Top Five Most Useful Tools and Services for Online Retail SMBs

By Rod Bland | 28 Jun 2013

To deliver a high quality service experience across all customer touch-points and allow easy internal communications, it’s important to utilise the right tools for the job, writes Rod Bland.

For online businesses just starting out, it’s important to select good quality applications and services for managing all of your customer interactions, including supporting existing customers and managing new sales leads. If you have a team of staff, you’ll also need tools for internal communications with each other. They should be:

  • Reliable
  • Quick and easy to setup
  • Scaleable as your business grows
  • Available at a price that suits your budget
  • Available online, anywhere if possible (hosted)

Every year there are new services and applications being introduced, so even if you’ve been operating for several years, it’s worth having a look at the tools you use currently and compare them to what is available now. Often the new breed of tools can provide similar or better functionality to suit your business at a better price point than the older tools can.

As an online business the places where your team can interact with each other and with customers are many, and can include:

  • Email
  • Online Chat
  • Telephone
  • Online forums such as
  • Social Media, such as Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, and Google +


If you start out as a one-person operation, then managing email communications related to sales, support and general enquiries is fairly straightforward.  Google, (via Gmail), Microsoft (via and Yahoo (via Yahoo Mail) all provide robust email services at little or no cost, you can use your own domain name, and they have clients for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android or web browser.

Once you have more than one person in your team then moving to a helpdesk type application allows for efficient management of incoming and outgoing email communications. Free open-source options include RT: Request Tracker and Freehelpdesk, while paid options include CerberusZendesk, or Kayako.

Online Chat

I highly recommend that you consider providing an online chat service through your website if you don’t already.  According to LivePerson, introducing live chat can increase conversion rates by 20 percent, increase average order value by 35 percent, and reduce support costs by 20 percent. Other options apart from LivePerson include and Nearly all of these will have a trial period or be free to use if only one person is logged in.

For internal chat communications between staff, options include SkypeYahoo Messenger, and HipChat, among a huge number of other options.

Old telephone unit

Are your communications technologies up to date? Telephone systems may be the first thing to consider bringing into the 21st Century.


Allowing the public to communicate with your business via phone is often an underestimated source of sales.  It also allows your customers to connect with your business in a human way that is the next best thing to being there in person.  All you need now is a stable internet connection, a computer, a headset, and an online provider who can rent you a landline number and the ability to make outbound calls at cheap rates.  You might be able to get a good deal through one of the big telcos, but if you move around a lot, then options to look at include PennytelOztell, Skype, and Google Voice.

Online Forums

At some point your business will be discussed or mentioned in an online forum or blog, and it may be appropriate for you to respond in kind as a representative of your company.  Google Alerts is an invaluable (and free) tool for alerting you when your domain name, company name, or anything else you want to keep track of is posted on the web.

Social Media

Being aware of when someone mentions your brand or sends a message on social media allows you to respond, thank, or otherwise interact with those people.  All social media platforms have built in notification systems, but it can be cumbersome to monitor them all separately. Tweetdeck (free) can capture Twitter @mentions as well as search for any brand-related phrase in any tweet.  It also allows you to send replies and direct messages from multiple twitter accounts, all from one interface.  More advanced applications like Hootsuite come with coverage of all social media platforms and a lot more features, for a monthly fee.

My Top Five Picks

Boomerang for Android

Boomerang for Gmail not only adds great business functionality to a regular Gmail account, it works across a range of smartphone and tablet devices also.

These are the top five tools we use every day in our business that I could not be without.  I have no affiliation with any of these companies.

  1. HipChat  – this is our most-used application for internal communications between staff and is very inexpensive
  2. Eyebeam – windows and mac software for making and receiving calls over the internet (requires a VOIP account)
  3. Oztell – they have without a doubt one of the most hideous websites, but they offer a hosted PABX and VOIP service that is extraordinarily feature rich, reliable and just plain works. Also their phone support – when you do need a hand – is awesome.
  4. Livechatinc – a very feature rich and reliable live chat platform for communicating with your customers.
  5. Gmail from Google. Combine it with Boomerang for Gmail and you have a killer productivity app for scheduling outbound emails, cleaning out your inbox, and setting emails to jump back to your inbox if you need to deal with them later.

What are your favourite applications for managing communications in your business?  I’d love to hear your comments below.


4 thoughts on “Top Five Most Useful Tools and Services for Online Retail SMBs”

  1. Louisvs says:

    Thanks for the great list.
    I run a business and without a doubt the best sales tool I use is MailChimp!
    About as good as it gets for email marketing!

  2. Jeniffer says:

    Nice list of useful tools. Another great chat tool is Live2Support which I am using for my own small business website. You guys are great helpful for small business owners and start up.

  3. steve says:

    I use url shorteners to shorten my posts like

  4. Erik says:

    We use another great tool for email customer support – Deskun. Works with Gmail and Google Apps, so far it’s the most cost effective helpdesk we have tried.

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