“Hey, Alexa, what’s conversational commerce?”
Okay, so we’re not Alexa – but you have come to the right place if you want an answer to this question. Fundamentally, conversational commerce is the point at which the use of messaging services coincides with (or ideally, improves) the sales process.
It’s all about the intersection of conversation and selling. This could mean interacting with a customer advisor over live chat, adding something to your shopping list via your smart speaker, or letting a chatbot lead you to the right paint color – it all falls under the conversational commerce umbrella.
In recent years, conversational strategies have become a mainstay of modern life. However, the question still remains as to how you can use them to your advantage in the current ecommerce landscape. Below, we’ll deep dive into some of the most popular uses for conversational commerce, and explore why it’s something you don’t want to ignore.
With the pandemic still shaping the way that many of us live our lives, the ecommerce industry continues to reign supreme in the retail sector. In 2020 alone, more than 2 billion people did their shopping online, causing sales to rocket beyond 4.2 trillion dollars and encouraging growth of more than 25%.
This also comes at a time when the star of conversational technology is rising. Smart speakers are becoming a staple in most American homes, with a third of the country employing voice search regularly in their daily lives.
In addition to this, 1.4 billion people are currently using chatbots – it’s predicted that by the end of 2021, 85% of interactions will be handled by these virtual assistants. The numbers don’t lie: the prevalence of voice and chat technology is strengthening, and it’s only set to grow further in the coming years.
Sources: Statista, eMarketer, Smallbizgenius, Juniper Research
So what does the overlap of e-retail and conversational tech mean for ecommerce businesses in 2021? With voice search, chatbox customer service, and automated payment processes all within the realm of possibility, there’s a huge range of ways to employ conversational commerce techniques.
Its many applications mean that you can expect to see a monumental rise in conversational commerce over the next four years, with the combined use of voice and chat technologies responsible for bringing in an impressive $290 billion by 2025. Chatbots in particular will play an important role, and will account for around half of conversational commerce spend.
But this is all to come. Currently, very few leading businesses are making use of conversational commerce techniques, which means that the potential of smart chat strategies still remains largely untapped.
As brands continue to grow, however, we’re likely to see this area of industry mature, and it’s tech-savvy retailers who are keen to incorporate fresh ideas into their business plans who will reap the rewards.
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Voice Assistants and Search
Nowadays, it’s pretty hard to escape the power of voice. It comes built into most phones, tablets, or smart speakers – you can even get a voice assistant on your watch, if you really want to.
These verbal companions function by responding to spoken requests. However, they’ll only begin actively listening after they hear a ‘trigger’ word. Voice assistants have been programmed to wake up and respond when these words or phrases are spoken, which is why you’ll find that Siri will often ignore you unless you’ve started with the greeting, “Hey, Siri”.
Once awake, voice assistants will use search engine answer box snippets to respond to queries, or access core databases and apps to carry out more complicated requests. From reporting on the weather, to ordering dinner, to adding items to your shopping list, voice assistants have hundreds of skills that you can use to make your life easier.
They don’t always get everything right, however. In fact, you might find your AI (Artificial Intelligence) giving you information you didn’t ask for. But don’t worry – these little guys learn fast! If they get an answer wrong, they’ll remember that their response wasn’t what you wanted, and use this to do better next time.
Whether you use Siri, Alexa, Bixby, or Cortana, these handy little devices have worked their way into the modern norm. 27% of the global online population currently uses voice search. On a daily basis, 65% of 25-49-year-olds speak to their devices at least once, making them the most active demographic accessing voice technology.
And the hype around them isn’t just limited to the millennial generation. According to Juniper Research, voice assistant interaction is due to increase by 113% by 2024, with these verbal companions spreading to over 8.4 billion devices.
To put that into context, the current world population sits at 7.7 billion. That means that in the next three years, we’ll be outnumbered by voice-assistant compatible devices!
How exactly is this increase going to occur? Well, by 2022, we can expect 55% of households to own a smart speaker, with 34% of those who don’t expressing an interest in purchasing one. In fact, by 2024, smart speakers will be one of the best-selling electronic devices on the market.
