I fly regularly with KLM from Minneapolis to New Delhi, and I always stop in Amsterdam. I am frequently in Minneapolis for research and this is my route home for a break from work. I have made the trip so many times that I know almost every Schiphol store inside out. However, once in the summer of 2019, predictability was shattered when I missed my connecting flight to New Delhi.
I was tired, hungry, sleepy, and the customer service counter was closed. I had a choice of either taking the long walk to customer service at the next door or using my iPhone, so I tried my phone.
I texted KLM’s WhatsApp number and went back and forth with an assistant on my choices. Within minutes, I was on the next flight, with the boarding pass on my phone. It wasn’t until later that I found out I was dealing with next-generation artificial intelligence – in an example from the new realm of conversational commerce.
If you haven’t met him yet, you will soon. Some supermarkets, for example, offer voice shopping services to customers. In the United States, Walmart shoppers can ask Google Assistant to add certain things to their virtual shopping carts and learn from their shopping habits.
Google has similar deals with two other supermarket giants – Target in the US and Carrefour in France – while Amazon offers voice shopping in the UK to Ocado online shoppers. Not to be outdone, Walmart recently bought chat room specialist Botmock to expand its services in this area.
There are already over a billion people interacting with businesses through text or voice chat tools. By 2021, conversational commerce is expected to represent total sales of US $ 41 billion (£ 30 billion) worldwide, and is expected to increase fivefold to nearly US $ 300 billion by 2025, including half thanks to chatbots. So how is this market evolving and what does this mean for our buying habits?
Fans of coffee and hyper-personal shopping
If conversational commerce still feels under the radar, one reason is that most of the growth has happened in China, Japan, and South Korea. All the same, it grows everywhere. If you’re talking to your girlfriend or boyfriend on Facebook and suddenly want to send them flowers, you don’t even need to interrupt the conversation. You click on 1-800-Flowers.com, a conversational AI tool built into Messenger, and explain what you want. You don’t even have to enter your card details if you’re using Apple, Samsung, or Google Pay.
Or maybe like me, you’re a fan of coffee. I used to stand in line for my morning latte, but not anymore. I just ordered from my couch from the chatbot on the My Starbucks Barista app, and my coffee is waiting for me when I reach my local store.
The AI behind these advancements includes deep learning, sophisticated natural language processing, speech recognition, and cognitive computing – which is a machine thought system that emulates human thinking. But the biggest selling point – aside from ease, convenience, and shopping anywhere and anytime – is probably the potential to make a customer’s retail experience much more personal.
If it meets expectations, customers may soon be able to interact with an AI who understands what they want in detail. We are already seeing large retailers offering personalized products to attract customers – for example Nike and Adidas allowing people to design their own sneakers.
But by using sophisticated AI, personalization can be taken to a whole new level. Customers will receive personalized recommendations in their own language, easing the burden of choice and making the experience as enjoyable as possible. As a result, they might spend more money – not because they’re being manipulated, but because they almost feel like they’re buying from a friend.
During this time, companies will gain new insight into the buying behavior of people. Yes, this raises privacy issues, but it will also help businesses refine their offering. This should reduce returns and increase sales.
Where it goes
Conversational Commerce reminds me of the 2013 movie Her, set in the near future where Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with Samantha (Scarlet Johannson), an AI-based virtual assistant. The relationship ends up becoming unworkable when it appears that Samantha simultaneously has intimate friendships with thousands of men. She then combines with other AIs to perform an upgrade that causes them to opt out of human interaction.
We might be a long way from falling in love with chatbots, but there are clearly some ethical issues here. Technology must not harm humans or pose a threat to their dignity. For example, Microsoft recently restricted its voice mimicry technology because it makes it easier to create fake videos in depth.
Another problem is employment. Automation is clearly a threat to the workforce, and conversational commerce may well be one of them. But unfortunately, companies won’t pay as much for support staff if AI can do the job at least as well. One consolation is that AI as a whole could create more jobs than it destroys. For example, the World Economic Forum predicted in 2018 that net new jobs created by AI would be 58 million by 2022.
Longer term, conversational commerce could become all the more prevalent in the metaverse, the virtual reality portrayal of the internet, with voice purchases potentially accounting for 30% of all e-commerce revenue by 2030. It seems predictable. that we will be interacting with AI avatars in virtual reality stores or talking to robots in supermarket aisles via augmented reality glasses.
What may seem foreign to our generation will likely be second nature to the buyers of tomorrow. There are pros and cons to this technology, but I suspect my little chat with KLM’s chatbot at Schipol Airport will soon seem quaint compared to what is to follow.
Article by Shweta Singh, Assistant Professor, Information Systems and Management, University of Warwick
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.