In this article, I am sharing my thoughts on conversational commerce, with a particular focus on online shopping. I share views on an evolution of shopping, role of conversations, and how are we bringing them to online shopping. We here refer to all of us who are contributing to the ecosystem of online shopping.
Conversational commerce has become a popular trend. Chris Messina was so right in seeing it through FB messenger bots, UBER and Whatsapp. Let's examine the key tenets of conversations and how online shopping is shaping up towards embracing social embryo.
Commerce and conversations
Commerce, in its traditional form, has never happened without conversations among humans. From prehistory to modern day shopping, in fact, the key element of shopping has been around conversations.
We have come a long way, over the period, that we now refer to as online shopping. With the internet making connectivity possible across people and geographies, shopping has transformed into a new form. However, one thing, we, in my view, lost during the shift to online shopping - conversation!
The online shopping brought a form of shopping that could be conversation-less! We are now circling back to bring conversations back in.
Circling back to conversations
Until recently, we were still struggling to get very nature of shopping i.e. conversations, into online shopping. Chat Softwares are excellent innovations that created an opportunity to bring natural conversations back to shopping. This trend is now going towards the next level where massive platforms (e.g. FB, Microsoft, WeChat, Alibaba leading the way) are created to allow seamless conversations in online shopping.
The fundamental difference or shift we are going to witness is the conversations happening not only among humans but also machines (powered by software) and humans.
We are not there yet at all, but, a journey has just begun.
Era of conversational commerce in online shopping
Online shopping is set for revolutionary change, there is no doubt on that. Immersing conversations into online shopping will bring new revenue channels for retailers. Let's, however, first understand, how far have we come along in online shopping, from interaction to conversations.
As shown in Fig. 1, discourse, in general, happens over four phases. I have provided specific examples in light on online shopping. Let's first understand the basic tenets of modes of discourse.
Interaction is usually an action of one influencing other. For example, Michael Aldrich, a pioneer of online shopping, brought interactive mode of shopping through his brilliant innovation 'videotex'. It was the beginning of an interactive shopping.
Communication surfaces a form of interaction where information is exchanged. For example, the online shop, brought a powerhouse of information exchange alive, facilitating communicative commerce. This is pretty much the state of online shopping, in general, today.
Conversation is where communication involves exchanges through a natural form with both parties reacting to each other’s exchange. As I mentioned earlier, we are embracing this new form of shopping. We are still in the nascent phase but micro innovations are evident. Human assistants helping shoppers online through chat software is a perfect example of providing an opportunity for a truly natural conversation. Something that was predominantly missing in online shopping. We have also started to see bots emerging to bring and facilitate new kind of conversations.
Bots will bring fundamental changes in online shopping with humans having another form of stakeholder in conversation about shopping.
It remains to be seen if and how shoppers embrace the new hybrid form of conversations in online shopping. I am positive but there is so much to do to meet the expectations of shoppers.
Engaging with a shopper on truly natural conversations is still a distant reality. It is sure to come along though.
As I said earlier, the journey has just begun :).
Preparations for the shift
Likes of Amazon, Alibaba and Facebooks have been leading the change from the front by acquiring massive infrastructure, talent and bring alive platforms that allow retailers to shift to the next bandwagon. It also creates immense new technology innovation opportunities for young startups to disrupt the whole ecosystem.
Contribution to the change requires preparations from all in the ecosystem. If you are a digital marketer, prepare yourself for a new way of SEO where linked word or paid search in Apps may be inexistent. If you are a retailer, prepare yourself for a future where shopping may not happen from your online shop or even an app. If you are a developer, start looking into a new form of platforms and in particular utilizing codebase for massive unstructured data processing. I leave it to you to think, ponder and prepare your actions. It may be as simple as start thinking along some of these lines :). I promise to write micro-level actions that I see feasible, in the next article.
I will leave you with the words of Ted Livingston from Kik:
Chat is going to be the next great operating system. Apps will come to be thought of as the new browsers; bots will be the new websites. This is the beginning of a new Internet.
Beyond conversational commerce
My personal take is that conversations eventually unfolds into the exploration that requires discussion, that we humans often do. An exploration is a form of conversation that brings points of views and opinions where one tries to brainstorm, prove or disprove something.
Can you imagine an online Bot or even a Robot in the shop exploring with you which gift would be ideal for your spouse? Or which blazer would be best suited to you? Not only you get the suggestions for your shopping, but actually, someone exploring to get you to the most relevant choice. That would be exploratory commerce.
Exploratory commerce will ultimately be a giant leap for both online and offline shopping.
Thank you for reading my thoughts and feel free to extend, revise and ponder your views. Mine is still a nano level effort to contribute to the evolution of online shopping.