Chatbots have been one of the hottest topics in digital marketing in 2016. This is despite many people still asking the questions, ‘what is a chatbot?’

Chatbot is used to describe how a machine simulates a direct conversation with a human. This would ideally be in a way that feels interactive and natural.

This gives marketers new powers in automating communications that a person would typically do. Many brands could find bot helpful to support community management on social media. As 80% of customer inquires on social go unanswered, purpose-built bots could service specific customer problems. This would then ease pressure on Social Media Managers.
Chatbots are set to grow and evolve in many digital spaces. As this happens the technology will become increasingly exciting, particularly for e-commerce.

Conversational commerce… the new way to shop

Messaging application, like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat, are now becoming the mobile app of choice. Last year there were over 2.5 global users of messanging apps. Brands can use these channels to reach consumers on a direct and personal level.

However, the cost implications to manage personalised one-to-one communications through digital can be heavy. This is where the chatbot comes in. Bots offer brands an opportunity to reach people in these spaces without heavily investing in community management.

Dutch airline company KLM showed the power of chatbots by launching a new bot service on Facebook Messenger. If opted in, KLM customers are sent ongoing news about their flight directly from the chatbot via Messenger. Customers can also request certain personal details through the chatbot. This includes check-in details, itineraries and their boarding pass.

Crucially KLM didn’t use Messenger as a blatant marketing tool. Rather they approached the platform to enhance the customer experience. The chatbot itself merely replaces the human element of customer service – making this program achievable for a global brand.

The Developer Experience Lead of Uber, Chris Messina, coined this type of marketing Conversational Commerce. The term describes the normalisation of using a digital assistantto be serviced.

Fast-food brands like Pizza Hut and Burger King have embraced this marketing tactic. Now their customers can effortlessly order takeaway through digital assistants on platforms like Slack, Facebook and Amazon Echo.

Currently in China around 600m people are using Conversational Commerce via WeChatevery month. Now hailing taxis, booking doctor’s appointments, and paying utility bills are all performed via chatbots.

Western Society isn’t quite at the same place as China. Yet the market may soon be ready to make the transition. In the US last year, 30% of e-commerce sales came through mobile – with social often driving product discovery. As messaging becomes the new social media, consumers will feel prepped to shop via these channels.

Final say

Similarly with Social Commerce, people may not instantly embrace Conversational Commerce. The technology is still relatively new to most consumers and isn’t integrated into their daily online habits.

However, what happens when the technology becomes normalised? As people realise the convenience of using chatbots to receive information, the idea of shopping via these channels may become more desirable. This traction could lead to bots becoming the most popular form of e-commerce. Particularly as chatbots are a more efficient form of e-commerce than online stores.

But more than that they provide a sense of interaction – simulating an in-store experience. Despite knowingly conversing with a computer program, the sense of talking to someone can provide support and help drive certain purchase decisions.

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