Why Conversational Commerce Succeeds Where Traditional E-Commerce Fails

Post written by

Stefano Tombolini

Co-Founder and CTO of Botsociety.

What do 1-800-Flowers, Renault and Planned Parenthood all have in common? They’re but three of a slew of companies, brands and retailers leaning on the transformative power of conversational commerce (c-commerce for short) to redefine their marketing and customer service strategies.

In fact, some 80% of businesses claim to already use chatbots, the preferred mode of c-commerce today, or plan to within the year. The time for c-commerce is resoundingly now.

In fact, the reception for this brand of commerce is overwhelmingly positive and promising -- almost 50% of shoppers are open to purchasing items while interacting with a chatbot, while a sizeable 71% of them state that they’re willing to receive customer service or support through a messaging app. All of the fanfare is certainly linked to two retail realities:

• Shoppers are more time-strapped than ever.

• Shoppers would much rather engage in a conversation than with a button.

As a result, c-commerce is uniquely positioned to corner retail in a way that traditional e-commerce never could. And the reason has chiefly to do with how the two shopping channels are designed.

Conversational Commerce In A Google-Informed World

In a race to please Google’s search engine rules, e-commerce websites and interfaces have long become huge stockpiles of indexable information. Over time, companies prioritized SEO-friendliness over customer-friendliness, leaving us with cookie-cutter layouts housing large repositories of data. As a result, e-commerce sites can feel lifeless and unwieldy.

Conversational commerce, however, is designed to cater to our most natural human tendencies: the tendencies to connect, to converse and to invest in products and services after acquiring the proper confidence and context to do so.

And the proof of traditional e-commerce’s shortcomings is in the paltry pudding: Global e-commerce conversion rates barely scratch the 3% mark.

What’s more, outside of e-commerce Goliaths like Rakuten, Apple, Alibaba and Amazon, traditional e-commerce has fallen short of the lofty expectations we once had for it. Even with steady yearly gains, e-commerce still only makes up about one-tenth of yearly global retail sales.

C-commerce brings with it the promise to change that, boasting conversion rates that are four times that of traditional shopping sites. Where traditional e-commerce is static, one-size-fits-all and rigid, c-commerce is dynamic, personalized and adaptable (especially when artificial intelligence is brought into the picture). Shoppers show enthusiasm for it because it provides convenience, transparency and a dose of humanity. It’s a two-way street, where typical e-commerce is a cul-de-sac.

Take our opening question, "What do 1-800-Flowers, Renault and Planned Parenthood have in common?" for instance. It’s not a question that an e-tailer’s search bar or even almighty Google would be able to field. It requires abstract thinking, complex connection-making and perhaps even a bit of humor -- all of which can be answered with the intelligent design of a c-commerce chatbot

It would similarly be difficult to field complex queries like this one without a chat interface or AI-powered assistance: “I had to delay my return flight because of a family emergency. Will I be charged a rebooking fee? And are there daytime flights back to Miami available for this coming Thursday -- preferably first-class?”

Designing for conversational commerce can feel like a Herculean feat if you haven’t done it before. Luckily, there are so many companies and tools around to provide designers a solution through which they can properly visualize and prototype complex interfaces, so you can start being a part of conversations happening on Alexa, WhatsApp, Messenger and everywhere else they might be taking place.

Designing Conversations That Work

Just as no two commerce channels are created equal, no two conversations happen quite the same either. Therefore, no two chatbots will or should mimic one another.

So, when designing chatbots and voice assistants, users must first pin down a use case. The beauty of AI-powered conversational commerce is that it offers a range of practical uses along the customer journey:

• Helps assist with purchases and payments.

• Can offer product recommendations based on past purchases.

• Provides ongoing customer support (on a 24/7 basis, no less).

• Has the ability to surface personalized promotions.

• Encourages product reviews.

But before the customer service process can begin, and even before a line of code has been written, you’ll have to suss out the right flow and path for an ideal customer-to-business, human-to-machine interaction. Teams across various departments (design, marketing, legal and compliance, development) will need to work dynamically to make sure each conversation scenario is purpose-driven and checks all the boxes when it comes to your business objectives.

At Botsociety, we say, “In conversation design, you don’t have screens, but you have questions.” And those questions, in their arrangement, order, wording and output, will become the foundation of your bot. After all, with the proper conversational experience in place, you’ll ensure that your customers can communicate with you at their leisure in a manner that’s inviting and informative, and that will enable you to join the ranks of the 1-800-Flowers, Renaults and Planned Parenthoods of the world.

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Co-Founder and CTO of Botsociety.