We’re all pretty familiar with live chat boxes. They’re typically manned by a member of staff (or several), and are a way for customers to directly message a business for assistance. They’re a more instantaneous and altogether more appealing option than filling in a contact form, firing off an email, or – heaven forbid – picking up the phone.
“In today’s world, customers or potential clients are increasingly wanting to communicate directly with real people at companies, to have their questions answered in real-time. Contact forms, albeit still “necessary” and expected to be present, are becoming less effective, as the uncertainty of when a response will be received factors heavily into results.
In addition, many times a potential customer, or even a current one, will not ask all the questions they want to initially, simply out of not remembering to, or not knowing everything they want to know. This results in multiple back and forth, or perhaps a solicitous phone call which many people aren’t interested in these days. We are becoming a very text message-reliant people.
Live chat not only gives the human touch, but is practically instantaneous, and additional questions or clarifications can be taken care of immediately.”
Jay Skowron, Founder and Principal of Hospitality Defender
Live chat has become a pretty commonplace feature on business websites, and is easy to implement without much technical know-how – especially when you consider that around 91% of consumers globally want real-time assistance, and millennial phone-phobia makes calling customer support an unappealing option.
If you want to get customers on-side, live chat is a good way to do it. This channel has impressive satisfaction ratings of 73%, beating email, social media, and telephone as the best source of customer contact.
There are plenty of reasons for its popularity, but chief amongst them is the quick response time and the ability to multitask whilst speaking to a company representative. Being busy is a fact of life, and live chat allows you to solve multiple problems all at once.
But it’s not just the customers that benefit from live chat implementation. Using live chat can improve your conversion rate by up to 82% – even one reply increases conversion likelihood by 50% – boosting your sales alongside your overall customer happiness. Even better, it’s cheaper for you, too, costing less to run than telephone support.
Stephen Light experienced this kind of growth first-hand when he introduced a live chat feature to his website, Nolah Mattress:
“Our sales increased by up to 25% and reduced the bounce rate by 38% after implementing a live chat feature.
Based on a survey we conducted, many of our customers did not purchase due to unanswered questions. Live chat was our solution to this problem. Although we already have a corner for frequently asked questions, it wasn’t enough to satisfy all of our site visitors’ queries.
The live chat feature was a massive success, and it also helped increase our customer satisfaction metrics. The best part is that it gives our customers the impression that we care about their experience, instilling a sense of loyalty and admiration.”
Live chat is pretty common on websites nowadays, but we think Etsy does a particularly good job of nailing it. You have the option to message the seller individually, and each seller comes with an indication of the time it’ll typically take them to respond.
Live Chat vs. AI Chatbots
|Live Chat||AI Chat Bots|
|The human touch - live chat has a level of empathy that chatbots can’t recreate||Cheaper to maintain – you don’t need to pay staffing costs to run chatbots|
|Flexible problem-solving – AI chatbots can’t employ creativity or judgment to solve queries||Fast - chatbots can respond in seconds, at any time of day|
|Real responses – conversations with real people reduces the risk of accidental errors||Accurate – chatbots can answer the majority of queries, with high levels of accuracy|
|Intimate customer experience – live chat agents can handle between three and five customer queries at once||Compliant – updates and changes can be rolled out in bulk, making it easy to stick to industry regulations|
|Scalable – can handle millions of conversations at once|
Chatbots use AI (Artificial Intelligence) to answer user queries. They are robots which ‘learn’ how to answer questions based on historic patterns and pre-set rules.
But when we look at ecommerce today, it’s clear that chatbots are offering something above and beyond a live chat simulation; they’re offering a completely alternative way to navigate a website.
The Dulux website is a great example of this. Choosing a paint color from the thousand of shades and finishes on offer is daunting, and not everyone navigates the process in the same way. Dulux anticipates this by offering a range of ways to come to a decision.
First, you can use the traditional top navigation bar, which is perfect for those who want to browse independently. If you need more direction, however, Dulux provides an interactive quiz as well as a chat box function.
