Let’s face it: people are sick of downloading new apps, especially if they don’t include added functionality not available through the web. But they still love chat apps, which means there’s a lot of opportunity for one-on-one chat between retailers and customers. The announcement at F8 this year that Facebook was going to allow bots for Messenger created a lot of excitement in the market – suddenly one-on-one chat (either with chatbots or with a customer service agent) didn’t require an app for mobile. It’s not that retail-assisted shopping with bots is brand new – WeChat and Kik have been offering the service for awhile – but the ubiquity of Facebook Messenger, which has around 900 million active users, means a huge audience has opened up for retailers.
Some key players have taken a leap with text chat due to the decline in the popularity of apps. Companies are using human-powered chat functions for a variety of reasons: Walgreens partnered with MDLIVE for their pharmacy chat, Home Depot uses their in-app chat for customer service, and Nordstrom offers customers the ability to shop with a salesperson by text message with TextStyle.
The one-on-one chat is great, but it still has high associated labour costs. However, with advances in AI and machine learning technology, automated chat with bots is likely the next disruptive technology coming to retail.
There’s no shortage of creativity when it comes to customer relations. Retailers like San Francisco-based Everlane use chatbots to help shoppers purchase through Facebook Messenger. Sephora is using chatbots on Kik to engage with customers, assist with shopping, and deliver relevant, personalized content like reviews, and makeup tutorials. Taco Bell is working on artificial intelligence called “tacobot” with Slack, so users can order easily right in the Slack channel. It’s a simple merchandising principle: make it easier for people to shop and they will buy more.
As chatbots become more intelligent, they can adopt more natural, branded language to further enhance their image in the marketplace. A mix of automated and human-powered chat is probably the next iteration of retailer-shopper chat, although AI is quickly improving.
At this stage in the game we’re examining whether a niche, retail-specific bot can be developed and implemented without being cost-prohibitive. Stay tuned for more on bots in our next post, which shows how Mobify could power conversational commerce for retailers.