Analysis, Hands On

The Existential Angst of Being an Ecommerce Bot

Being a chatbot isn’t easy. To rise above the overcrowded industry demands being unique, personal, and … human. Fortunately, here are five ways to make your shopping bot all that and more.

Aaron Orendorff
May 27 2017

On the heels of Facebook’s 2016 announcement that it would allow companies to deploy native chatbots via Messenger, the ecommerce AI world has exploded. In a less than half a year, the number of chatbots on Messenger ballooned to 30,000. And it’s no surprise. Stronger brand engagement and a native user experience make implementing shopping bots a no-brainer. In fact, 80% of businesses want to implement chatbots by the year 2020.

Here’s the problem …

Given the flood of entries, a shopping bot can’t just be a shopping bot. It has to be something more. Something delightful that drives repeat customers in particular. In a word, something human. Here are 5 ways you can achieve this goal.

1. Thank You Chats

Saying “Thank you” has always been part of the post-transaction sequence. Unfortunately, it’s rarely delightful and almost never reaps the kind of repeat rewards that new customers present. By allowing customers to sync their accounts with Facebook, this is the first opportunity bots present.

However, before you start sending off cleverly written confirmation messages, one thing matters above all: honesty. In other words, don’t try to pretend your bot isn’t a bot. Of course, your bot’s introduction doesn’t need to be dry. Just consider how honest yet personable these chatbots’ first messages are.

Image via Madi

Image via KalaniHilliker’sBot

Image via Sephora

Each bot introduces itself as what it is: a bot. And yet, each one differs in tone and personality. That’s because, just like the people they’re built to replicate, they’ve been given a unique identity. Ideally, your introduction and automated language should fit seamlessly with your brand as well.

After the initial hello, your thank you message — as with any post-purchase email confirmation — should be sent immediately and include three elements: (1) the thank you, (2) the order, and (3) the shipping info. For example, Everlane’s does all three brilliantly in its first two correspondences.

But the bot doesn’t stop there. It’s also set up to respond and handle follow-up questions, especially as they relate to repeat purchases:

Those three ingredients might seem obvious, but even major brands can get this wrong. Take my recent order with zulily for example. Instead of opening with a personality-driven message that reflects their brand, here’s what I got:

While straightforward, zulily’s bot doesn’t contain the usual flair they’re well known for. Worse, after my order itself, what followed felt more like a traditional confirmation than conversational commerce:

Can spot the missing ingredient?

There’s no actual “thank you.” Gratitude is the foundation of building long-term customer relationships. Be sure you don’t skip this crucial step.

2. Unboxing Chats

From testimonials and ratings to social shares, it’s no secret that user-generated content (UGC) is conversion gold.  UGC raises brand awareness, engagement, and sales. Why? Because you and your sales reps are not your company’s most influential advocates. Instead, it’s your customers.

In addition to soliciting reviews via your bot, there’s an even more powerful way to nab UGC. Thankfully, all it involves is adding a few lines to your chatbot when customer happiness is usually at its peak: unboxing. Strangely, unboxing UGC is still a largely untapped resource in the shopping bot world. It does, however, run rampant in ecommerce’s most-loved brands.

Man Crate, for instance, has built both their entire product and marketing strategy around unboxing. This UGC YouTube video, which has racked up over 15,000 views, is just one of hundreds

In a similar way, Pura Vida Bracelets has made post-purchase UGC a cornerstone of their social media on both Facebook and Instagram through the hashtag #puravidaclub:

How can you use your shopping bots to start encouraging user generated content?

It’s simple. Much like an email, send customers a message two to 24 hours after their order has arrived.

Heyo! My bot buddy over at FedEx told me your { product } arrived. Awesome! If you love it as much as we hope you do, why not show it off with a selfie?

Use { link to social hashtag } so we can see how amazing you look. We might even feature it on our Facebook or Instagram, like this one: { link }.

This unboxing request can be completely automated and is a perfect opportunity for companies wanting to leverage content created by users as well as deepen their customer relationships.

3. Problem Chats

In the past, answering a customer’s questions has been the job of email, FAQ pages, phone support, or on-site chat. But today — given their native setting — shopping bots should be your frontline.

If you can predict a problem, your shopping bot can solve it. In fact, you probably have a repository of common issues and fixes already.

