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Since the 1990s, when the internet became mainstream, e-commerce has been a part of the equation that entrepreneurs and business owners must consider to ensure long-term success. Retailers like Amazon and eBay have ushered in a new era of online buying and selling.
1998, widely recognized as the breakthrough year for online shopping, US retailers sold $5 billion worth of goods and services. Over the next two decades, that number grew steadily as more shoppers embraced the idea of saving time and shopping from home; By 2019, that number had grown to nearly $572 billion. Back then, social media, smartphones and other technologies made it easier than ever for consumers to shop their favorite brands from anywhere.
Then came Covid-19. Online shopping was no longer a convenience; This was the only way consumers could get what they needed. Click-and-collect services where consumers shop online and drive to the store to pick up items at a curbside or kiosk, grew 106% to a $72.5 billion market in 2020 and beyond climb to nearly $100 billion in 2022. Some companies, like Pier 1 imported, closed their physical locations and switched to an online-only model. Even as stores and malls reopened for in-person shopping, US e-commerce sales reached nearly $959 billion in 2021.
Although the way consumers shop has evolved over the past quarter century, their demand for a seamless shopping experience has not waned. Customers are increasingly attaching importance to service: according to our Customer Experience Status Report58% of account managers and 64% of marketers expect customer expectations to increase in 2023. Today’s consumer still wants the in-store shopping experience without having to go to the store all the time.
To meet and exceed those expectations, business owners and entrepreneurs should use conversational commerce to combine the best of the legacy shopping experience with modern trends. Below I will dive into conversational commerce and how omnichannel strategies can unlock its value for today’s brands.
Related: Personalization is an overused buzzword. This is the true future of e-commerce.
What is conversational commerce?
Conversational Commerce offers convenience, personalization and decision support while people are on the go and only have partial attention to spare. It combines old with new and brings the personal aspect of shopping into the digital space via communication channels such as SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram. These were important customer support and marketing tools, but they’re also great for conversions. A customer interacting with a live agent, an AI bot, or both can answer questions in a two-way setting and buy while chatting without ever leaving the screen.
There are three required elements for strong conversational CX:
- Personalization: Brands can demonstrate an understanding of customer preferences and frustrations through personalized conversations. Customized shopping suggestions, ongoing support and quick resolutions make customers feel valued.
- Proactive communication: Communicating about shipping delays, stock availability, and time-sensitive discounts keeps customers informed. A Opinion poll found that 91% of consumers say good CX makes waiting for a product bearable, and 93% are more likely to be patient with delays when associating a brand with good customer service.
- Useful automation: AI can respond to common queries quickly, so buyers don’t have to wait too long and can find solutions 24/7. Chatbots can provide support and guidance at crucial moments of need, including when customers are searching for a product or completing a transaction. Additionally, busy consumers can respond to a call on their terms without experiencing the delayed wait times of a phone call.
The value of the connection
Hybrid shopping is becoming more common, with online purchases and in-store pickup or in-person purchases then complemented by online post-sales support. It’s important that these experiences feel cohesive to build a strong brand identity and deliver holistic CX. Businesses can use Conversational Commerce to replicate the in-store shopping experience online, ensuring that wherever customers are, they are in control of their shopping experience and getting the answers they need instantly. The importance of excellent customer support cannot be underestimated: In another survey, 71% of consumers said it took three or fewer negative experiences to stop buying a brand.
There are numerous benefits to adopting a conversational commerce model. It offers fast and efficient service: customers no longer have to wait in line or sit around for an answer as they can chat with a member of the support team instantly. Today’s consumers consider their experience more important than the products they buy. Two-way conversations make customers feel like they’re talking to brands, rather than brands talking to them. The process shouldn’t feel like a transaction; It should feel like a face-to-face meeting with a friend, with the focus only on the customer. People are social creatures and want to feel like they are connected to a sales rep from anywhere and can trust that person to guide them in the right direction.
Also see: 3 surefire ways to enhance your customers’ shopping experience
Constant conversations drive conversion
Today’s customer journey is dynamic. Customers aren’t solely focused on driving to the local mall to speak to a sales representative and shop at a physical checkout. But that also doesn’t mean they want to get lost in an online rabbit hole in search of solutions. Customers typically use multiple channels to shop, and brands need to be there to take the call and resolve issues without delay. The omnichannel strategy blurs the lines between online and offline experiences and is a critical enabler for a robust conversational commerce strategy. For example, customers can shop on Facebook, receive notifications via SMS, and pick up their items right at the curb, a seamless experience that will keep them coming back to shop soon.
Digital channels can help business owners and entrepreneurs drive conversions. Take abandoned carts for example. A recently Opinion poll found that 93% of shoppers leave at least one product in their online shopping cart for an extended period of time before purchasing or abandoning it. Buyers may forget to return or end up buying from a different source. The survey also found that SMS reminders are likely to motivate Americans to make purchases, with 73% “somewhat” or “very” likely to return to an abandoned online cart when they receive a text message from the brand. 71% say they would like more follow-up SMS reminders about abandoned carts.
Our State of Customer Experience report found a strong correlation between implementing a mature omnichannel strategy and business success across a variety of metrics:
- 68% of companies saw modest or significant increases in sales
- 83% experienced a more loyal customer base
- 61% were able to respond to real-time customer inquiries in less than an hour
- An average Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 8.5, compared to 5.8 for a less mature strategy
See also: What you need to know about omni-channel marketing
Business owners and entrepreneurs know the importance of making a great first impression and improving it with every subsequent touchpoint. It is impossible to thrive in today’s highly competitive business environment amid rising consumer expectations without a strong customer support program. Consumers are more likely to publicly highlight great experiences than bad ones, leading them to keep coming back and opening the door to expanding the customer base.
Success begins with conversational commerce and an omnichannel strategy that enables two-way communication on any channel at any time.