Since the first television ad aired in 1941, companies have tried to improve how they interact with and engage their target customers. 

Over the past 60 years, we’ve seen advertising evolve to include new channels and capabilities ranging from direct mail to social media to hyper-targeted smart TV promotions.

Today, the latest marketing trend is conversational commerce, which harnesses the power of messaging apps and voice-activated technology to sell products and services. While we may be used to interacting with chatbots for customer support, these new apps and services are using artificial intelligence to build trust throughout the buying cycle.

What is conversational commerce?

The phrase “conversational commerce” was popularized by Silicon Valley product designer Chris Messina in a 2015 Medium post. (Fun fact: Messina also invented the word “hashtag.”)

In his post, which came out a few months after the launch of the Amazon Echo smart speaker, Messina said the rise of voice assistants and messaging services would change the game for how brands interact with their customers. He predicted that more brands would use specialized apps to deliver “convenience, personalization, and decision support while people are on the go.“

He was right. 

Today, e-commerce brands big and small are using interactive tools to help engage and influence customers. And customers are loving it.

In one Facebook survey, almost 70% of respondents said being able to message a brand makes them feel more confident about the company. In another survey, 75% say they’re likely to spend more with a brand if they can message rather than call them. 

The conversational commerce market was valued at almost $6 billion in 2019. By 2027, it’s predicted to grow to $30.45 billion.

Examples of conversational commerce delivery methods

When it comes to engaging your customers, there’s multiple conversational commerce platforms and tools for you to choose from.

1. Chatbots

A chatbot uses software to mimic the natural cadence and context of a human conversation. These vary from tools that can answer common customer queries to advanced “digital assistants” that make the user feel like there’s a real-life agent on the other side of the screen.

They can be used on your website and in the messaging platforms your customers already use every day. Since they’re fairly quick and easy to implement, chatbots are a popular choice for brands just getting started with conversational commerce. 

2. Live chat

Many consumers are familiar with using live chat for their customer support inquiries. But these services can be valuable throughout the buying journey, allowing customers to quickly find the information they need to feel more confident about their purchases.

3. Messaging apps

Apps like Messenger and Telegram are becoming increasingly popular conversational commerce platforms. They allow consumers to engage with brands privately, at their convenience. Users also appreciate the ability to use common messaging icons like emojis, GIFs, and memes.

4. Voice assistants

Voice assistants like Siri and Alexa use artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing to allow users to run internet searches and conduct simple tasks with the sound of their voice.

The hands-free convenience empowers users to multitask. For example, when you’re baking you can ask Siri how many teaspoons are in a cup — without having to wash the flour off your hands.

Why conversational commerce works

Part of the success of conversational commerce is its ability to meet customers where they are, rather than forcing them to visit a website or their inbox.

But it’s not just the convenience of conversational commerce that makes it such a successful strategy. Like the name implies, these tools turn the shopping and buying experience into a 2-way conversation.

Instead of blasting your target market with ads, emails, and promotions, conversational commerce platforms encourage dialogue and interaction. Just like a helpful store assistant checking in on an in-store shopper, they allow brands to use technology to foster a friendlier experience, make online shopping more personal, and give shoppers the advice and insight they need to make the best purchase.

Here are several examples of how your brand could use conversational commerce throughout the customer journey.

Awareness 

The average business person sends and receives a whopping 126 emails per day. When trying to drive more awareness about your campaigns and special promotions, conversational commerce tools can be an excellent alternative to email marketing. They allow for better engagement, as users can set the alerts to come in at a schedule that works for them.

Giving your customers more control can reap major benefits for your brand. In one study, the open rates for in-app messaging were close to 75% — that’s more than 45 times higher than the average email open rate. 

In addition to in-app messaging, you can also use chatbots and live chat to drive interaction on your site. For example, look at what we do at Bazaarvoice.com to increase awareness about the benefits of working with us.

Source: Bazaarvoice.com

If the user clicks “Sure!”, the bot asks a series of questions about their needs and then directs them to the appropriate landing page. This helps us better engage potential customers while increasing awareness about our programs and services. 

Research and consideration

When shopping online, it can be hard to sort through all of the options to find just the right product for your needs and preferences. And while advanced filtering tools can do a lot, conversational commerce platforms can make the research and consideration stage more interactive, fun, and human-like for shoppers.

For example, H&M positions its chatbot as a personal stylist. The bot uses a series of questions to get a sense of the shopper’s tastes and style. It then presents different options and lets the user pick the item they prefer. Based on the user’s feedback, the bot continues to help the shopper find what they need and then offers products for them to save, share, or buy. 

Source: Jumper.AI

The tool also allows customers to preview the latest fashion trends, see outfits that have been created for other users, and browse items based on their tastes. 

