Chatbots still have room to grow

phone apps
Chatbot technology is still maturing.

Although 60% of consumers say they are comfortable talking with a chatbot, only 22% have actually engaged with one. According to the 2017 Mobile Consumer Report from Vibes, which looked at consumer preferences with text, mobile wallet, push notifications, apps and other ways of communicating with brands, the results found that consumers are most open to engaging on mobile. 

In fact, 70% of consumers said they would have a more positive opinion of a brand that allowed them to save a plastic loyalty card in their smartphone and more than one-third of people store information from brands on mobile wallets. 

"While consumers carefully control how brands can engage with them on these personal devices, they are highly receptive to new and emerging mobile experiences that add convenience and value," said Jack Philbin, co-founder and CEO of Vibes. 

While consumers like mobile, they carefully choose which retailers they subscribe to for mobile alerts, on average subscribing to no more than four. Users are most likely to sign up for mobile alerts from retailers, restaurants and brands. 

Sophie Vu, CMO of Vibes, says that when engaging with consumers via mobile, retailers need to remember that personalized content is king. In fact, 59% of consumers say they'd be most inclined to engage with a brand that sends mobile coupons and other deals. Therefore, messaging from retailers should take into account a consumer's location, preferences and past purchases, as well as personal celebrations such as birthdays and anniversaries. 

Vu also warns that chatbot technology is still maturing. 

"It’s important to remember chatbots are still relatively new to the scene, and a lot of the challenges, from the need for human supervision to addressing every question/request accurately, will be resolved with time," she told FierceRetail. "Mobile wallets are a good parallel—they were initially very limited in their functionality, but over time they became much more robust marketing touchpoints that can now store and process payments, offers and loyalty programs."

More retailers have not used chatbots yet because they are hesitant to invest until the kinks are smoothed out. Because they are so versatile, retailers may want to use chatbots for multiple functions such as mobile commerce, customer support and transactional notification. But until they know they can do that with confidence, retailers are slow to invest. 

Based on the research, Vu says it's clear that consumers want digital loyalty cards. And with data showing seven out of 10 consumers would have a more positive view of a brand that lets them save these to their phones, retailers have the incentive to do so. 

"Consumers don't want a one-size-fits-all loyalty program—consumers want loyalty to be personal and tailored to them," Vu said. 

Looking at the survey results, it seems mobile purchasing has a way to go, as only 19% of smartphone users report making an in-store purchase after opening an app for information while shopping. 

According to Vu, consumers are selective about apps, and 80% to 90% are deleted after they are used only once. 

"One thing that retailers can do is invest in mobile wallet marketing. Mobile wallet apps (Android Pay, Apple Wallet, Samsung Pay) are preloaded on most consumers’ smartphones, so there’s less friction. Many of our retail customers use the location-based functionality within mobile wallets to push a consumer to purchase when near a store," Vu said. 

The most surprising result from this study was the jump in a desire for transactional messaging. In 2017, 75% of consumers ranked transactional information as among their top reasons for opting into notifications, a big jump from 59% in Vibes' 2016 Mobile Consumer Report. 

"This underscores consumers' growing preference for personalization and convenience," added Vu.