The retail marketplace is only getting more competitive. The ongoing aftereffects of the pandemic, massive political disruption, and the spiraling cost of living crisis are combining to only make it more challenging to meet customers’ needs. Andy Wilkins, Co-Founder and CEO of Futr, explains.
Laying the groundwork for new innovation
Many retailers have already taken significant steps to retain market share and set themselves up to grow. With the pandemic having accelerated digital transformation plans, many have spent the last two years laying the groundwork to deliver exceptional experiences to their customers, irrespective of channel.
That foundation is critical for what comes next. While the considerable boom in ecommerce has naturally receded slightly as shops reopened, the behaviours it instilled have persisted. This has helped rapidly increase the digital literacy of many demographics that might previously have been resistant to more virtual and contactless engagement methods.
Capitalising on changing perceptions
This has led retail brands to investigate new forms of communicating with and serving customers, notably chatbots. First introduced on a large scale in 2016, advances in machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), combined with the growing popularity of messaging apps, are helping to change both brands’ and the public’s opinion of chatbots.
Specifically, retailers are using chatbots to:
1. Revolutionise customer service: running 24/7 contact centres is expensive and challenging, but when something goes wrong, customers want answers immediately, not waiting for office hours. Chatbots offer a way of providing dynamic contact which can help source information without requiring large teams working through the night on the off chance a customer needs support.
2. Provide a platform for two-way communication: once, brands communicated to customers, with little opportunity for traffic to come back the other way. Consumers aren’t willing to accept that anymore; they want the means to get in touch as they see fit and via the channels that suit their needs. Text, Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, phone, web, emails, Instagram comments; the list goes on and on. And with more channels comes the risk of more silos, hampering efforts to deliver connected experiences and increasing the chance that customers will keep having to repeat themselves, affecting engagement levels. Chatbots can provide a presence across all channels, managed through a central point, so that brands can deliver a consistent experience.
3. Avoiding cart abandonment through conversational marketing: more than three quarters (76%) of online transactions in retail are abandoned, rising to 85% on mobile, with a total global value of more than £13 million. Conversational marketing, in the form of social commerce, automated display ads, and chatbots, can help tackle shopping cart abandonment, providing reminders at critical moments to customers. Chatbots able to bounce from platform to platform help maintain a consistent conversation and increase the chances of transaction completion.
4. Reducing operational costs: introducing chatbots can save money by reducing the need for large workforces. It can also help reduce turnover (and therefore hiring costs) by taking on administrative and repetitive tasks from human workers and freeing them up to focus on more value-adding activities. So, alongside the benefits that chatbots deliver to customers through a better experience, staff also benefit through improved working conditions.
5. Improving brand engagement: with chatbots now capable of not just holding conversations with customers but doing so in multiple languages across multiple channels, brand communications are easier to maintain than ever. Chatbots can be designed and adapted to have a tone of voice that matches branding, creating an even more conversational communications flow. That only adds to brand understanding, trust, and loyalty.
6. Personalise the customer experience: a customer service chatbot offers a level of personalisation that’s proving extremely effective for retailers. Customers are more demanding than ever and seek a tailored experience that makes them feel valued. Chatbots can address the needs of multiple customers simultaneously while giving the retailers a 360° view of the entirety of a customer’s data. This offers personalised experiences because retailers can be more proactive in their approach to customer service, as opposed to reactive.
Delivering better brand communications
For many, deploying chatbots might seem like a significant undertaking yet the reality is that they require little set-up time, as most are ‘plug and play’ and require very little technical expertise.
Retailers have already done much of the foundational work, so now is the time to invest and augment existing efforts with chatbots that can help businesses to scale their brand communications. With the retail landscape more competitive than ever, being able to deliver consistent experiences across multiple channels is one way brands will protect their market share and grow it.
About the Author
Andy Wilkins is the Co-Founder and CEO of Futr. Futr is a VC backed tech start-up with the mission of delivering superpowers to support teams everywhere. From out of hours self-serve chatbots to making live chat agents instantly multilingual on any social or chat channel, Futr’s superpowers are transforming the way organisations serve their audiences.