The Future of Shopping: Are you Ready for Conversational Commerce?

Welcome to the Future of Shopping. Are you Ready For It?

Lately, we’ve looked out at the near future and determined that there are several huge sociological, economic and technological shifts which are occurring in the world which are starting to affect our customers almost immediately. To that end, we have developed a set of strategies and technologies which our customers can implement today, to be prepared for tomorrow.

Today, I’d like to talk about one of those shifts, which affects B2C retail most of all, and that is the one towards conversational and then, agentive, commerce. This is where your customer is further disintermediated from your business by a layer of artificially intelligent bots or chat bots. Conversational commerce exists when your customer talks to a bot to shop, get service, or otherwise interact with your business, and agentive commerce is when intelligent agents, using internet of things sensor data, automatically shop on your customer’s behalf, with no required human interaction.

We suggest that in the very near future, most shopping will no longer take place between your customer and your business. Most commerce will occur between a user agent, such as a conversational bot, and your business. These user agents, or bots, can take many forms, they can be chatbots such as the ones you can find on Facebook Messenger, all the way to audio bots like Amazon Echo, and beyond – new interfaces such as augmented and virtual reality, where bots can appear in avatar form, and look like anything you like.

The bots that interface with your customers will all have some form of natural language processing and generation so that they can interact with your customers. Others may not even have an interface, but work in the background, using elements of artificial intelligence: cognitive computing, machine and deep learning, predictive analytics, semantic knowledge engineering and data science, to determine purchasing patterns and predict future behaviors.

How do you address this? Where do you fit in the future world of your customer?

I covered this in detail in my post on the Life Stack, but it has special meaning for B2C businesses, who will be seeing themselves even further disintermediated from their customers by bots and layers of bots.

We’ve already seen how new technologies and changing demographics have already driven customers away from brick-and-mortar stores to buying most products online, or via an app. However, even this is starting to become onerous for some customers, who find shopping, especially for commodity items, extremely tedious.

To that end, several services, like Instacart and TaskRabbit have stepped in to disintermediate the customer from the buying process. At the same time, Amazon has sold over 8 million Echo’s, each which include a home based conversational commerce chatbot which can easily drive more purchases through them. If you are not Amazon, and you are trying to sell to these customers, the path is not easy.

Instead of spending time reviewing several websites and then shopping, customers simply ask their Echo to make the purchase for them on their behalf, funneling the purchase through Amazon.

That’s conversational commerce. For agentive commerce, your customer need not even be involved in the sale at all. With agentive commerce, smart agents use data culled from big data analytics, the internet of things, and other sources, to shop on your customer’s behalf, in most cases, with no human intervention required.

For example, let’s say that your customer has a “smart refrigerator” which can detect the amount of milk left in the fridge. The fridge itself can automatically re-order milk when it detects that it is close to running out or it detects that the milk is about to go sour. The fridge then tells your master agent to order to milk, and milk is automatically added to the next order. The system is smart enough to not waste milk, and will only order it when required. The master agent places the order, alerting a service like Instacart, which drives humans to buy the product and deliver it to your door. This is not as far off as you think.

With agentive commerce, you never connect with the customer, just their agents. In this case, your customer is not a human, but an agent. How do you make sure that you can be part of the commerce conversation? When smart agents shop for your customer, who do you have to convince to buy from you?

This world is coming. The only question is when. And will you be ready?