Chat is the future of e-commerce. Wait, it’s already the present, as evidenced by Flipkart Ping, Quikr Next, Shopo, Helpchat, and many more. Wechat has been a leading example of chat-based commerce in China for a long time now.
Commerce is about much more than picking an item from a catalog and clicking the buy button. Sometimes, consumers want to ask their friends’ opinion before making a decision, especially if it’s a joint-use product like furniture, or a fashion-related category like apparel or jewelry. At other times, buyers want to consult an expert, for example, when it’s a complex product such as an electronics item. At other times they want to talk to prior buyers that have actually used the product, for example, when buying long-term durable goods. Even after a decision is made, the buyer may want to negotiate price or terms with the seller, especially if it’s a used product or have multiple shipping options. Once the product is bought, the consumer may need to contact support to check on logistics and delivery time. Later, the consumer may need to contact support again in case of problems with the product.
The common thread among all of these scenarios is chat and conversations. If the conversation is not handled well at any stage of the purchase cycle, the merchant will lose the sale. Ecommerce merchants need to enable easy-to-use, highly responsive chat options to increase the sales conversion rate. In fact, this requires a complete rethink of the consumer shopping experience.
Traditional shopping sites are merely product catalogs, loaded with specs, and a buy button. They assume that the buyer is capable of making a purchase decision based only on the product information provided. However, buyers aren’t automatons. They’re flesh and blood humans with emotional and social impulses that influence their purchase decisions. Trust, comfort, value, vanity, ego, social acceptance, fear, etc. play a critical role in the purchase decision.
Chat directly addresses these consumer needs. Chat addresses the human factors that go into making a purchase decision. Enabling chat in one or more of the following use-cases, depending on the product category, will greatly enhance customer retention and lifetime value:
- Buyer-friend chat: buyer chats with their friends
- Buyer-expert chat: buyer chats with a product expert
- Buyer-buyer chat: buyer chats with other buyers of the same product
- Buyer-seller chat: buyer negotiates with the seller
- Buyer-support chat: buyer chats with customer support
- Seller-trainer chat: seller chats with trainers to improve sales
Structured vs. Unstructured Chat
However, implementing chat for ecommerce is not easy. If chat is based solely on unstructured plain-text messages, it will either be expensive, or non-scalable or both. One option is for the ecommerce site to hire a large team of agents to manage the chat conversations. However, manual effort is either very expensive, or non-scalable, or both. Another option is to enable some automation with artificial intelligence (AI) based natural language processing (NLP). However, NLP is hard to implement and even when deployed successfully, works well only in very limited contexts. It usually cannot handle different languages, poor grammar, misspellings, etc. Neither the manual nor the NLP option is reliable and scalable. For this very reason, our tests of a few chat-based commerce sites have found poor responsiveness.
There is another option: structured messages. Unlike plain-text messages, structured messages can render interactive elements within the message and can be programmed to automatically handle the user response. For example, a structured survey can capture user feedback in a quantitative manner. A poll can capture recommendations from friends in a structured manner. When a user contacts support, a series of structured prompts can automatically guide the user to the FAQ section that solves her problem. Selecting a shipping preference requires a structured message. Auctions, deals, discounts and other negotiations are all structured conversations. Structured messages disambiguate user input and make it easy to automate the flow. Automation is both scalable and inexpensive.
One such smart messaging platform is Teamchat. Its smart messages have structured fields and handlers that can be customized for any purpose. Its messaging bots framework enables response automation and advanced workflows. Teamchat SDKs enable ecommerce sites to seamlessly integrate smart messages into their website or app. In fact, these smart messages can also be sent via sms or email to users that don’t have the app.
Chat will radically transform commerce. Chat can deliver higher conversion rates, customer satisfaction and lifetime value. Structured chat is the only scalable and inexpensive option. If you’re working in ecommerce and aren’t looking at chat, it may be too late already.