For instance, by integrating with their customers’ accounts, ChatBank plays the part of a friendly, concerned, and helpful customer service rep.

Image via ChatBank

The real win with chatbots, however, is to get proactive and anticipate common issues.

Take remote controlled drones. Over the last few years, sales have skyrocketed. Unfortunately, drones are notoriously hard to fly. This challenge is traditionally solved on web pages loaded with commonly asked questions and tutorials. Despite the available help, drones are still one of the most frequently returned consumer products.

Imagine if instead of getting frustrated and searching for “how to fly a drone” on the internet, a day or two after the drone arrived, customers received a chatbot message saying:

Having trouble flying your drone? That’s okay, almost everyone does. That’s why we have a YouTube video to help get you up and aviating: { link }

Because Messenger automatically embeds videos, they won’t even have to leave your bot to watch it.

Better yet, a week or so later, another follow-up appears, asking a simple yes or no question: “Did your first week of flights go well?”

If customers answer yes or ignore the message, perfect. That should mean everything is going well. If they say no, this is the perfect opportunity to either send another video or offer a course (i.e., a natural upsell).

Not only does all this make your bot more personal, but it makes your brand more helpful … all by integrating your existing support documents into chat.

Of course, if you don’t sell drones, the same principles also apply in fashion, electronics, and nearly all other industries. Where there’s a product, there’s a common problem. That problem can be proactively dealt with through your bot.

4. Back-in-Stock Chats

Hopefully, you’ve been deploying back-in-stock emails for years. In ecommerce, they’re critical because when inventory runs short, customers get disappointed. And disappointment is death to lifetime customer value.

First off, instead of disabling “add to cart” altogether, swap it out with a “Notify Me When Restocked” button like Chubbies Shorts does here:

Second, rather than use this as an opportunity to collect an email address, invite your new lead to connect via Facebook Messenger and drive the “back in stock” messages that way.

Why go the bot route instead of email?

Because as Matthew Barby’s — Global Head of Growth & SEO HubSpot — found through a conversation with Dmitriy Kachin from Chatfuel:

“Obviously, numbers vary across the board … [but] bot experiences with more engaged audiences are getting 80-90% response rates. While even the least favorable experiences are in the 35-40% range.”

Compare those numbers to the dwindling click-through rates of email marketing:

Even taking Kachin’s lowest estimate — 35% — that’s still 1029% increase in engagement. A number like that is reason enough to implement your own bot.

5. Recommended-Product Chats

Chatbots are not email lists. Which means one important thing: you shouldn’t overgeneralize or, worse, get overly aggressive in your shopping bot marketing.

With bots, you have the opportunity for deep personalization. Rather than sending recommendations that are uninteresting and boring — think of Amazon’s recommendations as a hit and (often) miss example — use your bot to get incredibly detailed.

One way of doing this, as Nordstrom’s bot does, is to front load your shopping bot with customer surveys or link your recommendations directly to each user’s order and browsing history.

Another way is to use the bot over time is to hone in on your customer’s likes through questions and easy-to-click answer. H&M does this well, adapting and learning through interactions.

If someone orders a pair of dress shoes in black, show them that same pair in brown or offer a pair of socks that would match perfectly. If someone orders a laptop, send them a laptop cover in the exact dimensions. Don’t waste your customers’ time. And don’t waste an opportutnity to one purchase, into lifetime value.

Ecommerce Bots are everywhere

But that doesn’t mean all shopping bots are created equal. Abundance means crowded. And standing out demands creating a unique experience in a bot-eat-bot world.

As Business Insider wrote, “The bot revolution is still in the early phase, but the interest is clearly growing among consumers and businesses alike.”

The earlier you jump in, the better. Just be sure your bot is (1) driven by gratitude, (2) energized by unboxing, (3) helpful with problems, (4) quick to remind customers about back-in-stock items, and (5) recommends products people will love.

Being a chatbot isn’t enough. You have to be more that a chatbot. You have to be a unique, personal, branded, human chatbot. In the end, you’re not really creating a bot at all, but a living, customer experience.


Aaron Orendorff

Aaron Orendorff is the founder of iconiContent, where he’s busy “saving the world from bad content.” He’s also a regular contributor at Mashable, Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, Fast Company, Business Insider, Content Marketing Institute, and more. Connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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