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How Chatbots Are Changing the Retail Industry

  • 10 December 2017
  • Shawn Farner

Chatbots seem to be all the rage these days, but, believe it or not, they’ve been around for quite a while. Way back in the days of AIM and Yahoo Messenger, chatbots existed to provide a fast path to information for chat users who didn’t want to leave their respective chat apps. That same idea is now making its way into the retail sphere, albeit in a more engaging way. Chatbots aren’t just answering anymore: they’re reaching out and talking to customers, giving retailers a whole new way to aide and rope in their customers.

Let’s take a look at how chatbots are making waves in the retail industry.

Contextual Help

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Have you ever been on a website’s product page and seen that little box pop up in the corner to ask if you need help? This is a chatbot at work, ready to provide you help with that very specific thing you’re looking at and possibly connect you to a live specialist in that subject area. If you’re looking at a new cable package, for example, a chatbot can present you with deals, or get you immediately to a sales specialist if you want a person to talk to. It can also point you in the direction of an appropriate FAQ page if it doesn’t have the answers itself.

All-Hours Support

While some companies are fortunate enough to have live agents up and waiting to help around the world, not every retailer can (or wants) to do so. Enter chatbots: a way to engage a consumer who needs help without having to have a live person awake and ready to talk on the other end. And because these chats with bots are often logged and stored away for safe keeping, a real live person can come in the next day and continue helping a customer should the chatbot not be able to resolve an inquiry. Consumers seem to like this: even an interaction with a chatbot can be better than no chat at all if someone needs assistance after hours.

Lower Costs

While this one will get people running for the hills, fearful that all the robots are coming for their jobs, keep in mind: not all companies can afford to staff a bunch of live people in their support departments. In their stead, retailers can use chatbots as a means to provide a support channel for their customers to filter out some of the lower-level issues while saving their limited support department personnel for problems that really need a human being to resolve. Of course, other retailers who are looking to shave costs may use chatbots for this same reason: to keep live support staff to a minimum while using bots to handle some of the easier problems customers will need solved.

Consistency is Key


Have you ever interacted with support and received one answer to a question or issue you had, only to receive a completely different answer or solution when you talk to another support agent? This happens far too often, and it comes down to a lack of consistency: some support departments don’t have clear-cut answers for support agents to give to customers, so they’re left to their own devices and sometimes contradict one another. Chatbots can help eliminate this thanks to their answers being uniform: when you enter a solution into the chatbot’s collection of programmed responses, all customers will get that same response. The chatbot won’t freelance the answer, and your customers may find the right solution more quickly as a result.

Personalized Responses

Computers are faster than people. I don’t think anyone will argue with that. This becomes abundantly clear when you interact with a chatbot that can access your personal information and other details, including order history and past support contacts. If you’ve ever had to wait while a human support agent looks up your information (and seems to take ten minutes doing so in the process), you’ll see how chatbots, with their instantaneous access to a retailer’s data, may offer a better support experience in certain situations.

Quick Answers

We touched on this one a little bit above, but it can’t be understated so we’ll say it again: computers are faster than people. When you want a simple answer to a question, such as “Where can I find your clearance sale page?” or “How much is your 50Mbps Internet service?” a chatbot can get you the answer you’re after in milliseconds.

Consumers like it when things are given to them quickly, and answers to questions are no different. The longer your support solution takes to connect a consumer with an answer, the more likely they’ll be to bail on the interaction entirely, losing you a sale.

Proactive Outreach

Let’s be honest: it would be awfully expensive if a company had a live person ready to get in touch with you and let you know about any new sales you have going on, or to let you know that the sweater you looked at a few weeks back is 75% off. It’s safe to say the vast majority of retailers do not do that (and those that do probably sell very, very expensive items). Chatbots, however, make it possible, providing a way for a retailer to proactively reach out via a website chat window or some other messenger platform. Of course, a consumer would have to approve such contacts on a chat platform first, but once they do, they’ll probably find the outreach from your company incredibly useful — especially if they’re a big shopper at your store.

A Little Nudge

This one is so simple yet so effective, and I’ve experienced it numerous times: the nudge. It’s the message from a chatbot on a website that acts as an employee would at a store if you were standing in front of the coat rack staring for twenty minutes. “Hey — you’ve been staring at this coat for a while. Would you like to know more about it?” On the Web side of things, these chatbots usually pop up and ask if you have any questions after a certain interval of time passes and you haven’t clicked on anything. When a customer comes to your website and then opens another tab, it’s a nice reminder to come back and finish what they were doing.

Do you have some more examples of the way chatbots are changing the retail industry? Sound off below in the comments section.

About Shawn Farner