Chatbots and Their Amazing Hit and Miss Relationship with Ecommerce

Chatbots have been around for quite some time now. If you remember going online to chat with your friends on AOL Instant Messenger, you undoubtedly stumbled upon some of the fun, and sometimes crazy or offensive, chatbots of that generation.

The whole point of those chatbots was to mimmick an actual human being, and they often made for funny interactions. However, that was all entertainment, and most of it dissipated into our memories, considering it's not too often you are speaking with a computer, unless it's some sort of recording on a phone support line.

Recently, Microsoft released a chatbot called Tay, which interacted with people on Twitter. It sounded cool, but that feeling quickly dissipated as the bot started rambling off an onslaught of crude and racist tweets within just 24 hours.

Now, that might be just a reflection of what people on Twitter are like (considering it was designed to learn from tweets and morph its own tweets based on those learnings,) but it brings up some good questions about where the world of chatbots is going.

Even more recently Shopify acquired Kit, a chatbot which has helped thousands of Shopify store owners market their online store. Kit handles Instagram and Facebook advertising, email marketing, and social posting to help drive sales and grow your business.

Do chatbots have a place in the business world?

Is it possible that they could at sometime be implemented for use in ecommerce customer service chats or when talking with customers through social media?

Right now the answer is kind of, but it's important to remember that the social experiment completed by Microsoft was not in a controlled environment where the customer base was smaller and only focused on buying a product.

Regardless, the chatbot creators like Microsoft are continually rolling out and testing options for platforms like Skype, GroupMe and Kik.

It's important to realize that chatbots are only one form of artificial intelligence (AI). Some products and companies offer visual AI, while others are going for voice activated AI which responds to a user's voice (like with Apple's Siri).

This brings up the question of how chatbots can be utilized for ecommerce. Are there any examples of chatbots actually working for companies?

Prospects for Chatbots in Ecommerce and the Business World

The best example of artificial intelligence that actually works is Siri. If you want to look up movie times in the area, it only takes a moment to reply to your request.

Another bot would be in the form of Amazon's Echo speaker, which not only plays audio, but also listens to what you have to say. So, you could tell Amazon Echo to add laundry detergent to your shopping list, then you would simply have to go to your Amazon page later to checkout.

That's exactly the type of AI that seems to be working for the ecommerce world. It's revolutionary and mostly works. Why is this the case? Well, it's all speculation, but many people consider the fact that this is a contained communication with your own personal bot.

When Tay was released into the world it was available to anyone on the internet to screw around with it. The bot really had no purpose, and it's not going to affect anyone who tried to make it say that Hitler had some good ideas.

However, both Siri and Amazon Echo are consumer products, where the only person taking advantage of the bot is the person who bought it. If you pay money for that luxury you're sure as hell going to hope that it runs some errands for you.

Sure, people like to make Siri answer funny questions, but they're also keen on looking up products, buying iTunes music and browsing through podcasts with the help of Siri. The catch is that Apple is benefiting from all of that. They don't get embarrassed on Twitter for the secret questions you ramble off to Siri.

Bots Representing Brands

Moving back to the idea of chatbots, Kik released something they call the bot shop, which provides an area to connect with certain brand bots from Sephora, H&M and others. This is where it gets interesting, because these brands have realized that opening up the conversation to anyone is a bad idea. Tay is an example of what can happen when the communication is dictated by lots of users.

Instead, the Sephora bot simply talks to the customer by giving them beauty tips. Product information is also given out, and the conversation is focused on the individual customer as opposed to a wide set of people.

Heck, the beauty tips are no different than YouTube videos or blog posts. The only difference is that the company doesn't necessarily have to keep producing the content for it to be delivered to the customer. And this is where chatbots are going to excel, at least for now.

People are interested in information when they try to buy online, so a chatbot in this situation is really no different than an FAQ or product description. The only difference is that the chatbot is interactive, responds to specific questions and could potentially cut down the shopping time for customers since most people have detailed questions that drive their purchasing decisions.

Using Preexisting Apps

As an ecommerce professional, you may have realized that it's easier to get buzz from a promotion on Facebook than it is by posting a banner at the top of your site. After all, most people don't hang out on your website all day, but that's not the case for Facebook.

It's the same for apps, so most experts feel that chatbots are going to lead the way in customer interactions when complementing current apps. Therefore, it's not considered a good move to make your own app with a chatbot. Rather, you're more likely to connect with people through apps like Snapchat and Kik. Since mobile users spend 80% of their time in three apps, it makes sense to go with the platforms that are going to get your message out there.

What's Coming in the Future?

Voice-based AI and mobile chatbots are the dominant trend right now, but it's not crazy to think that this could evolve into something more personal and user-based. Ecommerce data is there to help you segment and automate email messaging to certain customers, so it's not silly to assume that this data will eventually merge with bots.

Imagine a personalized bot that talks to you, and only you, when you shop on the Target website. They'd know the last items you bought, deliver the most relevant products and even stock your shopping cart with suggestions.

Are you ready for the future?

Drop a line in the comments section to voice your thoughts on chatbots and ecommerce.

header image courtesy of freemagebank


Catalin Zorzini

I'm a web design blogger and started this project after spending a few weeks struggling to find out which is the best ecommerce platform for myself. Check out my current top 10 ecommerce site builders.