Will 2017 be the year of the chatbot?
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail TouchPoints website.
If 2016 was the year chatbots entered the retail scene, 2017 will be the year brands will start to realize real business results from the technology, through increased sales, conversion rates or customer loyalty.
While the overall rate of adoption among retailers is still nascent, Nordstrom, 1-800-Flowers, American Eagle Outfitters and Sephora were among those implementing such intelligent assistance tools on messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger and Kik. Leveraging consumer data with artificial intelligence enabled the retailers to perform a wide range of tasks, including:
- Launching holiday gift guides;
- Providing product recommendations;
- Serving as customer concierges;
- Assisting the in-store shopping experience;
- Processing orders; and
- Sending shipping information updates.
Yet many industry experts believe chatbots could become even more closely integrated into the shopper journey both online and in-store, particularly as consumers become more accustomed to the technology’s possibilities.
“Imagine that you had a chatbot when you walk into a store like Home Depot,” said Kurt Heinemann, CMO of Reflektion. “Your ‘virtual assistant’ via the chatbot could answer: Where are the door hinges? Where are the door knobs? Or imagine that you’ll be able to go into a department store and just type into your phone, ‘women’s blouses in black’ and be mapped automatically to items based on your previous preferences and locally available inventory.”
When deploying chatbots, retailers should consider the following three points:
- Chatbot experiences must be consistent across channels. Since just 22 percent of U.S. consumers are familiar with chatbots, retailers must streamline the technology so new users can easily engage through their channel of choice.
- Customer data builds context. Analyzing prior shopper interactions, length of log-in times and time on specific pages can reveal when shoppers are most interested in a chat.
- Human reps remain vital. Retailers must provide the option to switch to a live representative during a customer service call, especially as the conversation becomes more complex.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will chatbots become a mainstream tool for retailers in 2017? What are the pros and cons of the technology? What advice would you have for retailers looking to use chatbots?