Shopping online gives us a chance to get what we need, browse when we want, and avoid speaking to another person when we don’t want that feeling of being followed around the store. Virtual shopping assistants make this all so much better, because we can now get our questions answered without having to look up the hard details or breaking down and finally talking to a human.
Plus, there are no wait times on the phone with bad hold music, language barriers, or minutes spent hunting for the contact information and customer service option that’s still open at 11:59 at night.
AI has been landing in the retail space in a big way over the past few years, including a sharp rise in these e-commerce shopping helpers last year. We think it’s just the tip of the iceberg and have a few good reasons why shoppers will be seeing more of them in 2019, and likely enjoying them even more.
Recommendations suited to current inventory
We’ve all seen the static “customers also viewed” suggestions at the bottom of shopping pages. Even when they’re somewhat dynamic, it is usually based on customer spending habits and what’s most likely to lead to a purchase.
Unfortunately, that might end up making recommendations for old products or some that are out of stock. Virtual shopping assistants can be programmed to narrow down what is suggested based on what you have in your inventory right now — no more e-commerce fulfillment issues for you or the customer.
This can be especially helpful for clothing brands as the assistant can respond to specific sizing requirements. If the customer is looking for a shirt or blouse that you don’t have in their size, the assistant can recommend related items that are available in their size — you might even pick up an extra sale or two here as the customer doesn’t want a related item, they want a replacement.
Answering basic FAQs on any page
One of our favorite uses for a virtual shopping assistant is turning a chat box on every page into a floating FAQ. Customers can ask about returns, shipping costs, and more without having to leave the product page. You’re not forcing them away, so they get information with the backdrop of being able to buy the product that’s interesting.
It also frees up your representatives from having to answer the 1,000th email about your return policy.
Any Question at Any Time
A virtual shopping system never sleeps, just like today’s customers. Your customers want self-serve options online and quick answers to their questions. Instead of hitting a notice that says you’re unavailable until the morning, chatbots can be ready to provide those basic answers at any moment.
As you expand to new regions or even international shipping, they’re a smart and budget-friendly way to expand your customer service hours.
Deals, Coupons, and Subscriptions
To finish things off, let’s return to the promise of the title and see if these can support ‘the next big thing’ for your online store.
What we’d place bets on is the ability for virtual shopping assistants to secure new leads and first-time shoppers for your business. Instead of overlays and pop-up ads, imagine having a virtual shopping assistant open up on the side of the page with a coupon for the product you’re looking at right now.
To get it, you just have to provide an email address in the chat window. In a second, you have the coupon code, and you never had to leave the window.
Add something great to cart? Now the assistant can show you options that also qualify for a buy-two-get-one-free offer.
Already a member? Give the chatbot your credentials, and it can automatically look up any coupons or special member benefits you’ve got that apply. No more needing to keep emails or clip coupons, just a quick login from any page (that never navigates you away) to get all of your deals.
Want to know how many points away you are from your next discount? The virtual shopping assistant can be programmed to not only respond with that information but also tell the customer how many points they’ll earn based on what’s in their cart already or the product that they’re looking at now.
Virtual assistants can drive down barriers to signing up, getting deals, and using benefits. We see that as a way for them to drive more conversions in 2019 and beyond.
-Jake Rheude is the director of marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an e-commerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of e-commerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.