Do You Need A 1800 Toll Free Number For Your Online Business?

Most small business startup books recommend that you obtain a 1800 number for your business, especially if you are running an eCommerce store.

But these days, long distance calling is mostly free or extremely cheap. In today’s age of cell phones and free unlimited long distance calling, is having a 1800 number really a necessity anymore? Should encouraging more customers to contact your business via phone rather than going online to make a purchase be one of your goals?

Do The Benefits Still Apply?

So what is so compelling about having a 1800 number? I’ve compiled a list of the commonly perceived benefits of having a 1800 number below. The real question is whether they all apply to your business. Only you can be the judge.

  • Increased Sales – According to the books (and common sense), if a customer is given a choice between dialing a 1800 number vs a long distance number, they will invariably call the toll free number first. Statistics show that most customers purchase from the first company they call so it is important to get that first point of contact. But I wonder how many people actually think like this today? When dealing with two unknown companies, I’ll almost always call the company with the most professional and aesthetically appealing website regardless of the type of phone number. The type of phone number is rarely the deciding factor whether I will call a company or not.
  • Credibility – Consumers often assume that a toll-free number is associated with a large company so logic dictates that they will want to go with a more established player. Again, I tend to associate credibility with the professionalism and aesthetic appeal of the website itself rather than through a phone number. Personally, I prefer to shop at small boutiques. These days, large conglomerates and corporations are generally associated with lousy customer service. If you appear to be a small establishment, who cares? If anything, I tend to correlate small establishments with more personalized service.
  • Increased Order Size – Supposedly, companies with 1800 numbers receive larger order sizes on average. While I believe that order sizes tend to be larger when you are able to speak to a customer face to face, I question whether simply having a 1800 number would actually cause a customer to buy more.
  • Decreased Returns – Supposedly, stores with 1800 numbers are less likely to have returns. Once again, I fail to see a correlation between product satisfaction and having a 1800 number. Product returns are usually dictated by the quality of the product and its presentation rather than a phone number.
  • Call Forwarding – With a 1800 number, you can accept calls on any phone line of your choice whether it be a cell phone or a land line and customers won’t know the difference. While this is extremely convenient, these services are no longer limited to 1800 numbers anymore. For example, Google Voice allows you to forward a call from one number to any phone of your choice depending on the time of day, and it’s free!

Do I Need A 1800 Number?

So the million dollar question is whether a 1800 number is inline with your business goals and whether the money spent on a 1800 line is worth it. These days, toll free numbers are fairly inexpensive so money is less of a factor. Looking online, a toll free number can be had for a small monthly fee and a 3 cents a minute charge.

Personally, I think that the answer depends on the nature of your business. These days, making a long distance call is more or less free, especially if you are on a cell phone. So it really depends on your target audience and what you are trying to sell. Are your customers located close to your business geographically? Does selling your product require having a phone conversation with the customer?

Naturally, a 1800 number is required if your business relies heavily on voice communications to make a sale. But there are other things to keep in mind as well. For example…

  • Does your business have the necessary infrastructure to handle the additional call volume?
  • Do you want to encourage customers to place orders over the phone or on your website?
  • Is more call volume desirable?

Just keep in mind that answering phone calls to make sales is not easily scalable because it requires manpower.

Instead of focusing on making more sales via phone, how about investing more time and money making your website more automated instead? For example, with our store, we try our best to anticipate customer questions online so they don’t have to call us on the phone. We’ve written detailed FAQs and guides to avoid having to answer commonly asked questions. Truth is, as much as we enjoy speaking with customers, we would rather take less calls and rely on more automated methods of selling. Having a 1800 number might actually encourage a customer to call rather than place an order online.

Our Business

Our online store gets almost as many calls as we can handle and we don’t currently have a 1800 number. 40% of the time, customers call to ask simple questions that could easily be covered on the website. With each call, we jot down the customer question and add it to the FAQ in hopes that we don’t have to answer the same question again. We also display the FAQ page prominently on the menu bar.

For our business, getting a 1800 number is currently a gray area. This isn’t to say that getting a 1800 number doesn’t make sense, but we are focusing our efforts on trying to reduce call volume rather than increase it without sacrificing customer support quality.

