Best Practices for Using AI Chatbots in Retail

By: Gina Lee De Freitas

For experts who follow Artificial Intelligence trends, one of the most surprising shifts has been in the consumer acceptance of chatbots. In its infancy, the last thing marketers would have considered was lifting the curtain to let consumers see that the wizard talking with them was merely a bot.

But AI chatbots are clearly no secret anymore, and it turns out consumers have adapted to their attitudes. To that end, the latest advice for retailers is to stop pretending your chatbots are human beings. Consumers have come to expect AI robots: You’re not fooling anyone. 

In 2017, the New York Times wrote an article about fans who talk with their favorite band or celebrities. Fans said they were excited to talk with the chatbots and felt a closer connection to their celebrity’s personal brand, even though it was clear AI was at play.

What does it mean for retailers? Some recent insights from the field:

  • Services like Facebook Messenger and the explosive use of mobile devices have revolutionized how customers experience customer service. Driving to a store – let alone waiting in line to talk to a customer service representative – is being relegated to chatbots who can respond immediately. Sitting on hold with a salesperson to find out if your favorite running shoe is in stock or if your shipment is on its way is becoming old-fashioned. An estimated two-thirds of customers will hang up the phone if they’re on hold for a live agent too long.
  • Shoppers are willing to park their credit cards indefinitely in apps, allowing it easy for them to shop online and pick up in the store or order a shipment delivery. Online retailers like RueLala make it as simple and quick to buy an evening gown as it is to order and pay for an Uber. Chatbots can help advance the sale by making upsell suggestions, or reminding a shopper that they’ve left a cart item behind.
  • Chatbots can be deployed on multiple channels and devices to automatically answer customer’s specific questions about shipping and delivery, improving customer service in a specific one-to-one chat. According to the Conversational Commerce 2017 report, for retailers, “these offerings are valuable because sales increase as customers communicate with and shop from their brand on more channels.”

Customers increasingly don’t want to be on hold with a call center or retail outlet: The want immediate gratification. As AI improves the quality of interactivity with chatbots, consumers are more attuned to how it can enhance their experience, and even increase their affinity for a retailer or brand. Their growing awareness of AI chatbots means that retailers need to use the technology in ways that adapt to their customers’ attitudes and expectations – and to always remember that the customers recognize they’re talking to a bot. 

About Brick to Click!

With decades of experience in retail marketing, Gina Lee De Freitas, President of IMM, and Corien de Jong, SVP Executive Creative Director, have the insights and strategies you need to take your in-store and online retail traffic to the next level.

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