Why Chatbots are an Important Opportunity for Retailers

With Facebook Messenger now able to accept payments through chatbots, a new era of ecommerce is here.

The new functionality lets retailers accept payments directly, right there within a Messenger conversation with a user.

This is huge. As of February of this year, Facebook Messenger surpassed 1bn monthly active users, and WhatsApp hit that same mark in July.

For many years messaging platforms like these were void of brand or business integration opportunities, aside from general brand awareness and customer engagement.

After all, even the world’s largest corporations don’t have the resources that would be needed to personally engage in conversations with millions of individual consumers simultaneously. 

At least, that was true. But in the past several months, everything has changed.

Now that Facebook opened its platform tochatbots, companies have tremendous new opportunities not just to interact with consumers on massive scale.

They can now transact as well — directly and in real time. 

A mobile-driven opportunity

Conversational commerce opens up new opportunities for retail brands to tap into the strong growth that we’re already seeing inmobile commerce, a growth that amounted to 29.7% last year.

With such large growth, brands should be selling to consumers through any app, especially those that are used most frequently, such as messaging.

Now that brands are free to enter messaging channels across nearly all major platforms, they can engage consumers one-on-one in the places where they already spend large amounts of time and create new buying opportunities. 

The race begins

Since the playing field is so new, best practices are still in flux, but a number of brands have quickly jumped on this opportunity and experimented with the channel.

One example is H&M, which created a chatbot that suggests various outfits to users and directs them to buy through the messaging platform.

Pizza Hut and Domino'sare also testing out chat commerce by allowing customers to select and order pizzas through a few text-based commands.

So now it’s easier than ever to get dinner while chatting with friends at the same time.

Enabling frictionless shopping

What do all these new chat-based shopping options mean for consumers?

For one, it’s way easier to purchase products now, because the number of steps has been cut down.

A conversation with the Domino's Pizza chatbot

Instead of thinking about a purchase, navigating to a mobile app or website, finding the exact product you want, and then entering payment information — you simply open a conversation in your messenger app (which you were probably using already) and type what you’re looking for.

Instantly, you see relevant products and have the ability to buy. The transaction friction of old is now greatly reduced. 

Tools for creation

Ready to take the plunge? There are already a number of different platforms that brands can use to create commerce-enabled chatbots.

Which one to use depends on your objective and how complex you want the experience to be.

Mr. Chatbot is a chatbot platform that easily integrates with Facebook Messenger.

All your customers have to do is send a message to your Facebook page and they’ll automatically receive information about your store and its products through a chatbot.

For brands wanting a more integrated approach that resides on a pre-existing website, a more customizable platform might be better.

Botcommerce integrates with Magento and Shopify-based sites directly.

Its chatbot capabilities have built-in features (e.g. custom welcome messages, order status updates, tracking number requests, and simple FAQ searches) that are similar to that of a full ecommerce site.

There are also plenty of other bot platforms like Msg.ai that don’t enable direct transactions but still guide shoppers through the search and discovery stage of the journey.

Improvements to come

When it comes to providing shopping capabilities, these first generation conversational commerce experiences are pretty okay.

But by virtue of their newness, there’s lots of room for improvement and innovation. 

Chatbots are more than just information-providing, transactional computer programs. They offer companies the opportunity to create a personality that reinforces the brand.

The deeper the relationship that a chatbot can create with the consumer, the the more likely she or he is to accept product suggestions, thereby increasing the average basket size.

However, there aren’t many chatbots that infuse commerce capabilities with authentic and engaging personalities.

Impersondoesn’t yet enable commerce but is the current leader in creating personality-driven chatbots, and the company has extensive experience working with some of the entertainment industry’s most famous personalities like Miss Piggyand Doc Brown

Introducing realistic personalities such as these boosts brands’ rapport with their constituents, who in turn become more comfortable transacting en masse through the messaging platform.

Personality is the missing piece in ecommerce transactions, and now is the perfect time to start experimenting with it.

The brands that create connections are the ones that will come out on top.

In conclusion...

Messaging platforms and the retail industry are now being revolutionized with the advent of conversational commerce.

The playing field has not been defined yet but as more and more people get used to transacting on chat, we’ll see a plethora of new and exciting chatbots.

This is the time to get in, to be an early adopter, to write the rules and blaze the trail of chatbots.

Bart Mroz

 Published 28 October, 2016 by

Bart Mroz

Bart is CEO and Co-founder of SUMO Heavy, a digital commerce consultancy, and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him onTwitteror connect via LinkedIn.

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