Be where your customers are. That's long been the first rule of survival for any business.
And for the past decade that meant establishing a presence on social networks—Facebook, Pinterest,Twitter—while keeping an eye on the horizon of these public platforms for new opportunities. It also meant delivering excellent customer experiences on mobile devices when 4 out of 5 consumers shop on their smartphones. But over the last two years, messaging apps have started to outpace social networks when it comes to where we spend our time. And it's not surprising. We go on social networks to discover news and content, to share our thoughts and stories, and connect with other people. But it's in messaging apps where we do all that plus make plans, come to decisions and become active participants in personal conversations. That's what makes chat as an interface for commerce—or "conversational commerce"—a natural next step.
Imagine a world where you could open a messaging app—on your choice of device—and type or speak:
"I need a prom dress for next week, blue or white, under $200."
In seconds, you get a message back—"Here is your blue dress"—with a link to a
personalized product recommendation along with express shipping selected, your choice
of color, and your size already accounted for, which you can then pay for, and track the
shipping status, without ever leaving the conversation.
From a single sentence, your unique needs have been translated into a purchase.
What's more—you couldn't say with certainty whether you were interacting with a bot or a human the entire time.
This is just one example of conversational commerce in action and how it will changing the way we buy things— the way your business will interact with its customers.
Chat is already a popular channel for customers to engage with a business in private. In fact, live chat has a 73% customer satisfaction rate, the highest rated even compared to traditional channels like email (61%) and phone (44%). But as popular messaging apps like Facebook Messenger expand their functionality, they will grow to become channels that enable a more seamless customer experience from product discovery to payments to tracking the status of orders to customer service. Big C's are already testing out the upcoming Facebook Messenger for Business and fielding more inquiries than ever through the platform. Messaging apps create a private line of communication between a business and its customers, which is a lot better than addressing negative complaints in a public forum like Twitter. Within the contexts of these conversations, you can even cross-sell and upsell by recommending products that match your customer's unique needs, similar to the brick and mortar experience of engaging with a rep who's an expert on your product catalogue.
Payments are at the heart of all forms of commerce, whether business-to-consumer, business-to-business or peer-to-peer. As such, it's also one of the areas of focus in this shift towards conversational commerce.
We can speculate all we want about the future of conversational commerce. Or we can look east where WeChat—a popular messaging app in China—has already entrenched itself as the go-to app for everything.
If you're among WeChat's 649.5 million monthly active users, and have tied your credit card info to your WeChat Wallet, then you're able to do the following without ever leaving the app:
For a while now, WeChat has been the center of mobile commerce in China and, contrary
to its name, much more than "just a chat app".
On Chinese New Year, for example, WeChat gamified the Chinese money-gifting tradition
with Red Envelope, encouraging a flood of new users to join the platform and sign up for
WeChat payments to participate.
While a WeChat-like culture is less likely in countries with a more diverse ecosystem of separately owned apps (Uber, Paypal, Facebook Messenger, etc.), the powerful APIs being built for these apps mean it's very possible for them to plug into a single interface.
In fact, in the U.S you can already order an Uber through Facebook Messenger by clicking on an address. And that's just one integration that's shortening the distance between making a plan and making it happen
Conversational commerce is an exciting shift in the world of tech and business. The convenience this affords consumers, from removing the burden of pre-purchase research to making payments only a few taps away, will build upon the already existing foundations laid by mobile and social commerce—in a big way. In a word, conversational commerce is bringing commerce into the familiar and personal context of messaging apps, transforming the customer experience by making it a whole lot more convenient for both businesses and their customers alike. If you're looking for it on the distant horizon, you're looking the wrong way. Because the era of conversational commerce is already here.