Will chatbots drive a ‘conversational commerce’ trend?

Discussion
Source: YouTube: "Masterpass-Enabled SUBWAY Bot"
Apr 28, 2017
Matthew Stern

The social media landscape is always changing, and retailers have continually tried to find ways to leverage the most popular platforms to turn users into shoppers. Now some big names are trying out a method of leveraging Facebook Messenger to facilitate purchases, foregoing both websites and retailer apps.

Subway and Mastercard have partnered to roll out an ordering chatbot for Facebook Messenger, Mashable reported. Fresh Direct and Cheesecake Factory are introducing similar chatbots. A demo on YouTube shows a user messaging the Subway chatbot, which responds by inviting the customer to find his or her location on a map and select the nearest Subway restaurant. Then it displays a menu, inviting the user to select a sandwich. The chatbot carries on a back-and-forth conversation with the user, determining the sandwich size, type of bread and other options. When the order is completed, a customer can pay using Mastercard’s Masterpass.

The implementation of these chatbots is part of an emerging trend known as “conversational commerce,” as noted in a Washington Post article.

There seems to be wisdom in retailers trying to sell consumers on the apps they already use, rather than pushing adoption of individual retailer apps. Studies consistently show that users are interested in interacting with only a few smartphone apps. This has led to a low rate of standalone retail app adoption. A 2016 comScore report identified Facebook Messenger as the most popular app in terms of time spent.

But despite Facebook Messenger’s relative popularity, bringing on retailers might also represent a move to make the app more valuable to those that aren’t sold on it. Facebook has been pushing the Messenger app hard to users, rendering it impossible to use the messaging service from a smartphone without using the Facebook Messenger app, closing down various workarounds.

This has not gone without complaints as users have noted that the messaging app drains device batteries. Though in January, according to Mashable, Facebook claimed it fixed one major battery-draining glitch.

Facebook has also begun letting users sign up for Messenger using just a phone number rather than requiring a Facebook account, as reported in The Guardian.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will customers take to interacting with chatbots to meet shopping needs more readily than visiting retailer websites or interacting with apps? Will the chatbot model prove to be an effective and enduring way for companies to leverage social media?

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Braintrust
"There is a market out there just waiting for a time saving, multi-tasking tool like this."
"Yes! In this post-app era, in which consumers are hesitant to load yet another app on their smartphone, simplicity rules."
"If it employs true machine learning capabilities, it will definitely provide value for shoppers as more and more data get consumed by the bots."

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17 Comments on "Will chatbots drive a ‘conversational commerce’ trend?"


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Charles Dimov
Guest

No doubt there is a market out there for conversational commerce. Being an omnichannel enthusiast, I believe very strongly that retailers and brands need to be on board with the latest technologies that their customers are using. Now think about how much time people spend in their cars. Doesn’t it just make sense that you could call up an app and talk to it to order an item while en route, buy it (still while driving), and pick it up from a store on the driving route?

People cannot stop complaining about how busy they are and how little time there is to get everything done. I am guilty as charged. So there is a market out there just waiting for a time saving – multi-tasking tool like this. Next step — make sure your order management system connects to it seamlessly. It all works in the omnichannel retail world!

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

While I understand the attraction and promise of chatbots, I get annoyed going through the “conversation” with a robo-receptionist on the telephone. “Press 2 for a BMT” is just not my idea of a rewarding customer experience. Perhaps it’s a generational thing — yet again! I like technology but give me an experience that flows smoothly and efficiently not a computer programming flowchart. It’s unfortunate that we’re developing technology and experiences that are literally squeezing the life (and emotion) out of human existence. Where is the emotional surprise and delight and sense of community that we need to live? Apparently it’s become an app. Press 9 (or wave your mobile device) for a virtual hug.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

The latest chatbots I’ve seen have taken a hop, skip and a jump over the “press 2 for a BMT” model and have become something much closer to interacting with a human. Most are constructed without a flowchart experience so they’re able to more freely interact, leveraging access to databases and tools far more extensive and faster than a human would be able to process. Siri and others even have a bit of personality built in.

