Messaging Chatbots Emerge as an SMB Commerce Channel

April 28, 2016 Peter Krasilovsky

Messaging is “in” and emails and social media are out. Right?  Here’s what the data from eMarketer shows: 75% of smartphone users use messaging apps at last once a month. Millenials are especially big users of messaging. 

We don’t know that email and social media are ready to be kicked aside in favor of messaging platforms.  But  opportunities abound for SMBs to leverage messaging for so-called “conversational commerce,”  including promotions, live support and transactions.

At this point, messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik and Slack are poised to move beyond their peer-to-peer roots and dig into conversational commerce.  Most are assisted by “chatbots” that automate responses, post pictures and enable promotions and sales.

Below, for instance, we can see how a consumer can complete a 1-800-Flowers order via a series of messaging prompts on Facebook Messenger.  These take the consumer through the entire transaction process, starting with pictures of menu items; proceeding to order selection; and winding up with address and credit card information.

Since so much of the transaction is automated, it is all surprisingly fast. At the end, there is also a complete record of the conversation. This can easily be used for marketing analysis and further communications with the customer, such as targeted offers.

Enterprise businesses, especially retailers, restaurant chains, airlines and hotels, have lead the way in applying messaging platforms.  SMBs haven't done very much with messaging, aside from appointment confirmations. Eventually, however, they will get there in a major way.

SMBs can use messaging to:

  • Establish a business greeting
  • Provide real time status of service orders
  • Book orders or reservations
  • Send calls to action
  • Connect their social media and Website presence
  • Send receipts

Messaging platforms are not for every SMB,  or for every occasion.  But they’ll be increasingly integrated into all business communications. Whenever a heavy degree of automation can be applied, they stand to become a primary channel for commerce.

About the Author

Peter Krasilovsky runs Local Onliner, a consulting firm that focuses on how digital channels target local consumers. “Local” has been a focus for him since 1995-96, and the firm's practice now includes search, marketplaces, geotargeting, vertical media and loyalty and promotion services. Peter was Chief Analyst and Vice President for BIA/Kelsey from 2006-2015. He holds an MA from The Annenberg School of Communications at The University of Southern California and a BA from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY. He currently resides with his wife Sharon in Ashland, Oregon.

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