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  • Writer's pictureRick Kenney

Bots and the race to commerce conformity

Conformity is easy to find across ecommerce. Look no further than the ubiquitous pop-up modal, or spin to win that knocks on your screen straight away. 


There are plenty of good examples of conformity obfuscating some of the noise in ecommerce. Checkout is far more streamlined than the endless form of years ago, and tracking orders is a tap away (and doesn’t involve signing into ups or fedex). But, those were rodeo issues - weaknesses introduced by the digital experience that took us decades to climb back up to parity with the IRL experience.  


Now, with platform providers enabling rapid launches, and app stores streamlining integrations, we’re in an absolute golden age of ecommerce viability. Brands can go from 0-60 in weeks if not days.


And the next tech hope is being fast-tracked to commerce ubiquity: the conversational chat bot. For good reason; bots can solve lots of service-related issues today, and promise much more down the road. 


NB: This wave hit the coast of B2B during the late 20teens. Drift bots - ding! - sprouted onto seemingly every B2B site. These were a marketer’s dream,  upload a playbook or two and watch the MQLs land in an assigned BDRs queue. One derivative benefit too - bot engagement gave marketing clear visibility into what visitors were actually asking about - helping align marketing and sales teams. We can probably thank bots for accelerating the PLG motion in B2B software (or at least getting more pricing pages onto sites).


→ Back to DTC, where chatGPT has greased the skids for wider AI application AND consumer bot usage. Worth noting that bots aren’t new to commerce, firms like Ada have been serving digital for more than half a decade.


We’re on the cusp of massive bot adoption across ecommerce. It’s also the point where we often go wrong. If we merely sew the bot merit badge onto the sash of our site, it’s JAT - just another tech.


Worse, it’s another step towards neutering your brand. 


What’s to fear? That we’ll take <even more> whimsy out of shopping. Stack enough of the same vaunted best practices on top of your site and that’s exactly what you’re doing. Bot washing threatens to rinse away your brand voice. This, from the launch of Sierra (AI agent):


"We think that conversational AI will become the dominant form factor that people use to interact with brands, not just for the sort of current trends like customer service, but really for all aspects of the customer experience," - Bret Taylor, founder Sierra
What that means is that customers can enter free-form questions and requests into a search-style box… via techcrunch.

Ugh. With all that advanced AI, are we going to simply throw it behind a slightly different interface - the recognized, though sanitized chat prompt? 


Part of the joy of shopping - for t’s, trinkets, or tire swings - is the aspiration of it. Picturing how it will look on you (or them), how it will work, or even what you can do with it.


Simply shepherding shoppers through prompts is pragmatic poison.

Bots can - and should - be part of your balanced shopper journey - a lifeline for those overwhelmed, confused, or in need of inspiration.


A thoughtful approach will infuse more AI into the elements that make brand engagement special - products, images, recommendations, filters, facets, finders. Bots can curate an experience - not de-merchandize it. 

 

Treating the conversation opportunity as simply a widget will diminish the experience. So, don’t make bots another bar in the cell of commerce conformity - have your brand build the bot in its likeness.


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