Both of these options are relatively similar, but the chat box leads you through the selection process as if it were a conversation with an in-store sales advisor. This is perfect for the more cautious of shoppers, who might not know where to start, require extra support.
There are plenty of businesses out there now who, like Dulux, are making the most of what chatbots have to offer. Oskar Nowik shared how he’s using chatbots as part of his strategy at Epos Now:
“Epos Now has introduced live chatbots to our website and it’s been extremely successful in lead generation.
When you first click on our site, you’re greeted with the automated message, ‘Welcome to Epos Now. What brought you here today?’ Customers can then choose from a number of options, and are navigated to their solution. This has massively benefited our customers as they are no longer limited to office hours. Customers are now able to get around-the-clock support and instant answers to their questions.
In terms of the benefits to us as a business, we’ve found that chatbots are extremely cost-saving. Our need for ongoing customer service support has been met by this technology and our bots are able to handle complex queries. This will in no way replace the need for human interaction, however. It just acts as an immediate middle-man to facilitate the conversation.”
Thanks to a 400% growth in consumer retail chatbot spend, chatbots have increased in popularity over the past four years. According to Research and Markets, the chatbot market share was worth $17.7 billion in 2019, but is predicted to reach an impressive $102.29 billion by 2025.
In fact, investing in chatbots in the coming years makes good business sense. In the US alone, the percentage of customers who have daily interactions with AI has increased by almost 40% between 2018 and 2020. This suggests that the demand for AI options is only set to grow in popularity as time goes on.
There’s no doubt that chatbots are an effective way to support customers and diversify their browsing experience. They’ve proven to be popular with users of all ages, however 26-35- year-olds top the group, forming 63% of users.
Despite their customer appeal, however, it’s worth noting, however, that they aren’t suited to all websites, as Maria Juvakka found when she added a chatbot to her website, Chic Pursuit:
“Chatbots are a great way to respond to your customer pain points immediately. They generally help boost lead conversion rates. But for me and my blog, I found it more of a hindrance.
Rather than it being a point of contact for my customers, it became a channel for personal advice for my followers. I have 38K followers on Instagram and 12K followers on YouTube. I did not need another channel for my followers to be in contact with me, to ask personal questions about their styling choices (which I love to answer on my social media channels)
For me, my website is to be a place where I can earn money. So I want only to deal with customer issues via this channel. I removed the chatbot and it cleared up 6 hours of my working week. This was incredible and completely reduced my stress levels. Website visitors can still easily sign up for my newsletter or email me, even if it is just to say hello.”
Here’s the good news – voice search works in a similar way to a regular internet search. By this, we mean that your smart speaker or digital voice assistant uses search engine answer snippets, and the highest-ranking website pages to find the correct response to your query.
So, priming your website for voice search really just means brushing up on your search engine optimization (SEO). Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that – optimizing for voice search requires a little more finetuning, so below we’ve listed our top tips to help you tick those boxes!
- Make use of structured data
Adding schema markup to your website will help Google recognize the format of the data you’ve provided, so it can identify where the answer to the question is. This makes it easy for a voice assistant to ‘read’ it aloud in a logical way.
We recommend adding an FAQ section to your site to help with this. The question-answer format is a good way of providing the kind of structured data that search engines and voice assistants love.
- Stay conversational
Try to write as you’d speak, so that your content will mirror the way people are asking their voice assistants questions.
- Prioritize mobile responsiveness
This is good SEO practice anyway, but with around 27% of people using the voice search feature on mobile, these two go hand in hand. There are a number of ways you can polish your website up for mobile viewers, so check out our article, How to Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly, for more hints and tips.
- Look at long-tail keywords
People are lazy when they type, but will generally offer you more information when they use voice search (think ‘where’s my nearest post office’ rather than just ‘post office near’). These longer phrases are known as long-tail keywords, and they help you to target more niche voice queries.
By concentrating on keeping your content conversational, you should be optimizing for these keywords naturally anyway – it’s just something to be aware of!
