Modern marketing has changed a lot since the early days of television. Advertisers used to blast generic messages to the masses (hence the term “mass marketing”). They hoped enough people were watching at that precise moment to receive those messages.
Fast forward 70 years. There now exists any number of technologies that allow companies to send highly targeted, location-independent messages to potential users.
“Conversational commerce” is one of the latest entrants in this field. When leveraged correctly, this marketing approach can offer extremely personalized shopping experiences — regardless of the user, time or location.
What is conversational commerce? And how does it work?
Conversational Commerce at a Glance
In its most basic form, conversational commerce revolves around personalized shopping assistants that users interact with through their preferred messaging platforms. Instead of beginning the “conversation” the moment you walk into your favorite store, the shopping assistant is available 24/7 — no matter where you are.
This means, from the comfort of your home, you can navigate a virtual department store with a seemingly limitless stock of inventory.
However, there is another key difference.
The shopping assistant isn’t some anonymous human guiding you through product selection. Instead, it is a virtual salesperson. Or more specifically, a chatbot built via artificial intelligence (AI).
On the surface, this may seem very impersonal. After all, who wants to take shopping advice from a robot? But machine learning allows these chatbots to analyze millions (if not billions) of data points collected from users around the globe. With this information, the AI technology can theoretically make much better predictions about what users need and want.
That’s the promise, anyway. But is AI-driven conversational commerce truly a game-changer?
Why Consumers Will Embrace Conversational Commerce
The concept is still in its early stages, so it’s too soon to make accurate predictions about how successful conversational commerce will be. Moreover, it’s hard to call the idea “revolutionary” since it’s just a mobile version of technology that already exists.
Often, when you shop online, you’re greeted by a site-specific chatbot that pops up in the lower corner of your browser window. This is kind of the same thing. The key difference, however, is that you can converse directly through your smartphone — just as you would with a friend. This distinction makes the shopping experience a little more user-friendly.
According to Chris Messina, who officially coined the term,
“Conversational commerce is about delivering convenience, personalization and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare.”
Why Companies Will Embrace Conversational Commerce
Having a more user-friendly experience is obviously great for consumers, but retailers also have plenty of incentive to jump on the branded chatbot train:
- They don’t have to pay as many human personal assistants or brick-and-mortar employees.
- Predictive analysis can yield better shopping suggestions, and thus more overall sales.
- Chatbots facilitate data collection, with each interaction creating a new customer touchpoint.
Last but not least, the technology is infinitely scalable. Once you have the basic platform and architecture laid out, you can deploy chatbots around the globe for pennies on the dollar.
These benefits explain why a growing number of major brands have already started throwing their hats into the ring:
- Whole Foods has a chatbot that helps users with ingredient selection and recipe discovery.
- eBay also helps users find what they need. However, the emphasis is on closing the deal — i.e., allowing shoppers to pay directly through the interface once they’ve found that perfect item.
However, there are plenty of applications outside the traditional retail world:
- Absolut Vodka uses its technology to provide an end-to-end concierge service that alerts users to free cocktails in the area. The platform even comes with free Lyft rides to take inebriated users home safely.
- Trulia is a real estate chatbot that offers listings — in addition to detailed reports about local schools, crime reports and demographic data.
Again, all still in the very early stages. In theory, Amazon could one day create virtual book clubs that are led by chatbots. And Hollywood could launch AI-driven chat rooms to generate buzz about upcoming releases.
The long-term potential of this technology is seemingly endless.
Oh, and forget about typing. If these early tests pay off, the next logical step would be to eliminate the keyboard from the process and allow users to interact with chatbots entirely through spoken words.
This evolutionary leap would represent the ultimate in conversational commerce.
Should You Embrace Conversational Commerce?
Very few retailers have the resources to invest in AI technology or deep machine learning. Only the bigger players have the budget to create a platform like this from scratch. They also have much better access to reams of consumer data.
So, for now, you probably won’t be able to reap the benefits of conversational commerce technology. But if the concept takes off, this will almost certainly change.
- Data aggregating services will start to emerge.
- Cloud-based machine learning will become less expensive.
- Smartphones will become even more ubiquitous than they already are.
As a result, conversational commerce could become more mainstream with time. We’ll continue to keep you updated on any developments.