Conversational commerce, the future of retail | NTT DATA

Fri, 12 November 2021

Conversational commerce, the future of retail

According to a Facebook research, 92% of the population admitted to have replaced their habit of going out to shop with online shopping instead. In fact, 56% said they reduced shopping as an activity altogether. The audience’s change in behaviour has also altered their expectations towards the brands they were used to consuming. Today, after companies were forced to adapt and digitalize overnight, clients seem to be more comfortable choosing virtual solutions over presencial assistance now that the option exists. According to Facebook, 55% confirmed feeling more connected with a brand when they can chat with them directly and ask for their help with a shopping issue. Consequently, relying solely on community managers to assure a direct, transparent connection with each particular client has become unrealistic, especially for international brands who need to deal with great volumes of purchases daily.

Is it possible that virtual assistants can manage the new demands of offering an instant solution while at the same time giving a personalized touch to conversations between brands and their clients?

Understanding conversational commerce

The ways in which shopping behaviours changed are very complex. According to the Facebook survey, 2 out of 3 people say that they might stop buying from a brand that didn’t take the right measures during the pandemic, such as offering easy support via digital channels. Aside from being present on every platform, companies are also expected to incorporate a more personalized customer care in their procedures. On top of these special requests from clients, the pandemic brought on an unprecedented volume of requests and orders during 2020 and with them, many questions and doubts which needed solving by customer care representatives.

In order to satisfy these complex requirements, many businesses adapted their strategy and embraced a more conversational commerce which means offering customers a familiar experience while they shop via a chat app, a chatbot, a voice assistant, or through a messaging platform. With apps such as Instagram and WhatsApp occupying 84% of tech users’ screen time, it’s no surprise that 64% of them have declared that they prefer receiving a direct message rather than an email or a phone call. The shift in how brands interact with their clients offers many advantages, one of the most important being that it shortens the distance between the business and its customers, which is beneficial for both parties.

The time to transition to a more conversacional e-commerce is now because of several reasons such as the accelerated digitalization processes that came as a result of the pandemic and the massified usage of technological devices and apps. In the post-COVID era, conversational commerce seems to be expanding its horizons at a steady pace and solidifying itself as the new normal for client-company interactions.

What are the challenges that retailers are facing when it comes to conversational commerce?

Offering the option to make purchases through a text message or even providing differential services such as a virtual size-fitting, is getting companies closer to what the client wants. It also means entering the customer’s comfort zone, where they’re in a shopping mindset which increases the possibility of actually concreting a sale. However, not many companies are incorporating conversational strategies so what are the challenges that retailers are facing?

One of the main complexities of conversational commerce is understanding how to leverage apps and integrate them in the sales funnel. If WhatsApp is suitable for integrating chatbots that can help solve doubts and inconveniences, then social media platforms can be used as a lead magnet. For example Instagram is generally perceived as an inspirational platform where the audience is open to making an impulse purchase. Why not leverage its capabilities and redirect potential customers to messenger applications, such as WhatsApp, where they can discuss with a chatbot about the products they’re interested in and enquire about stocks, sizes, colours, return policies or shipment conditions. 

However, the challenge isn’t only in creating funnels based on virtual assistants that help a customer make a purchase or solve an enquiry. The conversation that happens before the purchase is an important part of the process but not many companies take advantage of its potential. The post-shopping phase can offer new possibilities and brands should aspire to create a new customer experience model that interacts with the client in a smart way even after the purchase is made. Rather than a passive approach of confirming the order with an email or sending the receipt, businesses now have the option to introduce the client in a new, post-shopping, funnel where they can connect further and ask for feedback or even redirect them to complementary products. The conversation occuring post-purchase has great potential that is currently not explored sufficiently by companies.

It’s also important to have the right mechanisms to leverage these apps but now more than ever, technology can facilitate all the tools necessary. In fact, apps are already offering all-in-one services focused on providing simple shopping features. By adding catalogues to the business’ WhatsApp account or by creating personalized purchase links that redirect the user to the web page, the interaction between the bot and the client can be much more natural, fluid and simple. Given that 58% of the public claims to want to shop online while continuing with their daily activities, “simplicity” is key.

Therefore, an organic ecosystem is created, where businesses interact with their clients on the platform where they naturally spend the vast majority of their time: social networks.

The importance of artificial intelligence for successful conversational commerce

Community managers are still as valuable as ever because virtual assistants can’t empathise and offer a solution to complicated tasks yet. Nonetheless, it’s unrealistic to build a communication and customer service strategy at a global level, serving millions of customers based only on human representatives. The need for automatic solutions and chatbots that can solve repetitive tasks is necessary and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence are key in developing the right tools. By creating a customer care filter based on an AI system which can easily differentiate a complaint from a request, the work relegated to human representatives would be significantly less and of higher value. In addition, using historical data of frequently asked questions as well as the clients’ personal data bases could help create systems that are much better prepared to face a range of multiple different concerns.

Incorporating conversacional commerce in the sales funnel is now possible and required by the post-COVID customer. The implementation of virtual assistants is now a competitive advantage that differentiates forward-thinking companies to the rest of the market. Automatizing many procedures is now considered investing in the audience’s loyalty to the brand. Generating natural conversations through data recruitering and bots is what can ultimately turn conversational commerce into the clientele’s system of preference.

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