With reports suggesting that chatbots and other forms of conversational commerce could be saving businesses billions in just a few years (as much as $11bn in 5 years time), and with the chatbot market set to grow 24.4% in just 4 years, retailers are clearly starting to sit up and take notice of the power of natural language interfaces - that's a fancy way to refer to anything which accepts human input in the form of text or voice.
Conversational commerce refers to interactions between brands/retailers and their customers which occur through automated chat and voice interfaces such as Facebook Messenger chatbots or Alexa-enabled devices.
Often, these interactions are referred to as ‘artificial intelligence' by consumers and even brands. This isn't usually technically accurate. Almost all conversational commerce automation is rules-based, even though the information is surfaced to the user as though a human was presenting it, whether through speech in the case of Alexa, or through instant messaging as with chatbots. AI or not, however, these bots are changing the way retail works for customers and brands alike.
Shop floor assistants, when they’re good at their job, are an amazing asset for any physical store. They earn incremental sales, provide customers with a great experience, and become ambassadors for the brand. Online, it has traditionally been very difficult to achieve the same effects. This is where conversational commerce comes in.
Consumers are used to receiving information through their phone screens, and increasingly they’re getting used to asking voice-based technology for help and information when they want it. That’s why it makes perfect sense for brands to choose these channels for their conversational commerce efforts. The main areas of focus currently are product discovery, customer loyalty and support – but it’s likely that these will only be the start of the journey.
Here are some examples of how conversational commerce is already being adopted by major retailers.
Enki – ASOS’ Fashionbot
Enki’s artificial intelligence is real, but it’s deployed in an unusual way. Typically, you might expect a chatbot to use natural language processing AI to decipher the meaning of typed messages from users. Enki gets around this by offering dialogue options, controlling the experience much more closely and avoiding the potential messiness of having to try to understand what a user meant.
Instead, the AI deployment here is focused on image recognition – Enki allows users to take or upload photos of interesting products or outfits they like, which the software then matches to relevant and similar items in the ASOS catalogue.
This product discovery process is interactive and smart, which keeps users coming back. Enki gains value when users have an extensive shopping history with ASOS, as it uses previous purchase and browsing data to inform its recommendations, which don’t have to be image driven.
“Voice is the UI of the future”
Chris McCann, CEO, 1-800-Flowers
1-800-Flowers – Google Home, Alexa, Messenger
A gift retailer with an appetite for aggressive tech adoption, 1-800-Flowers has moved in the past year or so to set up conversational commerce options right across the spectrum of devices and channels.
As part of this, they set up an “advanced Alexa skill” – essentially a custom set of actions in response to a specific vocal trigger. In this case, the sentence “Alexa, ask 1-800-Flowers to send my wife roses” would effectively act like a 1-click purchase on Amazon.com, using Amazon Pay to seamlessly complete the order.