The way we interact with one another has shifted dramatically over the past decade. From SMS messages to Snapchats of life’s precious moments, people are now communicating in a variety of different ways — and that’s a very good thing for companies that are looking to place their brand at the center of where conversations are happening.
Conversational apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat are so popular as of late that they have actually surpassed social networks for monthly active users. And while personal use is the biggest reason to use these apps, there is also a very practical commerce aspect as well.
For years, consumers have reached out to brands on social media to get the information they need to make intelligent purchasing decisions. But recently, there have been some particularly lucrative technological breakthroughs that have both shoppers and ecommerce companies excited.
The Bot Revolution: Introducing Bcommerce
In 2016, Facebook sent shockwaves through the ecommerce space when they announced the new “Bots for Messenger” API during their F8 conference. As described by Facebook, “Bots can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them.”
Consumers who engage with companies utilizing chatbot tech are now able to start conversations, get product information or recommendations and make purchases directly with bots without having to venture anywhere else. Once this is fully realized, it will be incredibly powerful.
Facebook isn’t the only player in the bot-insurgence. Other conversational platforms such as (but not limited to) WeChat, Kik and Slack are also forging ahead with this kind of technology. This is in addition to all the custom APIs that can be built and applied to the more mainstream social mediums.
Since the bots have risen, there have already been some interesting applications (and results). 1–800 Flowers uses its Facebook bot to either guide customers through a buying journey, or pass them on to a human representative. President Chris McCann has stated that over 70 percent of their chatbot orders have come from new customers, many of whom are of a younger demographic than they’re used to serving.
Sephora uses bot technology on Kik (which they incentivized their audience to use with a contest) to provide customers with beauty tips and makeup recommendations. Mattel has a bot that allows children to interact with Barbie. Wingstop customers can send a direct message on either Facebook or Twitter to place their order while the chatbot guides them all the way through to the checkout stage, processing the order at the customer’s nearest Wingstop location. There are certainly no shortage of brands leaping at the opportunity to leverage chatbots.
For “Bot”ter or Worse
Clearly, there are benefits to leveraging chatbots for your business. To be able to automate a certain portion of your online sales so that customers can get answers to their questions and complete their transactions without a human needing to intervene is something that all ecommerce companies should get excited about. But with the pros also come cons.
One need not look further than the likes of Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa to understand where the state of artificial intelligence currently stands. As convenient as they are — the capabilities are still very much limited, which might be problematic for brands who value putting a personal touch on their customer service.
There’s also the notion of the technology backfiring horribly and doing more harm than good, as Microsoft learned when they unleashed their Twitter bot “Tay.”
Bots vs Humans: Who Prevails?
Ultimately, ecommerce companies who leverage the strength of both bots and humans in unity stand to benefit the most. Chatbots can be much more efficient when it comes to smaller more repetitive tasks like tracking SKU numbers, retrieving basic account or billing information whereas a human representative would normally have to spend prolonged time fetching the data manually. However, when determining message tone or nuances is critical — the human touch still reigns supreme.
According to eMarketer, nearly 1.5 billion consumers used messaging apps in 2015 and that number is expected to increase to 2 billion by 2018. With so many engaging with these apps, it should come to no surprise why so many brands are embracing bots to supplement their online sales. By reducing the time and number of steps it takes for a customer to get the information they need to complete their purchasing journey without sacrificing the personalized emotion that humans provide, you’re well on your way to maximizing revenue growth and efficiency.
While there has been a lot of hype swirling around chatbots and social media, there’ve been many other developments in the realm of social and conversational commerce. Check how social media has impacted the ecommerce industry.
Originally published at www.paymotion.com on July 20, 2016.