Questions For The Audience

  • Is not having a 1800 number a deal breaker when contacting an online business?
  • How much does having a 1800 number lend credibility to a business?
  • Does having a 1800 number really matter to you when you shop?

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23 thoughts on “Do You Need A 1800 Toll Free Number For Your Online Business?”

  1. I don’t think I’ll ever have a toll-free number. I’m a writer and blogger and so far, I’m just handling almost everything via e-mail and cell phone (which is rare). I personally love it this way and it’s working well for me. :-D

  2. For me, 800 numbers doesn’t matter. As long as they have a number, its all good.

    For my website, I only have a local number but I rarely get phone calls at this point. Most correspondence is via email only. If I get more contact, orders, etc, I may invest in a toll free number.

  3. An 800 number is not essential for my business either. I handle most business transactions almost exclusively online.

  4. Hi Steve, while I don’t need one, I will always choose an 800 when ordering or making a inquiry by phone. In fact, I don’t appreciate it when a company I need to call doesn’t have one. I vote yes for toll free numvers.

  5. I agree. I do all of the above when looking at or dealing with any company. 800 numbers definitely benefits a business.

  6. We discovered a great service called Toktumi, http://www.toktumi.com, for a toll free 800# number. They let you try an 800# for free for 30 days, only $15/month after that. It’s actually much more than just a toll free 800#, it’s actually a full hosted PBX system, which is great for connecting all of our office and cell phones. But if you are thinking about adding an 800# to your business it’s a great way to test the waters for free.

  7. Christian says:

    If I’m calling a business, I wouldn’t mind all that much not having a toll-free number, except for one case: waiting. If I’m put on hold or into a queue, I’m not sure I’ll wait more than a minute when not on a toll-free number. I just wouldn’t like the feeling of my phone bill going up as I’m waiting in your system.

    So I’d say if you’re getting more call volume than you can handle, a toll-free number is still essential. If I can call your business and immediately speak to a real human who will be able to help me with my problem, I guess you’re right that a toll-free number isn’t as essential as it once was. (Although still preferred.)

    1. @Christian
      A 1800 number is definitely preferred, but not as necessary as it once was. In any case, we’ll probably had one to our store eventually. It’s just not our top priority at the moment especially if it means beefing up our customer support staff.

  8. I’m certainly not your typical customer. But if I have to call you, we already have a problem. At that point, it isn’t going to make much difference whether it is a toll-free number. Either you’re going to quickly try to fix the problem, or I’m going to go away mad.

    In other words, a short call to a regular number might be better than a long call to a toll-free number, depending on the results of the call. I would have no problem with someone saying “I’m trying to fix this, but it might take a while. How are you doing on minutes this month? Would you like to move this to e-mail?”

    One thing that really gets to me is being in a call queue and not getting something like “our current estimated wait time is approximately seven minutes”. When a company’s call queue tells me about the wait, I can decide whether to hang up and try back later.

    Sort of off-topic: I was getting all sorts of automated calls on my (new) mobile number. Because of the plan, I figured out that one company had cost me about $16. So when they called again, I was hot. I waited for a real person, then I let the guy have it. Afterwards, I thought I should have been nicer, but at least his company stopped calling me.

    1. @W^L
      Excellent point. I’d be frustrated as well if I was placed on hold. That’s a good thing to keep in mind in case the call waiting period gets out of control.

  9. Hi Steve,

    Our experience with 1-800 numbers has been that they absolutely increase credibility and people have a tendency of using them more often.

    I think that even though long distance plans make long distance calling much more affordable (or even free) 1-800 numbers have been ingrained in the minds of consumers for so long that they will naturally look for them and call them more often than with a regular number.

    So much so that even local existing and potential clients call us by default on our 1-800 numbers. This was the case even when we featured our regular number more prominently. We’ve since done the reverse and now make sure our 1-800 number is more visible.

    All that said, you make a valid point about not using a 1-800 number if you are trying to reduce call volume because the use of one will usually have the opposite effect.

