How Conversational Commerce & Messaging Apps Are Changing E-Commerce

Marketing and advertising are becoming more and more personalized. Thanks to the proliferation of data that’s being collected through consumers’ devices and browsing habits, companies can see, specifically, how to hone in on their leads and retain loyal customers.

Right now, there are targeted advertisements on Facebook feeds, Gmail accounts, YouTube videos, Twitter streams, and website banners. Companies can see consumers’ browsing history, what they’re clicking on, and the types of content they’re engaging with. Marketers and brands are using this intelligence to more accurately display the right content to the right customer at the right time.

Still, there is a divide. Even though ads and messages are increasingly personalized, consumers feel like they’re being talked at, not communicated with. To remedy this, brands are now engaging in conversational commerce with their leads and current customers.

What is conversational commerce?

Conversational commerce is a catch-all term for brands sending messages to consumers regarding their purchases and shopping habits. It can come in a few different forms, like when your mechanic sends you a text message reminding you to get your oil changed or when you chat with a live representative on a website for support.

The new trend in conversational commerce that’s catching on is in-app messaging. It’s the future of marketing to customers as well as buying online.

The upcoming wave of in-app messaging

In-app messaging is taking e-commerce to the next level, making it even simpler for companies to appeal to customers and for customers to make purchases.

Instead of clicking around on many different websites and going in and out of apps, companies are aiming to build up their businesses within messaging apps. They want customers to be able to do it in all in one place. Consumers will be able to message their friends, order an Uber, buy shoes, get food delivery, and send money all in one messaging app.

The trend is already occurring in China, where consumers are using WeChat to fulfill their daily living and commerce needs. Soon enough, this system will gain prominence in the United States.

This is because people are fatigued with the number of apps on their phones. According to The Telegraph, app usage is going to plateau. In 2012, the average person used about 26 different apps regularly. That number remained stagnant for three years, even as many more apps began to flood the market.

Despite all this, consumers are still extremely ecstatic about one type of app: Messengers.

The current state of mobile messaging and commerce

There are many messaging apps that consumers are utilizing, most notably Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and WhatsApp. According to Statista, as of April 2016, Facebook Messenger had 900 million users. There are 100 million daily active users on Snapchat. WhatsApp, which provides free text messaging around the globe, boasts 990 million users.

Customers are accessing these apps on their mobile devices, which is where they’re also shopping. According to eMarketer, a 53% of customers are shopping on their smartphones and tablets. During the holiday season last year, online shopping traffic from Facebook increased 153% year-over-year.

Brands are catching onto the fact that consumers like to shop from their phones and that a lot of e-commerce traffic is coming from social media. They’re collaborating with in-app messaging platforms provided by sites like Facebook and Snapchat to make shopping easier and more convenient for their consumers.

What in-app e-commerce looks like

The days of taking hours to shop online and scout out the best deals will soon come to an end. In the near future, all the work will be done for you.

According to Shopify, consumers will be soon able to log onto their messaging apps, say they need a certain item within their budget and receive results back instantly. If you want to buy a garden pot for under $50 and you need it within eight days, you will type that into your messaging app and it will pull up results for you.


A customer can order flowers from 1-800-Flowers simply by chatting on Facebook Messenger


A customer orders a men’s shirt and tracks shipping all within a messaging app

Part of the technology is already there. Brands like Walmart and Hyatt are testing customer service and shopping within apps on the new Facebook Messenger for Business App. Hyatt lets its guests message the front desk if they need fresh towels in their rooms or housekeeping services.

Right now, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger allow for customers to send payments on their respective apps. Snapchat features advertising from brands like Target and Lancome on its platform. While some ads take you outside of the app, others let you shop within it.

Facebook offers M, a personal assistant within the Messenger that’s said to be more sophisticated than Siri. Though it hasn’t been widely adopted, it is gaining traction. Recently, a writer from The Verge used M to call Amazon and seek out a refund from the company. It successfully completed the task. M doesn’t scan your information for cues about you – it only looks at the information you’ve given within the chat window.


A customer chats on Facebook M, the company’s personal assistant within Messenger

In April, Facebook announced that it was letting brands build chatbots through Messenger’s Chatbot API, according to TheStreet. It provided a link for brands to use on their websites which, when clicked, allows users to send messages through the Messenger platform.

Additionally, Kik, a free messaging app, has a bot shop for companies such as Sephora, Vine, and H&M. Microsoft is developing its own bot platform, which allows any company to create a bot for customer service purposes.

Voice bot messaging: Amazon’s revolutionary contribution to shopping

Amazon has taken the idea of a personal assistant to the next level. They embedded an intelligent bot, Alexa, into their Echo devices. Customers can talk to the bot and ask it to order items through Amazon Prime, call for an Uber, purchase flowers from 1-800-Flowers, or get a pizza delivered from Domino’s.

amazon-echoAmazon’s Echo device is embedded with Alexa, a bot and personal assistant

The way it works is that you store your payment within Echo. When you want to shop, you give a voice command and it does the work for you. You can also hear tracking details on your Amazon orders and plan and track your flights through Kayak.

While voice command and in-app messaging are making shopping easier than ever, there are still many issues that need to be worked out before it goes mainstream.

The challenges going forward

Facebook has been accused time and time again of crossing boundaries when it comes to users’ privacy. This is an issue the company may face with M. Since the app only looks at the information provided within the chat, it’s not going to be as intelligent as it could be if it scanned all the data in users’ Facebook profiles. The social media network may be fearful of the backlash that kind of rollout could cause.

Consumers are used to chatting with real people – their friends, family members, acquaintances, and colleagues – via messaging apps. They are not yet used to the idea of talking to bots, having those bots do the searching for them, and speaking to the bots in a language that they understand. According to Medium’s Chris Messina, people are going to have to be trained not to talk in complete sentences but instead, converse more like programmers do.

If people don’t start using programming-friendly language, it will make it harder for bots to discover where their help is needed. For example, you may be deep in conversation with a friend about paying for movie tickets the next time you both hang out. If you don’t learn how to trigger the bot to join the conversation and help you purchase the tickets, you’re going to have to keep doing it on your own. Aside from that, what if consumers don’t want to trigger the bots? It may make them feel like their privacy is being compromised.

In terms of Alexa, consumers first have to adopt the Echo technology, which will run them close to $200. Shoppers also have to be willing to sign up for Prime, so the devices are more likely to attract heavy Amazon users.

Another issue with in-app messaging and shopping is that hacks and security breaches occur every single day. Consumers might be wary of handing over all of their information when they don’t know how secure a company is. They may not want their credit cards stored on Facebook or their PayPal information on Snapchat. Right now, these platforms are free, and consumers aren’t used to doing commerce on them.

Though it will take a lot of work to flesh out bugs and determine consumers’ comfort level, in-app messaging has the power to transform how we go about our day-to-day lives. It can save us all time and money, and make it easier for brands to reach us when we need them the most.

Looking to get started with your own automated messaging and chat bots? There are a number of interesting startups helping you do this without a programmer on your team:

Kylie Ora Lobell

Kylie Ora Lobell is a content marketing specialist in Los Angeles covering marketing, small business, and tech topics.


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