Weekly Stories

The Bots are Coming: How is AI Shaping the Future of Shopping?

Reported by Grace Howard on Jul 5, 2016 10:36:13 AM

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When Facebook announced the launch of its chatbot tool this April, it was a sure sign that artificial intelligence was about to become mainstream. And with a recent study by Mindshare UK revealing that 63% of consumers are willing to put their trust in such tools, now seems like the right time for brands to get themselves acquainted with the Bots.

With an array of partners on board from the offset – including fashion brands like Jack Threads, publishers like Hearst and transportation services like KLM and Uber – the chatbot tool, Mark Zuckerberg stated, would make our digital lives less cluttered, the theory being that if consumers have Facebook Messenger installed, there would be no need to have hordes of brand-specific shopping apps on their phones. His colleague David Marcus stated that, with Messenger’s chatbot tool, “[consumers will] spend way more money than [they] want.”

As of April brands have been able to create their own Messenger bots, as well as purchase News Feed advertisements through Facebook that will direct consumers straight to chat bots if they have Messenger installed on their devices.

Spring, the mobile-based fashion marketplace, was one brand to attract much attention at Facebook’s F8 developer conference, with its use of live messaging chat bots used as an example of how AI can be implemented seamlessly into the online customer service sphere. Spring’s founder, Alan Tisch, spoke of his customers’ desire for “conversational commerce,” an experience which is well-aligned with “the natural behaviour that’s already happening on the [Messenger] platform.”

Spring’s AI offering, Spring Bot, makes bot technology look surprisingly easy – and with little difference to chatting to a ‘real’ customer service rep. Spring Bot acts as a personal shopper, asking customers a series of questions – “What are you looking for today?” and “What’s your price range?” are some examples – and uses the answers to make relevant product suggestions.

In a bid to compete with Facebook, chat service Kik launched an online shop dedicated to chat bots earlier this year. Brands like Sephora and H&M have joined Kik’s family of bots, with the latter following Spring’s lead as its bots generate responses based on customers’ answers to multiple-choice questions related to their style preferences. Though unwilling to disclose any figures, Sephora’s experience implementing AI through Kik has been well-received. According to the popular beauty retailer, users who start conversations with Sephora on Kik have, on average, more than ten interactions per day with its chat bots. “Success for us includes increased client engagement, follower growth, generating traffic to our site, and ultimately, sales brought in through Kik,” Sephora’s VP of digital marketing, Bindu Shah, told The Mercury News. “We are very pleased with the results so far.”

Other brands are approaching AI differently. Ever ahead of the game, Burberry revealed a partnership with mobile messaging platform WeChat ahead of its AW14 show in February 2014. Users were encouraged to send their names to Burberry in a WeChat message in order to receive images of runway pieces that were digitally ‘personalised’ for them; they could also communicate with the brand’s design team by simply asking for details of specific runway looks.

Perhaps the only potential stumbling block for brands looking to use chat bots is that they run the risk of sounding too robotic. Critics might argue that, even in a digital landscape, human interaction is still valued by shoppers. Brands like ASOS and Everlane, and even luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, currently use Facebook Messenger to interact with their customers, updating them on their order statuses and answering questions about products – however, these brands still have living, breathing customer service representatives behind the keyboard. Speaking to Digiday, David Hewitt, VP at Sapient Nitro, stated that brands interested in AI tech should keep their existing values and customer service offering in mind. “When you go into a high-end store, there’s a consultant, a point of inspiration or influence, and a particular look or image that the customer is trying to achieve. A chatbot’s pace and flow should tease out that inspiration point and shape the sale by telling the customer about the brand’s narrative.”

Join us at our NY Summit to hear our panel of experts discuss how AI is shaping the future of customer service. Advance tickets are available here.

Reported by Grace Howard

Image Source: Forbes

Topics: Artificial intelligence, Weekly Stories, Chatbots

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