I don’t think chatbots will replace human interaction entirely (especially any time soon), but they certainly have a place.

Vahe Katros
Guest
Vahe Katros
2 years 4 months ago

Yes! FB recognized the problem with the tedious chats and incorporated the inline menu that changes the UX. This question relates to bots and commerce not bots and FAQs (are you open? etc) which it has been said can lead to “60-80% automation within six months.” The challenge for retailers is when shopping bots can answer the following question: “what the best store for me right now to buy x?” and have the bot choose the retailer.

Kim Garretson
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

I’m concerned that the chatbot space is already overheated and retailers are being barraged by pitches from chatbot startups, causing concern and confusion about making the right bets. The technology is fairly cheap and easy to implement, but getting the user experience and interactions right is tricky. I think it will be 18 months before both the market matures around the best solutions and consumers begin to really adopt the use cases.

Max Goldberg
Guest

Retailers would be wise to explore options other than their own websites and apps, since consumers have not widely accepted them. Chatbots may be a potential answer, provided that they make shopping easier and save time. Plus, companies like Facebook will always be more technologically advanced than individual retailers.

Liz Crawford
Guest

Yes — chatbots are the next wave of consumer interaction. What will make them work? Sharp artificial intelligence. Too mechanical, and the users will drift away after their initial curiosity. But if the AI is engaging, unpredictable, delightful, funny and informative — it’s a home run. Chatbots can make interactive advertising on a one-to-one basis fun, in a way that hasn’t been achieved to date (without a human being). But beware — don’t hammer users over the head with upselling.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest

I’m a technology immigrant so new devices and apps are always appearing to me as a surprise. I just learned about chatbots. They open a new era for shopping. I see them not only for expediting the transaction process, but more importantly helping to guide shoppers through the “too many options” dilemma. They can provide knowledge, make the individual smarter and help make decisions based on the users’ historical choices. These are useful tools, not only for online or mobile transactions but also inside retail stores. What is needed is the knowledge of experience (merchants, designers, artisans, stylists, etc.) to be built into the bots’ database. Great job opportunities for those experts should abound!

Jon Polin
BrainTrust

Yes! In this post-app era, in which consumers are hesitant to load yet another app on their smartphone, simplicity rules. Consumers are hungry for simple and quick ways to interact with retailers in a manner that fits into the consumers’ existent lives rather than needing to be an extra step. Conversational commerce is a fine term for what is about to really take off.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust
Laura Davis-Taylor
Co-Founder, HighStreet Collective
2 years 4 months ago

What I love the most about this new technology is their ability to get right to the information that you need. Digital has a three-click rule, meaning get people the answer within three clicks. If a chatbot can slice through all of that and enable the ability to ask a question and get the answer, wonderful. Are we in the learning curve on this right now? Yep. But throw Watson in the mix and it gets really interesting.

Peter Seltenright
Guest

I like seeing the attempt at utilizing chatbot technology right now, consumers need to use it and understand its abilities. Further improvements and adoption will follow. The use of Facebook Messenger is only one small application and one that is disconnected from a retailer’s branding and shopping experience. The true power in conversational commerce is all about allowing a consumer to find the right product quicker, especially on mobile. At AddStructure I am biased, but voice technology allowing for natural language queries on a retailer’s eCommerce experience will be a major breakthrough for mobile shopping.

