Commerce was personal long before internet catalog sites came along. We called it talking. You asked a shop assistant for recommendations; a hotel concierge to make reservations; a seller for a custom deal, or a customer support person to fix problems. Online catalogs offer a great selection, but the do-it-yourself shopping experience has become self-serve and impersonal, offering too many choices that are overwhelming to the average shopper. To make it worse, the tiny mobile screens, unlike desktops, are not well suited to catalog browsing.
Those who shop on mobile want—but rarely get—fewer, selective choices, simple recommendations, curated items and minimal UI. That’s where messaging can help. Messaging, already the most popular mobile app category, is the ideal platform in which to enable all of these. Today we’re seeing a rising trend of messaging-based mobile commerce platforms around the world: Asia’s Wechat, Line and Kakao; Magic, Fetch and Operator in the U.S.; and, in India, Flipkart Ping and Quikr.
Commerce must be about more than picking an item from a catalog and clicking “buy”, though. More often than not, consumers want their friends’ opinions before making a decision, especially if it’s a joint-use product like furniture, or a fashion-related category like apparel or jewelry. Sometimes, buyers want to consult an expert about a complex product like electronics. And still other times they wish to consult prior buyers who’ve used said product, for instance when purchasing long-term durable goods.
Even after deciding to buy, the purchaser may want to negotiate price or terms with the seller, especially if it’s second-hand or involves multiple shipping options. Once the product is bought, the consumer may need to contact Support to discuss logistics. Later still, the consumer may need to contact the company once more in case of challenges with the product.
The common thread among all of these scenarios is chat. If the conversation is not handled well during any of the purchase cycles, the merchant will inevitably lose the sale (and the customer). Ecommerce merchants now have to enable easy-to-use, highly responsive chat options to increase sales conversion. I believe it requires a complete rethink of the consumer shopping experience!
Traditional shopping sites are product catalogs loaded with specs and a large buy button. These companies assume a customer is capable of making a purchasing decision based on what little product information is provided. But buyers are not automatons. They’re flesh and blood with emotional and social impulses that influence each decision. Trust, comfort, value, vanity, ego, social acceptance, fear, and more, all play a critical role in the decision to push “buy”. Chat directly addresses all these consumer emotions—and needs.
Chat therefore addresses the human factors that go into making a purchase decision.
Structured vs. Unstructured Chat
However, implementing chat for ecommerce is no easy feat. If chat is based on unstructured plain-text messages, it will either be expensive, non-scalable, or both. Neither manual nor Artificial Intelligence (AI) based solutions scale well. Hiring a large team of agents to manage chat conversations is expensive and non-scalable. Enabling automated chat with AI-based natural language processing (NLP) is hard to implement, works in very limited contexts and cannot handle different languages, poor grammar, misspellings, etc.
There is a better option: structured messages. Unlike plain-text messages, the structured message can render interactive elements within a single message and can be programmed to automatically handle a user’s 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. After a user contacts Support, a series of structured prompts can auto-guide that user to the FAQ section to solve her problem. Selecting a shipping preference simply requires one structured message. Auctions, deals, discounts and other negotiations are—you guessed it—structured conversations. Structured messages disambiguate user input and make it simple to automate the flow. With structured messages, automation is scalable and inexpensive!
Chat is the future of commerce just as it was the past. It is proven to deliver higher conversion rates, customer satisfaction and a lifetime of value. And structured chat is the one true scalable, inexpensive option. To all ecommerce operators who are not considering chat, watch as your customers and your competitors drive you there.
You’ll be chatting happily after they do.