Conversational commerce as a buzzword was created by exGoogler –exUber bot-farmer Chris Messina in a Medium article released in 2015. At the first sight the term could mean the confluence of text –messaging apps and e-commerce, but instead of the chaos that hybrid apps usually result in, Conversational Commerce is about to yield a standalone kingdom within the e-commerce universe – once it becomes more developed. Because interacting with chatbot-assisted e-stores today as a customer, still feels like using the „world wide web” in the early 1990 –s: unpolished, spartan, rough at the joints but we feel the merriment of something revolutionary has started up. Even with the barriers in usefulness and functionality, even with a limited group of products we already feel the overwhelming UX – the comfort of not having to leave the conversation. In the balmy atmosphere of being surrounded by friends, we can keep on shopping, file our complaints, or read testimonials and reviews before starting the purchase.
In the chat windows of Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Whatsapp users can talk with customer support, company reps, evangelists, community managers or even the designers, vaguely feeling where is the borderline between chatbots and human being employees. The latter still has the higher possibility when the customers send in sophisticated questions and complaints.
The desired consequence of conversational commerce ( substituting expensive human workforce and deploying unlimited number of supersmart servants providing uber-personalized offers and resolving complex complaints ) will not happen overnight.
How does this impact Your Market?
Chatbots are not a completely new phenomenon, the concept is invented decades ago, but only the recent few years saw the democratization of bot utilization because of the soaring big data accessibility that kicked this AI segment into gear.
Before jumping into buying and training a bot for your e-store, consider Mike Schroepfer Facebook CTO’s remarks with the prospect of a very long and unpaved way to get to the golden age where users can forget menus and tapping icons and can engage in a conversation with a bot with the same experience as in a chat with a human being shop assistant.
Expectations hoping to drop the adversities and costs of developing an app and simply launching a chatbot instead should be dissolved. Have a look onto the majority of already operating chatbots: in action they are crammed with menus. If we have to tap menus and thumbnails again, chatbot as a standalone phenomenon is about to lose its reason for being. It becomes another app like other millions of apps – but it’s an app for that we don’t have to leave Messenger nevertheless.
To answer the question whether applying chatbots is right for your e-commerce business the first sub-question you have to get around: do you deal with goods that need long consideration therefore extended question-and-answer before being ordered? If the answer is yes, postpone the bot hire to the times when AI will be more developed.
If your goods are simple, cheap, they have no or a very few accessories, they need a simple consideration before purchase, your customers are more price sensitive, or your customers have no or limited right to get reimbursed after using the product, ( flowers, batteries, adult toys etc. ) these are the conditions whose accumulated presence make us say: closer to yes.
The answer is definitely yes if you are about to apply bots for simpler tasks like:
In the chatbot framework template banks ( major examples: API.ai, Chatscript, Pandorabots, Kik, Facebook, Microsoft etc. ) there are well-proven scripts that meet the expectations of the customers. After the fine-tuning of the bots you can enjoy the time and revenue gained by extricating the sales- and customer service process from the human workforce, but re-tunings will be continuously needed and training never stops, being this is the turbulent wild west of the e-commerce and chatbot-history is too short to draw sound conclusions or long-term forecasts.
Gartner analyst Brian Blau is also prone to skepticism:
„We don’t know yet how much infrastructure a business has to put around a chatbot to make it work right. How do you speak to a customer? How fast or slow do you answer someone? […] Best practices around normal situations, like a customer returning an item, are tough enough, but how does a chatbot respond when the customer wants to return an item but is on vacation on an island where there’s no shipping? The bot may not solve the problem, but it needs an appropriate response like, ‘I hope you’re having a great vacation. Call us again when you get home.”
Niché markets first
Business.com mentions the success story a vinyl record store ( The Edge ) that uses a chatbot for initiating a long-term personalization process with offering a record every day – after listening to it the user can decide whether to buy it or not. Building on the users’ purchases, buys, likes and dislikes the store builds algorithms customized to the users’ preferences. The bot appears as a shop clerk conducting the survey that results in presenting windows framed as personalized product boxes utilized both in the webshop itself and in the chat window. The Edge is a quite young shop, having less than 2 years of history, but it is already fairly over the 1 million USD in sales.
The model appears to be a simple interaction matrix used in a new user environment. It has done the work of personalization being fruitful in both environments.
If you sell niché market goods, if you run a business based on your passion therefore you have the genuine knowledge about your goods, if you were the very early adopter of the goods, if the training of your bots is quick and effortless, if the bot training is rewarding personalization-wise, the answer is more than yes.
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