    1. @Xurxo
      I’m just curious to see whether you have any data on the correlation of having a 1800 number versus sales. Did you find that a 1800 number noticeably increased your revenues? Did you have to staff more people on the phones as a result?

  10. I work for a 1800 number provider, and I’ve come to think it’s something worth trying out for any small business — as mentioned in the post, the cost of toll free numbers these days is really low, and you can usually try them free for some period of time before paying a dime. The benefits can be tremendous, not just in changing how your callers perceive you, but also in increasing your daily efficiency with newer features like voicemail transcription.

    If a 1800 number doesn’t work out, you can walk away from it and at least you’ll know it simply wasn’t right for you. If it does work out, that could mean more orders, more satisfied customers, etc. — and that’s worth the relatively minor investment of time and money it takes to give it a try.

    I’d say shop these services around, there are a lot of quality providers out there that can give you a good deal. You can always check us out at FreedomVOICE: http://www.freedomvoice.com.

  11. Hi Steve,

    I don’t have any hard numerical data to confirm that having a 1-800 number increases leads, sales or revenue, but there are clear indications that it does.

    One example that comes to mind is that local partners and clients alike who initially called us on our regular number, over time migrated on their own to our 1-800 for future calls.

    And local potential clients tend to reach us via our 1-800 even though both numbers are clearly provided on the “contact us” page of our website.
    (More recently we included the 1-800 on all pages to maximize the effect)

    As for having to hire new staff to handle the call volume, this is not a problem in our industry as our services cater to other businesses looking to advertise their brands, products or services. I can see how this might become problematic for businesses operating within a B2C framework.

  12. Thanks for posting, the comments were very helpful. I have had a toll free number for 27 years and today I considered cancelling until I found this website. I decided to keep it now because I did not consider the fact that many people still have limited minutes on their cell phone plan. I do not want a customer to be thinking about their cheap phone plan while we are doing business on the telephone.

  13. Great summary of the toll-free dilemma.
    I believe that a toll-free number is an excellent tool to give your website visitors the respect and service they deserve to become your client, and soon loyal customer.

    I work for a new online, toll free call solution, called the GreenCaller.
    Our statistics with client show that using a toll-free call option, depending on your business sectors and your online presence/proficiency, the conversion rate increase varies between 0- 32% in the first month. Yes, I know that this is a great variation, yet reality. And it is true, some business experienced no significant change.

    Interestingly enough, the most ‘toll-free productive’ business areas have been the ones with highly computer literate target groups, nice example is auto-hifi geeks. Yet most webshops and credit and insurance consultants experienced significant conversion increase.

    According to our client survey, the 2 most important benefits of toll-free call options were:
    1. A decrease in churn rate.
    Especially during filling online order forms or contracts.
    2. Great possibility of up- and cross selling to your customers.
    As they talk to you directly.

  14. Epoch says:

    I wanted to way in on this forum.

    There’s a huge different between a 1.800 and a 1.800 vanity numbers.

    1.800.LAWYERS, 1.800.FLOWERS & 1.800.CONTACTS are examples
    of great brands!

  15. Hi Steve!

    I appreciate you for the information that you have shared. An 800 number is a excellent way to make your small business good specialized for a minimal cost.

  16. I have come to think it’s something value trying out for any little company, the price of toll-free figures nowadays is really low, and you can usually try them 100 % free for some time interval before spending a penny.

  17. I’m debating using a 1800 number as part of a call tracking service to properly measure my google adwords conversions. I’m in the service industry as I own a Chiropractic, Physiotherapy & Massage Therapy clinic. All of our customer’s are local and value “local and independent”. My worry is that when a potential patient comes to my website and see’s a 1800 number, will this intimidate them? Or do the benefits of the making informed decisions about my google adwords and listening to calls for training purposes outweigh by fears? Any thoughts or input would be greatly appreciated! -Nick

    1. Hi Nick,

      You can actually track conversions using a local number. Phone tracking providers such as Callrail offer both local and toll-free numbers. So you’re not forced to have to use a toll-free number if a local number is more valuable to your business.

      If you need any AdWords related help, feel free to reach out – we offer free audits of existing campaigns.

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