Bill Hanifin
BrainTrust
“It depends” has to be the most maddening response to questions such as this one, but when you frame the answer in terms of the impossibly broad spectrum of consumer profiles that brands are trying to serve, it is the only answer that can be offered. Chatbots enabling purchase transactions in FB Messenger or similar SMS channels can be time-saving for people buying products that they purchase frequently and are already familiar with. There is a reason that early examples illustrated are in QSR or grocery/pharmacy verticals. People know the menu for their favorite QSR chain and are familiar with certain products that they might buy on a regular basis from grocery or pharmacy outlets. For retailers with complex catalogs offering lots of SKUs, the website is still a very effective way to conduct business. A mobile app front end can be effective for those brands who not only have the magnetic power to justify download and usage, but also seed app usage with additional offers and benefits. Here’s an idea: retailers of any type… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

This depends on the actual technology being utilized for the chatbots. If it employs true machine learning capabilities, it will definitely provide value for shoppers as more and more data get consumed by the bots. For now, some of these sites are hit or miss. Others are driving real value and upselling to drive profitable growth as we speak. Bottom line, the potential is there, but don’t underestimate the value of the tech used.

Chris Teso
Guest
2 years 4 months ago
We’ve been building chatbots since 2011, and invented in-stream social and chat payments, so this topic is very close to home. Conversational and social commerce has really not evolved at all since then. There are many reasons for this, the majority of which have to do with a consumer mindset while on these channels. The medium does not lend itself to a good experience when shopping or purchase decision is the context. Other reasons are just as important. To date there has been no person responsible for social/convo commerce internally at a brand. Neither the e-commerce, nor the social team are tasked with driving this. So there has been no buyer or owner for this solution internally. That may change, but at a slow evolution. If it does, I agree with you Bill. Purchases will be driven by familiarity. What is working on these channels is brands providing consumers utility, customer service, and connecting these experiences to other business systems such as CRM and Loyalty programs. After all, consumers these days are measuring brands on… Read more »
Julie Bernard
Guest
Interacting with brands in chat environments holds promise for both revenue generation as well as deepening consumer relationships, but relegating those conversations to bot-based experiences could create challenges for brands attempting to reach their mobile audiences. What we know, especially recently, thanks to new studies, is that younger consumers not only embrace chat experiences around customer support and brand interactions, they prefer and expect it, dominantly due to interactions of functional utility and basic convenience. Yet these mobile shoppers also want highly personalized and predictive outcomes, and the brands working with Facebook to attract consumers to nearby locations by bot alone will need to work hard to make sure their conversations represent the kind of high-touch/high-recognition approaches that these digitally savvy individuals demand. Consumers are craving personal and inspiring connections, to excite their emotions and satisfy their existential needs, requiring brand activations to balance the efficiency of algorithms with the effectiveness of an indisputably human touch. Conversational commerce could well represent a meaningful conduit to the mobile consumer. Its likely value is as a starting… Read more »
Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Chatbots are a powerful way to get customers answers to their questions or requests quickly. And, customers are expecting them — and even wanting them. They get the customer the information they want quickly with minimal effort. The best chatbot systems are able to sense customer confusion and will seamlessly switch the customer from the chabot to chatting with a live customer support rep. Done well, the customer never notices the difference — which means that the customer couldn’t tell if he or she was dealing with a machine in the first place. For social media, a chatbot system must be able to give personalized responses — not canned or repetitive. Customers will see right though the canned responses and the company will lose credibility — and maybe even the customer.

Marko Kovac
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

While I’m not convinced ordering via chatbot is necessarily easier, faster, or more satisfying than ordering via a well-designed mobile app (I’m looking at you, Starbucks), the chatbot approach does has one massive advantage over standalone apps — there’s no need to download (or store) yet another app.

With every retailer, conference, event, and connected device featuring a unique app, consumers are quickly getting sick of having to download and sort through dozens of apps they only use once every couple of months. The benefit of Facebook Messenger-based chatbots is that they can all exist in a single app most consumers already own.

With this in mind, I believe this type of chatbot has better staying power in the long term, even if it isn’t quite valuable enough just yet.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"There is a market out there just waiting for a time saving, multi-tasking tool like this."
"Yes! In this post-app era, in which consumers are hesitant to load yet another app on their smartphone, simplicity rules."
"If it employs true machine learning capabilities, it will definitely provide value for shoppers as more and more data get consumed by the bots."

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