- Go Local
58% of consumers use voice search to find local businesses, so it’s smart to make sure your website contains plenty of regional indicators if you want to be more voice-search friendly.
Having an active and up-to-date Google My Business profile is also helpful so you don’t miss out on those local searches.
“Part of my job as a content marketer for an ecommerce company is making sure that what I create gets to people when they search for what we do. Increasingly, people are using voice searches instead of traditional searches which means that the content I craft needs to be optimized for them.
To optimize the content I create for voice searches, I try to use long-tail keywords and conversational language. I also figure out which questions make the most sense to optimize for, answer who/what/when/where/how, and make it easy to understand.
If you’re not optimizing your content for voice search, you’re probably going to lose business either because search engines don’t think you’re the right answer to searchers’ queries, or because searchers will be unhappy with the answers you give them. Either way, failure to optimize your content for voice search is not going to help your business.”
Francesca Nicasio, Payment Depot
How To Add Live Chat to your Website
Whatever type of website you have, you should find implementing live chat pretty simple. There are a number of different options out there, although often, these will differ depending on how you built your website in the first place.
Here are the three most common ways of adding live chat to your site:
- Use External Platforms
Olark, Sendinblue, and LiveChat are all popular platforms that you can use to get your live chat up and running. Sendinblue offers a limited free plan, whereas Olark and LiveChat only offer a free trial, with prices starting at $16 per month thereafter.
- Use Inbuilt Website Builder Apps
Most website builders come with a live chat function already built in, meaning you can set it up as you build your website. Sometimes, these are proprietary apps, but often, the live chat will be provided by one of the external platforms mentioned above. For instance, Wix has Live Chat by LiveChat, as does Weebly.
- Use a CMS Plugin
If you’ve built your site using a CMS system, then there should be a corresponding plugin available, too. Here are some for WordPress, but there are over 150 of them to choose from – so make sure you check out all of the reviews before you pick one.
This is a really important point to raise, but it shouldn’t stop you from adding a live chat feature to your website.
A simple solution to this problem is to offer a simple message along the lines of ‘We’re not online right now, but leave us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.’
Remember, you may know that you’re only online for an hour – but your customer will only be checking the site once or twice a day, so they’re unlikely to notice.
And on top of that, leaving a message in this way is still preferable to the old-style contact forms. So even if you’re a one-person startup, we think that live chat is still an option worth considering.
In terms of practically applying a chatbot to your site, your options are very similar to those on offer for adding a live chat function, and will once again depend on how you built your website.
- Use an Inbuilt Website Builder function
As with live chat, most website builders offer an inbuilt live chat option, so you won’t need to outsource to another platform to offer this kind of customer support.
- Use a CMS plugin
Once again, the WordPress library offers over one hundred different plugins to help you add a chatbox to your website. Some can be added to your site for free, but most will come with an additional monthly cost.
- Hire a UX Designer or Developer
When it comes to AI, there’s only so much you can do with an app or a plugin. If you want something more sophisticated and ‘intelligent’, you may need to get extra help from a professional.
This can be costly, though, so we’d only recommend doing this once you’re sure it’s a must-have for your business, and you’re happy to invest in it.
While live chat feels like a no-brainer, the question of whether to implement chatbots is a little more complex.
When they work well, they can save you time and improve the user experience of your site. Plus, unlike your team, they can happily work round the clock – for free. But when they work badly, chatbots can simply be more hassle than they’re worth, frustrating users who are already in need of assistance.
Our advice? Start small. Offer basic navigational help, and try combining this with the option to talk to a member of staff if they get stuck (or at least to be able to leave a message).
Conversational commerce, like many digital trends, was once dismissed as a fad. Instead, it’s gone on to become a proven and well-established technique for driving more sales.
And as we’ve seen, even small businesses can get in on the action – just remember to start small, and make sure anything you implement actually works.
Have you tried using live chat or chatbots for your ecommerce site? Got any tips, recommendations, or cool results to share? Let us know in the comments!