One of the biggest challenges for online stores is communicating the right information to help people to find the right product, as well as building enough trust to allow clients to complete a transaction. Sales people guide customers, which inevitably increases the chances of a sale, decreases the chances of a return and leads to increased customer satisfaction. Yet until now, this hasn’t been easily replicated in eCommerce.
However, conversational interfaces, or ‘chatbot product finders’, are stepping in to bridge the gaps in online product selection, and today, top brands across both B2B and B2C eCommerce are scaling these interactions to bridge the gaps so many of us experience in our online shopping experiences.
Mind the Gap: You Know the One
According to a recent study run by Juniper Networks on retail brands, retail sales aided by chatbots are set to double annually from here on in, reaching $112 billion by 2023 and helping to cut costs by automating support processes.
But ‘automating support processes’ means more than it used to. Chatbots have traditionally helped by answering basic website support questions, but today, they are lending a hand in product selection.
It’s about time. Whether shopping for a business support product or service, or as a consumer on a top brand’s website, we’ve all experienced the pitfalls of online product finding, and it’s not just single frustrating scenario. Think of the countless hours you have likely spent looking for the exact right product or service, only to reach the stark realisation just before purchase stage that there is a deal-breaker shortcoming.
There’s also the many solo product finding missions on eCommerce that end up in no purchase being made at all, simply because there are too many choices on offer. Whether you’re looking to buy trainers or to purchase the perfect holiday, too much choice really is a bad thing.
So what is a chatbot product finder exactly? Shell LubeChat is a great example. Aimed at Shell’s B2B lubricants customers, Shell LubeChat is an online chatbot that acts as a true product guide. Believe it or not, Shell lists and sells hundreds of different types of industrial lubricants, and navigating this vast landscape can be time consuming for customers. By asking questions and giving Shell LubeChat criteria, it can easily narrow down its product list and present customers with the exact right product which matches requirements exactly.
From Product Finders to Personal Shoppers
Product finders are no different than the usual chatbot web chat interfaces most of us have become accustomed to using, where we can pose questions and get answers relayed via bots, 24×7. However, these interfaces can easily be custom designed to showcase product ranges and specific product details aligned with unique brand features.
Customers can be educated as they’re led through the product finder sales funnel, effectively filtering products along the way according to their specific requirements, while also viewing a showcase of the very best products. While chatbots generally reduce the need for customers to get in touch via other means, product finders can also be designed with a specific tone of voice in mind to create a closer connection with the brand, and like all digital customer service channels, there is always an opportunity to connect with a human should the conversational interface reach a limitation. Analytics can also be applied to these conversations to allow for improvements both to the conversations themselves, and ultimately to the products being sold.
The H&M chatbot is a great example of how the product finder journey can become a key point of engagement for customers, and made into a unique customer experience designed in this case to mimic a personal shopper. The bot, which is available via the Kik Bot Shop, starts off with a style quiz by asking users to select between different preferred styles, and then goes on to search and share outfits as well as style tips. Shoppers are then directed to the H&M site once they’ve nailed down their preferred purchase with the help of the product finder.
These chatbots and others are also often available through multiple channels, from a company website, to Facebook Messenger – all designed to help the customer where they are, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Successful projects – tech and content are key
Product finders don’t just rely on artificial intelligence – they need high quality, up to date product content, copywriting and user research in order to succeed. This takes careful planning and obviously isn’t a technology challenge – it’s all about imaginative communication.
From the large, mainstream platforms provided by the likes of Google, IBM and Microsoft, to open source chatbot development platforms, the basic product finder building blocks are already available. It’s important to pick your technology stack carefully as it will dictate future costs and functionality. It’s essential to consider, for example, how easy it is to adapt in the future and how well it will integrate with your existing systems, such as product database or CRM.
It’s a complex and careful process that needs to be undertaken to ensure that you create a high value, useful experience for people using your conversational interface. The rising popularity of product finders is proof of how much better companies are becoming in understanding the ideal use cases around this type of technology, and it’s certainly an exciting time for the retail industry as chatbots become crucial for driving online sales.
Tim Deeson, CEO, GreenShoot Labs