Chat Adds to Retail Success

Chatbots in retail

This article was contributed by Phillip Britt from Customer Relationship Management.

Few companies have extended their chat offerings for consumers to more modern scenarios, especially on mobile devices, platforms, or channels that leverage chatbots or offer asynchronous alternatives, Forrester Research reports.

Chat has become increasingly important, with 42% of U.S. adults indicating in a 2020 Forrester survey that it was important for retailers to offer live chat on their websites, compared to only 27% in a similar survey from 2019.

According to the 2020 Forrester Moments Map, nearly one quarter (23%) of U.S. online adults use chat at least monthly, with live or synchronous chat common for customer services in the hospitality, travel, and retail industries.

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Julie Ask, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester and one of the authors of the report, points out that most chat is with human agents, not bots: 53% of chat was solely with human agents, while 26% was hybrid, combining humans and bots, according to Ask.

How businesses are using chat today

“Bots still struggle with conversations that depend on customer history and context from other channels, as well as with complex or multipart queries.” Ask added that third-party platforms like Apple Business Chat quickly escalate to human agents to maintain quality experiences.

Though synchronous chat is used by many companies and industries, few have migrated to asynchronous chat, according to Ask.

“Billions of consumers use asynchronous messaging with friends daily. These same consumers have shifted their same expectations of engagement to agents at brands because these interactions fit into their days and allow them to communicate when and where they choose.” Forrester expects more large companies to implement asynchronous chat, joining many smaller ones that have already done so.

The importance of live chat in retail

Chat is especially important in retail, according to Forrester. Customers don’t buy through chat, but chat does influence their purchases. Chat helps consumers find items in stock, obtain store hours, and facilitate the pick-up-at-store option. In many instances consumers prefer chat because they can receive quicker service, particularly when agent queues are long.

Forrester found that chat helps companies improve customer experience because it enables them to highlight precise information to simplify consumer shopping. It can tailor recommendations to a customer’s specific needs, which can vary with different queries. Chat can also be embedded in purchase funnels for quick, in-line exchanges and can include sound and images, Ask adds.

How to implement a successful chat strategy

Ask recommends the following strategies for a successful chat experience:

  • Take a methodical approach. The first step is to build a customer experience strategy. “You must understand the needs of your customers and how you’ll serve those needs within the context of your brand promise,” she says. Ask advises that product recommendations should be based on customers’ past shopping/browsing history, though queries might be used to gather more data before making recommendations. For example, a mattress store might ask about preferred firmness before offering product suggestions.

  • Improve consistency of offerings. Chat services vary significantly among agents at the same company. When that’s the case, a better option is to offer customers detailed instructions or direct links for self-service.

  • Respond quickly. While consumers might start and stop chat conversations at different times, they expect answers from the other side to be nearly immediate. Yet Forrester found that responses weren’t always immediate and that companies didn’t properly set customer expectations (e.g., a quick note that the query was received and when a response could be expected).

  • Promote private-label products. Less than half (41%) of U.S. online adults think they get better value from private-label products than from those with brand names.

  • Move beyond customer service to help consumers make purchase decisions. Chat will involve real people in the near and medium term.

  • Integrate chat into the flow of a purchase. It can’t be just a pop-up on the side.

  • Leverage digital behavior context and continue to evolve the context used. Too many bots start with “How can I help you?” or “[In which of these ways] can I help you?” and offer multiple-choice answers. At least have an idea of what customers are doing or how they are struggling.

  • Consider chat’s expected evolution when planning strategies with the technology. In the future, speech-based chat will feel more natural, and the technology will be able to handle more complex questions through a variety of channels.

Conversational commerce is in for a big year ahead, and tying your chat strategy to business goals is key. “In the near term, this family of technologies will enable service providers in finance, health care, and education to scale coaching,” Ask says. “You must understand the needs of your customers and how you’ll serve those needs within the context of your brand promise.”

This article was written by Phillip Britt from Customer Relationship Management and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to