Chatbots are offering retailers a smarter more cost effective and efficient way of engaging with their consumers. Regardless of the size of your business, if you have a customer service department there’s probably a bot out there for you.
Chatbots are getting quite a bit of attention in the retail world. At NRF’s Big Show in January this year, several vendors and startups were showcasing chatbots at their booths.
Backed by the power of machine learning with an intuitive Q&A interface, chatbot technology can help retailers deliver on many things, including front-end counter queries, to personalised product recommendations to its customers, all without human intervention.
By automating simple processes and returning answers to questions in real time, chatbots are there to make things easier for brands and consumers.
The trend in chatbots and retail in 2016 and 2017 so far has been around messaging apps, which continues to grow, and according to research from BI intelligence, has surpassed social media networks in terms of usage.
Following the avalanche of apps being released over the last few years, messaging is hailed as the new next phase of the internet.
Facebook messenger is the top used app in Australia, while Facebook owned Whatsapp is the leader in 55% of the world’s countries. WeChat, Line and Telegram are most popular in China and Japan.
There are some retailers who are using chatbots really well, while some not so much. Here’s my pick between the two.
Who’s using chatbots well?
Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo launched its new chatbot earlier this year, smartly named IQ, which works best on a mobile device. The brand took out a superfluous design in its new bot, to match its minimalistic style, but did include some cute elements like emojis. IQ provides customers with a number of quick responses to browse and add items to their shopping cart. While some apps call for customers to switch between the chat and its online store, IQ handles and puts everything together for the customer.
H&M recently joined Sephora and moved to the forefront of the future of shopping with the release of its chatbot via the messenger app Kik. Bot shop was launched on Kik basing its principles on the apple store in 2014, and currently has 275 million monthly active users today, 40% of which are within the 13 to 24-year-old demographic—an important age group when it comes to retailers creating long term brand loyalty.
When customers are using the Kik app, they can now select the H&M bot and communicate with it online or via messaging, for example requesting a ‘red silk dress in size 6’. The interaction is much smoother than H&M’s previous version and no installation is required. This also means that no matter what your customer is up to, when they are ready to make a purchase, they are able to do so quickly without having to leave the app (and more importantly, other conversations they might be engaged in on the same app).
Retailers not using chatbots well?
One thing for retailers to be wary of though when it comes to chatbots, is full disclosure. Retailers need to let consumers know that they are really talking to a robot as opposed to trying to pass the conversation off as being with a real human being. Pretending that there is a human on the other end of the chat will alienate consumers.
I experienced this very thing last night when trying to change an upcoming flight from Melbourne to Sydney with Qantas. The answers and responses I received from the Qantas chatbot were somewhat off and upon asking “Are you a robot or a human?” they reply I received was “You are speaking with a human.” I continued and after another strange response I asked again “ I don’t believe you’re human. Are you a chatbot?” The Qantas chatbot replied with: “I assure you I’m a person and not a robot.” This annoyed me as from the tone and the responses it came across like a chatbot. Frustrated with the strange responses and then what I believed was a lie, I then decided to speak with someone at the Qantas call center, who confirmed that it was a chatbot I was talking with online.
Disclosing to your customers that you are speaking with a chatbot is mostly important when the conversation goes south. In 2016, most chatbots were developed especially for front end customer service, such as helping shoppers find selected products or the right size. When a customer contacts a retailer about a problem on the other hand, they want to know that someone is listening and can genuinely help. If they feel misunderstood, that’s when things can get frustrating. If they feel they’re being lied to, as in my experience, that can alienate them.