For consumers, Ecommerce can be hard work—a time-consuming process of searching, browsing, scrolling, clicking, filling out forms, and waiting for answers. But what if people could skip all these steps and just ask for what they want, whether they're looking for a new product or need help with a problem?
That's the idea behind conversational commerce, an emerging approach to digital commerce that prioritizes direct, natural conversations between consumers and brands. Conversational experiences add value for your customers by assisting, streamlining, and improving virtually every interaction they have with your company online.
Conversational commerce is not just the future of customer experience (CX) and Ecommerce. It's happening right now — and becoming a competitive advantage for brands that learn how to do it right.
What is conversational commerce?
Conversational commerce is a type of Ecommerce that harnesses the power of one-on-one conversation to generate revenue for brands. To be more specific, it allows consumers to shop, buy, and seek help through interactive interfaces such as live chat, voice assistants, or messaging apps.
Live human associates or agents play a key role in these conversations. But to support conversational commerce at scale, brands must explore automated and conversational AI-powered systems to help them talk directly with customers and respond to their queries in real-time.
Why is conversational commerce important?
Conversational commerce streamlines the process of digital commerce, replacing part or all of it with natural, real-time communication between customers and brands. Instead of hunting around a website for information, consumers can simply open a messaging app and ask for the product they want or even place their order. Such direct interactions can make every aspect of online commerce simpler, easier, and more convenient.
On the other end of that conversation could actually be an associate or agent, or it could be a chatbot. Using leading-edge technologies (natural language processing / NLP, artificial intelligence, and deep learning), chatbots can understand and imitate human conversation, quickly sift through massive amounts of information, and create highly personalized interactions.
They are ideal for handling the straightforward tasks involved with Ecommerce, like making purchases, tracking packages, and updating account info, and can recognize when they’re out of their league and need to bring in human reinforcements.
Where does conversational commerce happen?
Conversational commerce is a way of interacting with consumers that can be incorporated into just about any digital channel. Because it’s not a channel itself, you can adopt it without worrying about inadvertently creating an additional silo.
We most often think of conversational commerce as taking place on messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and China’s WeChat, but it doesn’t have to. Instead of adding the “commerce” element to an existing “conversation” channel, you can upgrade an existing Ecommerce platform with chat functionality: websites, mobile apps, SMS, social commerce shops on platforms such as Instagram or Facebook, and social messaging apps such as Messenger or WhatsApp.
In other words, conversational commerce can reach customers wherever they are, whenever they need it. The key is to provide the right combination to meet the unique needs of your customers and your company.
Sephora is an example of a brand leveraging conversational chatbots. In the example below, one can identify the lip color in a photo the user uploads, match it to a lipstick sold by the store, and then let the user virtually try it on using a selfie.
When does conversational commerce have an impact?
It's important to note that the term is conversational commerce, not conversational sales or shopping. Why does that matter? Because this form of communication can be extraordinarily effective throughout the entire customer journey, not just the buying stage. For example:
Ecommerce chatbots can help customers focus their product research.
Brands can use chat apps to send personalized messages similar to SMS messages (for marketing or urgent communication), which are much more likely to be opened than email (as high as 98% vs. 20%).
Customers can use live chat to ask questions during the purchase process.
Chatbots can handle simple customer service requests in place of human agents.
Many messengers allow consumers to make purchases using payment and shipping info already stored in the app.
How can conversational commerce help your brand and customers?
1. Engage customers with seamless experiences
By simplifying communication, conversational commerce eliminates points of friction that interfere with the customer's experience across channels. This is especially vital for brands trying to reach young consumers who expect fast, effortless interactions, easy self-service, and the ability to get things done through instant messaging.
By engaging customers via a messaging app or other conversational channel, customers can receive quick, accurate answers to their questions online as if they were speaking directly to a representative in-store, whether they are researching products, making a purchase, or seeking customer support.
