In my conversations with retailers, we have had discussions on better customer engagement and commerce anywhere using Mobile. In most cases, we have looked at mobile applications as the means by which retailers can engage with customers. However, the mobile landscape is teeming with retailer apps and utility apps such as Groupon, curated apps such as Wanelo, competing for shopper’s attention. Driving awareness and customer acquisition and retention on these apps is one of the biggest challenges for most retailers. Besides, shopping on such a small screen, using site navigation and menus, isn’t exactly one of the best experiences. Trying to replicate the “desktop” experience on the mobile isn’t obviously the best option and mobile shopping needs to be as much fun as its functional.
With the popularity of chat bots, we are seeing the next evolution of customer engagement and commerce from desktop apps, websites, mobile apps to conversation as the platform. We are seeing ecommerce evolve from a catalog based interaction to contextual conversations powered by data, machine learning and artificial intelligence. With chat bots, mobile shopping breaks away from the confines of the mobile application to a more conversational experience with personalized and relevant recommendations, the ability to pull in your friends network into the conversation when you need network recommendations, the ability to invite other bots to the conversation to provide shipping options and so on.
To enable these capabilities, Microsoft announced an exciting new technology called the Bot Framework. It allows developers to create intelligent bots to interact with users in a natural way. The possibilities of these new types of technologies get tremendously larger when coupled with Azure Services, Data and Machine Learning.
Bots are rapidly becoming an integral part of one’s digital experience – they are as vital a way for users to interact with a service or application as is a web site or a mobile experience. Retailers can use bots to humanize various touch points in the customer journey replacing search to a more conversational experience. Personalized offers can be contextual conversations that use the power of predictive models to deliver relevant and personalized experiences. There are several possible scenarios that can use conversations as a platform in retail. These can be used to augment human abilities and experiences and not necessarily to replace human interaction completely:
Imagine a scenario where you could open a messaging app and type or speak: “I need a dress for next week, blue or black, under $200 and goes with the shoes I bought last week”. There is a lot of context in that statement that the bot can access: it knows what shoes you bought last week, it knows your preferences from your past purchases, it knows your profile and can call a recommendations model to determine what products you have the most affinity to buy. It can look up current trend information through social feeds like instagram and pintrest. Using the power of data and analytics, the bot can respond back with recommendations that it determines are most relevant for you. It can also invite people from your social network to help you make a choice. Once you make the selection, it will use your size information, shipping address, payment information to ship the selected dress to you. This is one example of conversational commerce and how it will revolutionize the way we shop.
Personal Shopper / Stylist
Chat Bots can be used for delivering personalized shopping recommendations in-store or anywhere enabling purchase through the app or in-store. Again, the power of data and predictive models can enable the chat bot to have the relevant context and information to deliver information in the context of the experience and conversation. This conversational interface can be a more natural way to interact rather than web pages or search engines. It’s the new concierge/personal shopper like services enabled by conversational commerce that will really change the way we buy.
Personalized Mobile Offers
The challenge with Personalized mobile offers has been the need to install yet another app from a brand or retailer. With conversations as the app, it becomes a more natural way for retailers to drive offers and recommendations to customers. The bot will have access to data and powerful analytics capabilities to ensure that the conversation is relevant and of value to the customer.
In addition to shopper scenarios, bots can also combine the power of Prescriptive Analytics and enable a way for Merchandizers to make data driven decisions. Here is a concept of a bot that connects to various applications and predictive models to engage with Merchandizers in a proactive manner to drive data driven decisions around promotions and offers:
Here are some resources to learn more:
- Microsoft Bot Framework: http://bit.ly/1ZLekKl
- Westin Demo: https://youtu.be/zqMYBWwW16M?t=57s
- Dominos Demo: https://youtu.be/7wNg18NYT6s?t=5m7s
- Retail Samples (PizzaBot and the SimpleSandwichBot) : http://bit.ly/1qBsPUo