Chatbots are turning e-commerce upside down. Why would customers make the effort to laboriously set product filters on their favorite shop’s website when they can explain what they want to a bot in just a few words? Why look for an assistant in a shop when a chatbot on a smartphone explains the way to the desired product much faster? And why compare prices on websites when you can simply tell a bot what you are looking for and the bot suggests the best offer?

Many online merchants are already using bots to provide their customers with answers to their questions as quickly and easily as possible. But the smart helpers can do much more than just answer certain keywords with predefined text modules, as our examples of chatbots in this article show. But first, we want to take a closer look at what chatbots are.

Chatbots – available whenever and wherever customers need them

A chatbot is a text-based dialog system. This means that users can communicate with the technical system, which automatically answers user questions using a database. That’s why bots are often referred to as chat robots. The first generation of chatbots recognized certain keywords in user questions and responded with predefined text modules. However, these bots quickly reached their limits and were unable to cope with more complex user questions. Current developments in the areas of artificial intelligence and machine learning, however, enable increasingly complex dialogues between humans and machines.

This opens up far-reaching opportunities for e-commerce. Chatbots are increasingly able to offer customers the service they are used to from “real” sellers – at any time, day or night, while lying comfortably on their couch at home. Current chatbots already guide users through the entire customer journey: from advice and order processing to after-sales support. We have put together some examples of chatbots that illustrate how AI-supported chats are currently changing e-commerce.

How chatbots are improving e-commerce

Advising: Ideally, chatbots advise customers like real shop assistants. For example, the US flower delivery service 1-800-Flowers uses a bot in Facebook Messenger to guide customers through the entire ordering process. The AI chat asks the customer what he/she is looking for and suggests flower bouquets or gift baskets. In addition, the bot tries to find out whether the order is a gift and what the customer wants the gift card to say. Thereby, customers can get advice conveniently on their mobile phone, just as they are used to from shop assistants in stores.

Also numerous fashion chains already use chatbots that offer product suggestions to their customers  In order to assess which products the customer prefers, the chatbots try to create a style profile of the user. To do this, they ask what the user usually wears or show him photos of articles that the customer is supposed to rate. Thereby, the AI gets an idea of the user’s preferences and can suggest relevant products.

Well-made chatbots can also help if customers have questions about certain articles. If a user wants to know what fabric a piece of clothing is made of or if the item is available in a different color or size, he/she can ask these questions in the chat and the bot will answer them. Ideally, chatting with the bot is like talking to a shop assistant in a store.

Ordering: The pizza chain Domino’s already enables its US customers to order by sending an emoji via Twitter. All that clients need to do is entering the delivery address and details of their favorite pizza on the Domino’s website. Afterwards, it’s sufficient to tweet the pizza emoji to the company account and the pizza will be delivered. This makes the ordering process much easier and will also result in more spontaneous purchases. In Germany, the online supermarket AllyouneedFresh offers a similar service: Customers can order via WhatsApp. All clients need to do is send their shopping list or a photo of a recipe via WhatsApp. The bot automatically adds the products to the shopping cart.

If the desired items are on their way, chatbots can also keep the customer updated about the delivery status. Instead of looking for the email containing the tracking link and checking the status on the logistics provider’s website, customers can simply ask the chatbot where their package is or when it will arrive. The AI chat can then inform the customer when the desired items will arrive at home – just like an employee.

Customer service: The potential of chatbots goes beyond consulting and order processing. Just as bots can advise customers before the purchase, they can help them afterwards with questions regarding the article. If the chatbot is unable to answer a request, it can hand the request over to a service agent without the customer noticing.

In addition, chatbots can help online merchants manage returns. Just as AI chats help customers ordering products, they can guide customers through the return process. Bots may, for example, ask for the reason of the return and thus, generate valuable insights for merchants. The smart chats can then find out whether customers want the item to be replaced or whether the buyer wants to get refunded, and how the article should be returned. Thereby, online merchants can convince customers with a quick and uncomplicated return process.

In addition to answering questions and handling returns, companies can also provide their customers with other services via online chatbots. AI chats may remind clients of appointments or a booked table in a restaurant.

What are the advantages of chatbots in e-commerce?

The examples above show that chatbots are already able to guide customers through the entire customer journey. The advantages of the smart helpers for e-commerce are obvious. Especially when the customer service receives similar requests again and again, automation by means of chatbots is worthwhile. This relieves the strain on employees who can concentrate on more demanding enquiries.

In addition, the bots enable round-the-clock customer service. Even if customers have a question outside normal business hours, they get an immediate answer. The immediate feedback also offers a further advantage: even during the day, customers no longer have to wait on hold until an employee is available. Instead, they receive the desired information directly after entering their question. By using chatbots, online merchants can convince shoppers with excellent customer service. When buyers receive quick and uncomplicated answers to their questions, this contributes to a positive customer experience – a decisive competitive advantage in today’s e-commerce.

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