An added bonus to leveraging AI chatbots in these scenarios is that they are available all day, every day, so consumers can seek answers and have no need to wait for answers. They should also offer shoppers the ability to escalate to a human agent at any time, at which point the agent can also see a complete record of the conversation to this point so they can ensure a seamless transition at all times.
2. Personalize the buying journey
Today's consumers expect personalization. But companies still struggle to deliver personalized, one-to-one experiences at scale. Again, this is especially crucial for reaching younger generations of consumers who want a more personal relationship with brands.
Offering conversational channels through which shoppers can get answers provides brands the ability to offer this personalized support. Most importantly, it gives brands a way to replicate the feel and attention of working with an in-store associate or contact center agent.
For example, an AI chatbot can act as a virtual concierge or shopping assistant - answering questions, suggesting choices, and guiding consumers to decisions that fit their personal wants and needs - all while still offering the ease and convenience that only digital channels can provide.
3. Boost conversion rates and order value
It's hard to get online shoppers over the finish line. For companies invested in Ecommerce, even a small dip in conversion rates can result in millions of dollars of losses. Shopping cart abandonment, at rates averaging around 70 percent, presents a major challenge for online retailers. By the same token, a modest rise in conversions and average order value can result in huge rewards.
When implemented correctly, conversational commerce can improve all of these metrics. Consider the following possible uses for AI chatbots and instant messaging:
Help consumers focus their research by asking questions and identifying products that precisely match their needs
Suggest promotions, upgrades, related products, and add-on items to shoppers considering a purchase
Provide assistance during the checkout process, so shoppers who have last-minute questions or concerns can receive instant help
Take and process orders directly from customers, using pre-stored payment and shipping information
Send reminders to shoppers who still have items waiting in their carts
These conversational tactics can work through a whole range of channels, including Ecommerce websites, mobile apps, social commerce shops, and third-party messaging apps.
This omnichannel approach can optimize the entire customer journey to boost conversion rates, reduce abandonment, and increase order values.
4. Improve the post-purchase experience
How can you build loyalty, generate repeat business, and turn customers into advocates after they buy your products? Provide superior customer service. This is one way for brands to set themselves apart from the competition, and a conversational format can make it simpler and easier for customers to find the support they need.
Today's AI chatbots allow brands to answer customer service queries instantly through many channels, 24 hours a day, at larger volumes and higher speeds than human agents. As a result, customers no longer have to wait for a response, search for information on their own, or struggle to find the right place to get their questions answered.
Chatbots do not and cannot eliminate the human role in customer service. But they can prevent live agents from getting bogged down in routine inquiries, freeing up their time to focus instead on the more complex and sensitive challenges that machines cannot resolve.
Conversational AI enables brands to provide better service to all customers—whether they have a simple question they need answered fast, or a problem that requires a human touch.
Great conversations begin with your customer
Conversational commerce provides a way to provide shoppers and customers a way to move key moments of the customer journey from offline channels to digital ones. Thanks to advances in AI and natural language processing, brands are able to scale these experiences, and deliver the timely, convenient, seamless experiences consumers crave today.
Today, conversational methods can enhance CX and boost customer satisfaction across many online channels and touchpoints. In the near future, customers will expect to talk to your brand with ease whenever they want, just as they expect a convenient web and mobile experience now.
To make the most of conversational commerce, start by understanding your customers' expectations — where they most need help in the buying journey, what kinds of conversational experiences they prefer, and what mix of machine and human interactions they find optimal. With the right insights in hand, you'll be well equipped to bring conversation into the heart of your CX.
As part of the Emplifi Social Commerce Cloud, Shop Clerk™ empowers brands to leverage powerful, AI-driven conversational chatbot technology to help them elevate customer experiences, from product discovery to purchase. To see how Emplifi can help you elevate your CX, book a demo today of Emplifi Social Commerce Cloud.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated from a previous version published on astutesolutions.com.