s gone out; and it taps into customer files, so there’s no duplication of effort to make labels. “I’m not constantly having to enter address information,” she says.
She also likes that it generates a packing slip. Shippo prints out a customizable (with your logo) address label and can print a return-shipping label for customer use, as well. It seeks out the best carrier and pricing options (including on international sales) and checks the address to make sure it’s valid. It schedules pick-ups with certain carriers, too.
For customers shopping on the Metronome site, Aldi uses and likes Shopify’s Free Shipping Bar, which is an animated pop-up across the top of her e-commerce page that reminds customers that with a certain dollar level they get free shipping.
Shippo integrates with: BigCommerce, Shopify, Weebly, Wix, others
Cost: Free for Starter; Professional, $10/month
Free Shipping Bar integrates with: Shopify
Cost: Free; Premium, $9.99/month
To Schedule Employee Shifts
Coordinating multiple part-time staff members’ availability, scheduled shifts and time off requests at a small retail store can be a headache. Allegro Dance Boutique, which currently has about 20 employees between two stores and an online store, uses the browser-based app When I Work to manage employee schedules and communications. Raddatz has been using the timesaving software-as-a-service (SaaS) program since 2016. “It’s definitely the most robust,” she says.
When I Work integrates with: Standalone, Square and others. Runs on Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari
Cost: $2.00/user/month for businesses with up to 100 employees
Anne M. Russell is a Los Angeles–based writer who covers small business, fitness and technology.