Chat as the medium in retail

Chat has come and gone from the consciousness of people. Its good that the hype cycle has gone now, as people can now focus on building real businesses around chats and conversations.

The rise of messaging apps have clearly shown us that one of the big use cases of technology is to connect with each other. Conversations are the natural way by which people connect.

FB Messenger MAU

Retail has interesting use cases for chat as it is the default way by which people look for things in the world. They go to a shop, ask if they have something. The shopkeeper tells them what they have, at what price — and they either buy or go looking in some other place. If you think about it, you will wonder why this doesn’t happen online also.

We thought that we should give it a shot at TapDiscover, and the results are more than encouraging.

Actual Snippets from our chat platform

Its very easy to get detailed requirements from people about what they need in a conversational format. The details which gets lost in the standard web/app based e-commerce interface, are very easy to understand.

Somebody may be looking for a dress in a month, while others may need it tomorrow. Some may have a particular color saree already with them, for which they are looking a blouse. All these details come to light and the shopkeeper can serve the customers by understanding their real needs.

Bustling marketplace in Bangalore — Variety of nuances in need

The initial part of the conversations can be handled by NLP powered chat-bots, which can understand what users are looking for — and create a very detailed query which can be passed to shopkeepers. While I agree that the level of sophistication in current chat-bots are limited — it is still 100 times better than filling a form. You can ask detailed questions based on previous responses of the customers and determine their exact need. And I am sure as these conversations get more and more sophisticated, the whole interaction will become more and more seamless.

Echo and Google Home has shown us that conversational agents can provide a natural interface to interact with tech. Why can’t this be done for retail? “Research Online Purchase Offline” is a standard consumer behavior. Chat and conversations are the most natural way to do research online and make decisions about what to buy and where.

After all, as Arthur Clarke said:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Natural chats about what you want to buy and where you can get it, would be nothing sort of magic, I think!