Retail 2.0 is upon us, represented by aggressive digitisation led by retail giants such as Amazon. Augmented reality, drone-based delivery, interactive specialised stores - all of these features are rapidly changing the way we buy and sell things. Retail is on the front lines of disruption today, based on the four pillars of immersion, speed, convenience and automation. Even as retailers try to wrap their heads around Retail 2.0, Retail 3.0 is already knocking on the door - characterised by an optimised combination of offline stores and online experience.
Amidst all this transformation, what’s the one consumer-oriented tool that retailers are betting upon?
Conversational AI, of course.
To understand the need for Conversational AI solutions (including chatbots and voice bots), let us first answer a few key retail questions. Why is there a tug-of-war in the retail experiential world in the first place? Why can’t we just get rid of one of the retail worlds, either online or offline, to focus resources completely on the other?
The reason is the different, but key roles they play. Online shopping delivers convenience, yet consumers desire the social and experiential touchpoints offered by brick-and-mortar stores. The need then is to have retail spaces that promise a great purchase experience, and then ensure immersive and immediate consumer engagement post-sales. This is where Conversational AI comes in.
At every point, AI-powered chatbots serve as the bridge between consumers and retailers, bringing them in to the stores and getting the stores to them. Listed below are the five reasons why Conversational AI is being considered as the cornerstone of future retail engagement:
24x7 accessibility -- The world of retail is expanding rapidly. Thanks to e-commerce, a retailer’s target audience now spans across geographies. Retailers today also need to be ready to pounce upon positive queries instantly. A chatbot, being a round-the-clock conversational self-service option, is ideally suited to the smartphone generation, which does not like to wait to connect with an agent. According to a report by Aspect Software, 73 percent of customers want to solve product or service issues on their own. If a retailer wants to attend to every single query, record it and follow-up immediately, then Conversational AI is the ideal solution. Data-driven behaviour predictability -- Data is the new oil, and the retail industry generates it limitlessly. Each and every behavioural footprint of a consumer during a transaction reveals something, and chatbots are the best digital sleuths to compile, analyse and draw actionable insights from this data pool. In the future retail world, where micro-targeting and niche audience building will be necessary, Conversational AI will serve as the foremost centralised platform through which business strategies will be built. Bringing brick-and-mortar stores back into the game -- In 2017, store closure announcements increased by more than 200 percent from the previous year. 2018 remained the same. Public lay-offs, consolidation and bankruptcy all contributed to a ‘retail apocalypse’ of sorts. However, ironically, e-commerce giants such as Amazon upped their offline presence at the same time stores all across the globe were being shut down! It is thus evident that the world of retail cannot survive without our familiar brick-and-mortar stores.
How can Conversational AI help? By serving as the synapse which guarantees a uniform virtual and offline experience for brands. Through constant engagement with chatbots, consumers will know exactly what to expect at the stores in terms of inventory, deals, etc. In fact, the entire purchase process can be expedited if the retailer and consumer remain in touch through bots, resulting in a positive purchase experience and repeat visits.
At the cusp of content and product consumption -- This is the age of smartphones, and content consumption is the favourite device-based activity for most people today. So naturally, retailers cannot afford to stay away from the content domain. Google has already started testing retail features on YouTube videos by displaying product prices and recommendations beneath videos and letting viewers make a direct purchase. However, users would need the Conversational AI experience to handhold them through purchases plugged in while they get entertained. The number of merchants at the Google Express marketplace has grown to 1300 from 50 last year, and retailers who adopt chatbots to facilitate swift video-driven retail will have a distinct advantage in the future.
Aakrit Vaish is the CEO and Co-founder of Haptik, one of the world’s largest conversational AI platforms.
Natural digital communication that benefits the complete spectrum - - Chat is a digital-born, rather than adapted, medium of communication. Naturally, the ease of adaptability and mass-reach it offers is unmatched by any other medium. It combines the real-time synchronous nature of calls with the trackability of mails and the personal nature of SMSes to arrive at an optimised engagement mix. Conversational AI is the ideal frontline of customer communication. Chatbots handle basic queries on their own while freeing up human agents to handle complex tasks. At the same time, through machine learning and NLP, they continue learning on their own, evolving and getting better at reading customers after every customer interaction. What more can retailers ask for?