Chatbots move toward conversations in 2018

Sprout Chatbot
Chatbots are moving into voice communication between customer and sales associate.

While chatbots are not new, using them only to provide consumers with an aisle and shelf number is not using the technology to its full potential. Retailers should consider deploying a chatbot that offers not just a legible solution, but also a visual tool that connects the consumer to the product. 

“Because now, more than ever, traditional retailers need to create a seamless in-store, mobile and online shopping experience, reaching their shoppers along every touchpoint,” said Josh Marti, co-founder and CEO of Point Inside.

For the most part, chatbots in 2017 collected data and served as a supportive resource for consistent and accessible customer service. Marti says that the most commonly asked questions in retail are, "Do you have it?" and "Where can I find it?" 

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"When chatbots are able to effectively respond to this, they allow the shopper to self-service on their own time at their convenience," he told FierceRetail. But some retailers are not taking the next step and incorporating chatbots on platforms that the customer uses on a regular basis, such as SMS or social media, therefore missing a greater audience. 

Plus, the chatbot can be a useful channel of communication for both consumer and sales associate. 

"A store associate holds many roles, such as stocking and restocking shelves, assembling and moving displays and most importantly, aiding customers—which is more than just answering questions by using a fanciful bot," Marti said. "The chatbot, rather, enables a retailer to open a new channel with the shopper. A store associate can use the bot to redirect a response to the shopper's phone if they desire. By doing so, the store associate is playing a key role in unifying the physical and digital shopping experience—making them more efficient in their role. For a consumer, a chatbot helps to cut down on negative shopping experiences for a consumer by giving them a personalized and targeted experience, whether that means guiding them to a product or greeting them upon arrival."

Moving forward, Marti assures associates that they should not panic, as they will always remain an important piece of the retail customer experience. But as technological advancement grows in the retail space, retailers will need to reconsider how to best leverage the emerging technology to better meet their customer's needs. 

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So which retailers have a handle on chatbots thus far? Marti says that Amazon is killing it with its voice-enabled bot Alexa. 

"In terms of physical retailers, we can see that many are beginning to experiment with chatbots but are challenged by the scope of questions being asked by the shopper," he said. "Chatbots typically perform better when the question domain is focused. As the popularity of chatbots continues to grow in 2018, their presence will merge through various retailer channels where the channel helps control the scope of questions for the bot."

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In 2018, Marti believes that the role of chatbots will become more prevalent in the day-to-day shopping experience of many consumers. And in the coming years, he expects that cognition-based communications will evolve past questions and answers to conversations. 

"Cognition-based conversations will be more elaborate—they will even be able to understand and pick up on conversational slang, emotion and even personal preference through type—just as a person can pick up on traits while texting a friend. As natural language software continues to evolve, tools like a chatbot will only continue to gain value," Marti added.