The term ‘conversational commerce’ was first used in a Medium article by Uber’s Chris Meddina in 2015. Commenting on then-recent developments such as Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, and the emergence of voice assistants like Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana, Meddina wrote – “These and related innovations suggest that “conversational commerce” is growing and concierge-style services may become the primary way in which people transact on their mobile devices”.
It’s been half a decade since that article was published, and conversational commerce is no longer just a shiny new buzzword, but a proven technique for boosting customer loyalty and driving sales – for retailers, as well as for enterprises across verticals such as FSI and Travel.
Before we delve further into why brands have adopted conversational commerce (or should adopt it, if they haven’t already), let us back up a little and understand precisely what the term means.
Quite simply, ‘conversational commerce’ refers to the leveraging of conversational interfaces (online messaging, chatbots, voice assistants etc.) to deliver an enhanced shopping experience to customers. It involves offering customers a means to directly communicate with a brand, coupled with the ability to make online purchases.
There are a number of ways businesses can connect with customers to facilitate conversational commerce. For instance, human agents can interact with customers over messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WeChat, WhatsApp etc. or through ‘live chat boxes’ on a company’s website.
Advancements in AI technology, specifically Natural Language Understanding (NLU), offer brands a far more seamless and sophisticated means of engaging customers – virtual shopping assistants.
Imagine walking into a store, looking for a pair of shoes. If the store takes customer service seriously, you’ll almost immediately be greeted by a sales clerk. The clerk will understand your preferences (in terms of shoe size, type, price range, color etc.), and present you with options that are available at the store and meet your requirements. A good clerk will even recommend shoes that they feel you would like, based on how the conversation goes. Finally, once you’ve found a pair of shoes you like, they’ll do their best to convince you to make the purchase.
Ultimately, if the clerk does their job right, you walk away a happy customer with a pair of new shoes you like, and the store closes a sale. Everybody wins!
Now imagine the same process being replicated in the context of an online shopping journey. That’s precisely what conversational commerce is all about.
AI-powered chatbots and voice assistants can effectively simulate the behavior of an in-store sales assistant – engaging a customer in conversation, understanding their preferences and requirements, making relevant product recommendations, and ultimately convincing them to make the purchase.
Check out the demo below to see a virtual shopping assistant in action, backed up by Haptik’s proprietory AI-powered recommendation engine.
Why do brands need Conversational Commerce?
Conversational commerce is no doubt a cutting-edge sales enablement tool. But is it an essential one?
The following trends certainly seem to indicate that the answer is Yes.
Customers are certainly enthusiastic about conversational interfaces, particularly voice assistants, and are increasingly growing comfortable with finding, selecting and buying products using them. And this certainly provides a strong impetus to brands to embrace conversational commerce.
Moreover, virtual shopping assistants bring a human touch to eCommerce transactions that otherwise tend to be highly process-driven and impersonal. Being guided by a helpful and knowledgeable shopping assistant that sounds human-like goes a long way towards improving a customer’s experience with a brand. In fact, as per a 2017 report by Capgemini, brands offering a voice assistant have benefitted from a 25% boost in NPS (Net Promoter Score)!
The Future is Conversational
In recent years, conversations have become the preferred way of getting things done – especially among Millennials, who spend more money online than any other age group, and represent a combined $200 billion of purchasing power in the United States alone! So conversational commerce is not just a ‘hot trend’, but in fact a necessity for future-ready brands, and retail brands in particular.
“Conversational commerce is about delivering convenience, personalization and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare”, Meddina wrote in his article five years ago. The technology has grown by leaps and bounds since then, but the fundamentals he’s discussed still hold true. In fact, in a world where customer experience is a key differentiator for brands, they have become more crucial than ever.