Purchase

Dominoes was a conversational commerce early adopter, allowing customers to order a pizza simply by typing “🍕” in a text. The dream.

Another is the coffee giant Starbucks, which uses conversational commerce to improve the purchasing experience. Customers can use the brand’s barista bot to order and pay for their tall caramel frappuccinos and grande vanilla lattes. Once their drink is ready, customers receive a notification and can skip the line to get their caffeine fix. 

The app is voice-activated, making it even easier for users to order their favorite coffees and snacks. The tool also allows customers to track their rewards points and redeem special offers.

 Source: Jumper.AI

If you don’t have time to build an app, consider adding a chatbot to your checkout page. In a recent HubSpot poll, 47% of respondents said they would consider buying products and services through a chatbot. The chatbot can also help consumers understand your shipping and returns policy. 

Post-purchase

In addition to answering questions during the sale, chatbots can also help automate your post-purchase customer engagement. 

The office supply store Staples is well known for its “easy button” promotions. In these ads, the store says finding and purchasing whatever you’re looking for is as easy as pushing a big red button.

Staples brought the easy button to life with its “Easy System” customer support messaging app. Built in partnership with IBM’s Watson, the bot can handle most customer support questions. It also makes repeat orders a breeze for procurement teams.

9 Great Examples of How Brands are Using Chatbots | Social Media Today
Source: Social Media Today

Conversational commerce tools can also help with your upselling and cross-selling strategies. Let a chatbot reach out to customers when the product they most recently purchased is likely running low and remind them to reorder.

In addition, you could use live chat to make recommendations based on past purchases or highlight complementary products.

Brand loyalty

We also love the idea of using conversational commerce tools to build brand loyalty.

For inspiration, check out Casper’s Insomnobot3000. The site uses a chatbot to “hang out” with customers who are having trouble falling or staying asleep. It loves talking about popular TV shows like Seinfeld and Stranger Things, as well as the merits of pizza and waffles.

Sure it might be a bit too Black Mirror. But Casper’s Insomnobot3000 is so engaging it was nominated for several awards and has been featured in multiple marketing publications. 

Source: Insomnobot3000

Best practices for getting starting with conversational commerce

1. Identify your needs

Conversational commerce can do a lot, from helping you reduce shopping cart abandonment to improving the customer service experience. Before you start your journey, think about the goals you’d like to achieve and the areas of your business you want to support. 

After your brainstorming session, prioritize your goals and needs. Depending on your budget and bandwidth, you might have to start slowly. Knowing which priorities to focus on first can help ensure you move forward more confidently and strategically.

2. Do your research

The goal is to meet customers where they are. To achieve that, you need to do your research to find out which apps and services your customers are already using. 

According to Zendesk, which helped popularize customer support automation, 45% of consumers prefer to use embedded messaging to interact with brands. A little more than 30% said they prefer social media messaging apps like Facebook’s Messenger. 

3. Don’t focus just on selling

The most successful brands use conversational commerce tools to support their customers throughout the buying journey. You want a solution that can harness the power of data to continue the conversation on every touchpoint. If a customer reaches out on your website chatbot then tries to continue the conversation via Messenger, you don’t want them to have to repeat themselves or go through the frustration of listing all of the steps they’ve already taken to resolve the problem. 

4. Ask for demos

There’s so many conversational commerce platforms for you to choose from. To help you find the best solution for your needs and your customers’, sign up for demos, free trials, and webinars. You want to find a solution that will work with your current technology setup and capabilities. For example, if you’re short-staffed, 24/7 live chat may not be the best option. 

5. Decide what success looks like

The goals you set before starting your conversational commerce should shape the KPIs you use to measure its success. Look for a tool that offers real-time visibility into metrics like conversion rates and customer satisfaction scores. These can help you understand what’s working and what needs to be improved so you can pivot as necessary. 

6. Make sure your mobile experience is up to snuff

With many conversational commerce interactions taking place on smartphones, you want to make sure your mobile website is modern and adheres to best practices for user experience.

This is vital even if you’re not ready to dive into conversational commerce. Today, just shy of 73% of online sales take place on a mobile device.  

You can learn how to improve your mobile strategy with our whitepaper: ​​7 ways the mobile consumer changes everything.

How Bazaarvoice can help you win at conversational commerce

Had to sneak in a shameless plug at the end. But hear me out. Our new Questions and Answers portal allows you to quickly implement and manage a conversational commerce strategy that works for your brand, team, and customers.

With Questions and Answers, you can quickly and easily reply to customer questions on over 1,750 retail sites, increasing brand awareness and allowing you to respond to customers wherever they shop. Our clients have seen as much as a 98% increase in conversions thanks to Questions and Answers, as well as a 50% decrease in support center costs. Stats worth shamelessly plugging!

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