How online retailers are transforming the customer experience with conversational commerce
Last updated March 31, 2020
In August 1994, the very first e-commerce transaction took place when a man sold a Sting CD to a friend on NetMarket. A lot has changed since then—in the quarter century since that historic sale, e-commerce has become an integral part of the world economy, giving rise to behemoths such as Amazon and Alibaba. Now, as the third decade of the century dawns, e-commerce continues to evolve—and this time, change is being driven by conversational messaging.
The data is overwhelming: 4 out of 5 consumers shop on their mobile phones, and 87% of smartphone owners use messaging apps such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat. And retailers have begun to notice. Having already embraced the omnichannel concept of being where their customers are, e-commerce businesses have started to lay the groundwork for rich conversational messaging aimed at driving a constantly improving customer experience.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the ways conversational messaging has been transforming e-commerce and the customer experience—and why your business should take notice.
The shift from e-commerce to c-commerce
It’s not that e-commerce will be completely replaced by conversational commerce so much as it will be relegated to more complex purchases. The trend isn’t in doubt—a whopping 83% of customers report using messaging to contact a business to learn about products, and when they do so, 75% of them make a purchase. That reflects the trend of customers abandoning desktops and laptops in favor of mobile devices, and WhatsApp, Google Business Messenger, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat are taking advantage of that by enabling customers to purchase items within their apps.
As Facebook discovered, 65% of shoppers would buy from a business they can message, and 40% of shoppers started shopping because of conversational commerce. There’s little reason to believe that those numbers will do anything but increase.
Messaging provides a persistent omnichannel experience
Customers have made it clear that when asking for help, they want to be able to reach out via any channel they choose—and, importantly, seamlessly switch from channel-to-channel over the life of a request—without being asked to repeat themselves. To meet those needs, businesses need to be able to communicate with customers across those channels without ever losing context.In other words, support teams must have a single view of the customer, with a clear window into multiple conversation threads. Here are some benefits messaging provides compared to traditional chat:
C-commerce will eventually become the new home for upselling products, attaching new services, quick and easy checkouts, and so on. Customers can message at their own pace instead of staying stuck on the phone or glued to a chat box waiting for a response
Businesses can move away from one-time chats/interactions toward asynchronous, “always-on” communication
Messaging is quick and direct to the point, no wait times to speak to someone
Take, for example, 1-800-Flowers. Through messaging, the company enables customers to start conversations on any channel and continue it on any other channel. That means the company has Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, iOS, Android, and its website all connected on the same platform, providing a unified view of each customer. Pizza Hut, meanwhile, allows customers to order pizza through popular social and proprietary apps as well as through web chat. For hungry customers, that means no waiting or chances that a human on the other end will get the order wrong.
The messaging experience is rich, interactive, and modern
If there’s one thing that differentiates messaging from other channels is that it enables customers to do more directly within the conversation, giving them a sense of agency and empowerment. That said, it also boosts what companies can do, opening up opportunities to send personalized recommendations and conduct business through messaging using compound messages, carousels, and other buying options.
The result? An easier purchasing process marked by fewer steps. For instance, some online retailers have created apps in which customers can chat with a fashion stylist and complete a transaction. Those stylists can now share a carousel with images of various clothing options, enabling customers to assemble and purchase outfits interactively using conversation extensions.
Bots and AI help e-commerce companies offer top-notch self-service
Messaging apps are now able to become customers’ personal assistants. Gartner predicts that by 2022, 70% of all customer interactions will involve emerging tools like chatbots, machine learning, and mobile messaging, and consumers are increasingly open to purchasing items via a chatbot. And of course there are the nearly one billion voice assistants in use, which are providing information and guidance, as well as opportunities for directly purchasing items. Those virtual assistants are data rich, with access to customer history, purchases, preferences, and more, with an added benefit of feeling, well, human.
Consider makeup company Sephora, which combines Google home with its Virtual Artist app, allowing customers to test products virtually. Those same customers can use Amazon’s Alexa to order groceries, Starbuck’s voice command-ready app to order coffee, and purchase H&M clothing using the kik bot. Intriguingly, H&M’s kik bot understands customer intent—so if a consumer lodges a query about a particular garment, the bot looks up that person’s purchase history, routes them to a human stylist, and even notifies marketing so that team can build a targeted campaign to upsell the customer on similar items in the future.
Messaging helps companies move from reactive to proactive support
According to Zendesk’s CX trends report, almost a quarter of companies consider proactive support a good element of customer experience. That number is sure to rise given that 85% of customers are interested in receiving proactive communications and 90% of companies are willing to do business with a company that sends them event-based reminders.
Businesses must find ways to get ahead of customer issues before they happen to promote engagement and loyalty, and proactive messaging helps enhance the customer experience by keeping customers updated across the purchase journey. That can include efforts like Amazon informing customers of their order status or marketing teams highlighting new products or services based on customer preferences.
The era of conversational commerce is here
Driven by customer demands, an increasing number of companies have committed in 2020 to expanding messaging options. This rapid change aligns with the positive view customers have of messaging—Zendesk’s benchmark report shows that it regularly notches a 98% satisfaction rate, higher than phone or live chat. The writing is on the wall: messaging has already begun to revolutionize e-commerce, and more change is on the way.