Conversational commerce uses interactive communications to facilitate buying and selling. It began when humans first started trading and asking questions about potential purchases. It evolved as commercial activity moved to storefronts and villagers asked shopkeepers about items for sale. Today, a growing percentage of retail sales are on-line. Conversational commerce is part of ecommerce, and voice assistants and chatbots now engage humans in conversation. Yet, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation aren’t the whole story. Because humans crave connection, personalization is paramount.

A Brief History of Conversational Commerce

According to Shopify, the term “conversational commerce” was coined by Chris Messina, a technology evangelist who invented the hashtag and helped define the consumer experience at Uber. In a 2015 article for Medium, Messina noticed that “there’s a lot happening in the communications and messaging space” and that all of the major players were now offering voice assistants. Even Amazon, a company whose original mission involved selling books, had launched a dedicated device called Echo.

“Conversational commerce”, Messina explained, “is about delivering convenience, personalization and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare.” Computer screens and smartphone displays are all around us, he noted, but that doesn’t mean the future belongs to tapping and swiping. Through the power and convenience of voice, brands could leverage a natural language interface that supports not only selling, but also after-sale support.

Conversational Marketing Milestones

In a subsequent article, Messina predicted that “2016 will be the year of conversational commerce”. Facebook Messenger incorporated Uber, WhatsApp became free, and messaging apps eclipsed social networks in terms of monthly usage. Brands faced choices about whether to rely exclusively upon popular messaging apps for conversational marketing. They also needed to decide whether to use data detectors. Messina predicted “a fight to own the conversational command line,” but no one could have predicted the impact of COVID-19.

If 2016 was the year of conversational commerce, 2020 was the dawn of a new era. Lockdowns forced buyers to stay home and physical stores to close. Later, when traditional conversational commerce re-emerged behind masked faces, social distancing remained part of the in-person experience. Meanwhile, Amazon reported a nearly 200% increase in profits as brands moved on-line or increased their digital footprint. Some developed Alexa skills, voice-driven capabilities that support conversational commerce through a dedicated hardware device (the Echo) or a smartphone app.

The Voice of Things (VoT) and The Future of Conversational Commerce

In a report entitled “How consumers view Commercial Commerce and AI in 2020”, LivePerson captured recent changes in consumer behavior that suggest an even stronger future for voice-based technologies. Buyers are becoming more comfortable with automated programs and value them “on par with human assistance”, LivePerson reports. Moreover, instead of picking up the phone and calling with a question, consumers prefer to use conversational commerce technologies to get an immediate answer.

The challenge, however, is when buyers don’t have their devices in hand or would prefer not to use them. As Chris Messina wrote in 2015, “just because everyone has a screen in their pocket doesn’t imply that they should be forced to look at it to interact with your service”. Today, “the fight for conversational command line” extends off-line and includes voice on-demand. The rise of the Voice of Things (VoT) and the power of emotional marketing are also assets that brands can leverage.

Interactive Voice-Enabled Products

Thank you for engaging Voice Express, where we enable brands and consumers to communicate in a direct, unmediated fashion through self-playing media. Visit our website to learn more about our voice-enabled technologies like Voice Express Connect™, the marketing brochure with a built-in voice assistant. Our interactive voice-enabled products have also helped global brands like Build-A-Bear Workshop, Sony Music, Johnson & Johnson, and many others.  To learn more, we invite you to read these recent articles.