Many of the most significant recent developments in e-commerce have centered around the idea of brands communicating with customers and vice versa. The most obvious example is social media and the proliferation of short-form video platforms that have come of it during the past two years. Each social media platform provides a unique venue, format, and tone in the quest to find the right way to engage in dialogue with consumers.
Another example is content strategy and inbound marketing more generally. In the context of Web content, the blog post, webinar, or other presentation takes the place of the brand in the “conversation.” Users engage with the content while they are alone and relatively free of distraction — but, in effect, they are forming an impression of the brand just as if involved in a direct conversation with a representative.
Conversational commerce is the latest development in this arena.
Conversational commerce stands at the intersection of e-commerce activities and chat. Of course, dynamic chat applications have been available for websites for many years. Using a chat app can improve the conversion rate by allowing a representative to overcome last-minute objections or coach the user through technical problems.
However, this is only the beginning of modern conversational commerce. Analytics, machine learning, and other advanced techniques are used to create a more compelling, comprehensive chat experience — one that may not even require a live representative.
Advantages of Conversational Commerce for e-Commerce Enterprises
Conversational commerce can be executed using ordinary human labor, machine intelligence, or a mix of the two. By providing direct access to an online representative, the business empowers the prospect or customer to do all of the following:
- Get immediate product support
- Receive personalized recommendations
- Read reviews relevant to their purchase
- Ask questions about the brand or product
- Conclude a purchase in the chat interface
Thanks to the concept of natural language processing, it’s increasingly possible for virtual chat assistants to take on the basic functions of a live representative. In natural language processing, human-computer interaction is facilitated by a vast linguistic database that the program uses to decipher the meaning of a query through its word use and context.
Conversational commerce can be an efficient and cost-effective way to transform prospects into customers during the last phase of the buyer’s journey when only relatively minor issues stand in the way of the sale. It can also incentivize purchases through special “flash” bargains offered through interaction, all while collecting important information about user behavior.
In advanced applications, “bots” can help brands tap new customer bases. They may even help connect prospects to products or solutions they were unaware of before, driving brand rapport. Specialized conversational commerce platforms add gamification and social sharing features to the buying experience, helping users share and support their favorite finds.
For the time being, automated conversational commerce apps do not have the reach or flexibility of human chat representatives. However, this may change in the foreseeable future. Many top brands are actively experimenting with automation technologies that use machine learning to anticipate the requirements of future interactions based on previous ones.
Conversational Commerce Is Taking Off Among Top Brands
Thanks to the sophisticated technology and heavy data processing overhead involved in artificial intelligence, large digital platforms are in the lead when it comes to conversational commerce automation. Along with the rise of sophisticated wearable technology, the proliferation of mobile devices and applications is driving greater adoption of conversational commerce.
Some top examples include:
A hotbed of development effort since 2015, Facebook Messenger is already empowered with full peer-to-peer payment processing capabilities and a robust chatbox API. Businesses can develop fully customized interactions, allowing users to order directly within the app. Multiple brand interactions can take place seamlessly without switching to other software.
This hit unexpectedly sold more than 3 million units in less than a year and a half. After firmly beating expectations in a world already filled with mature competitors, the device has received strong customer reviews. Its power comes from its ability to access the Amazon website and purchase items quickly according to user commands.
The visually focused Snapchat app is one of the most popular social platforms for millennials and teens. Snapchat recently rolled out its own peer-to-peer payment framework, followed by a limited selection of stores in its “Discover” section. While it’s not clear how its conversational commerce will ultimately look, the future is bright.
The original digital assistant, Siri has recently seen expanded e-commerce capabilities of her own. Siri now serves as the voice and controller of the Apple TV, introducing users to a full range of media features they can control with a word. For now, Siri only purchases media from iTunes, but the rapid development of tvOS apps should change this.
Riding on the wave of the QR scanning trend that never quite was, Kik Bots is an effort to connect your phone to the real world through conversational commerce. By integrating greater awareness of where and who you are, Kik Bots will facilitate targeted, contextualized purchases. So far, however, the platform has more potential than performance.
The mobile Web and the Internet of Things are working together to change how people access information. At the same moment, best practices for conversational commerce are being defined. Through creativity, customer focus, and effective interface design, conversational commerce offers a unique potential to integrate purchases into users’ lived experience in novel ways. The end result? Better e-commerce experience for individuals and improved performance for innovative brands.
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Shopify.com, “Conversational Commerce”
VentureBeat.com, “Examples of Conversational Ecommerce”
Medium.com, “2016 will e the year of conversational commerce”
VentureBeat.com, “A guide for the BOT curious”