Everything Retail Execs Need to Know About Bots and How They Can Transform the Customer Experience

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Posted Apr 28, 2017 7:00:00 AM by Greg Henry & filed under enterprise mobility solutions

You’ve surely heard the term “bots” before. But whether your perception of them is good or bad depends greatly on the context. Either way, bots can play a key role in your retail customer experience.

Good and Bad Bots

For some, experience with bots is a negative one. Spam bots fill our inboxes. Impersonator bots attack our websites. Scraper bots attempt to steal our data. According to Imperva Incapsula’s Bot Traffic Report, 28.9% of all internet traffic comes from “bad bots.”

So it’s no wonder that for many people, the word “bots” leaves a sour taste.

Despite all that, bots are not inherently bad. One of the most positive notes in the Incapsula report is that “good bots” are on the upswing, accounting for 22.9% of internet traffic.

You should be familiar with these good bots, too. Crawler bots find and populate massive search engines like Google. Monitor bots protect your website, networks, and digital devices. Chatbots support messaging programs like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Kik.

Apple’s Siri is a bot. So is Microsoft’s Cortana. And Amazon’s Alexa is, too.

So what do all these bots have in common?

CNet defines a bot as “an application that performs an automated task, such as setting an alarm, telling you the weather or searching online.”

What Retail Execs Should Know About Bots

As a retail executive, you don’t need to know how a bot works, but you should be aware of what they can do for your retail customer experience.

Understanding the bad bots is important because you need to make sure you have safeguards in place. As a retailer, you are going to be targeted. All that financial transaction data will draw bad bots like a moth to a flame. Fail to defend yourself adequately and these bots can disrupt your business, block sales, and worst of all, steal customer data.

As for the good bots, you should see them as opportunities. Opportunities to improve operational efficiencies, perform data extractions, and monitor critical processes.

Most importantly, the right bot has the potential to transform your customer experience. And that’s something every retail exec should be thinking about.

Creating Unique Retail Customer Experiences In-Store

Have you ever wandered around a store, looking in vain for a free associate to answer a question? Or maybe you didn’t even bother because finding an answer wasn’t worth the effort?

Retail chatbots could make this problem a thing of the past. How? By answering many of the most common questions shoppers ask.

  • “Where can I find the widgets?”
  • “Do you have this in stock?”
  • “What time do you close?”

According to VentureBeat, “Shifting from physical commerce to electronic commerce and now to conversational commerce, the retail industry is obviously relying less and less on human interaction.”

More importantly, retailers are trying to focus their human interactions where they provide the most value to the retail customer experience; areas like greeting customers, guiding product discovery, and closing sales. The more of those “other questions” a chatbot can handle, the more valuable your employees’ time will be… and the more profitable your business.

Macy’s is one retailer doing just that with its “mobile companion” chatbot.

Neiman Marcus took a different approach. Their “Bluetooth beacons” app guides shoppers to in-store sales items with a network of wireless nodes.

And Nordstrom created a gift bot that produced customized gift recommendations based on responses to a series of questions.

Most of these chatbots incorporate some form of Artificial Intelligence (AI) – like IBM’s Watson – to handle the open-ended nature and variability of how customers pose their requests.

Providing an Almost-Human Touch Online

We’re all familiar with the customer service chat boxes that suddenly appear on many websites today, usually after browsing for a short period of time. In most cases, they’ll offer a name – sometimes a picture, too – and ask if they can help answer any questions.

But don’t be misled… most of these aren’t people at all, they’re bots.

So what happens if you ask a question in that chat box? It depends on the bot, of course. In some cases, you’ll be routed to chat with an actual person. In others, there are no “real” people involved and the AI answers all questions. And the more sophisticated bots will process your question and decide if it can answer on its own or if you need human interaction instead.

This is all done seamlessly, of course. “Pat, your Customer Service Rep” is most likely an AI chatbot. But it could also be a real person named Pat, or even Bob in IT. Most visitors won’t even know – or care – if they’re talking to a real person or not. As long as their questions get answered, they’re happy.

That level of responsiveness is what’s missing from the retail customer experience on many sites. An AI chatbot can solve that, providing an “almost human” touch to answer questions and set your online shoppers’ minds at ease.

The Retail Concierge

Finding what you need in a crowded shopping mall isn’t easy. Especially when that mall covers 5.6 million square feet, like the Mall of America (MoA) in Minnesota.

That’s why the MoA created its own unique AI chatbot, a mobile concierge called the Experience List Formulator (ELF). According to Retail Chatbots Show the Power of Artificial Intelligence in Adweek, visitors type in what they’re looking for and the ELF produces a customized plan for the day. It offers much more than shopping routes, too – the bot also suggests available activities and works those into your plan. Finally, it takes into account how much total time you have to spend… so you’ll know exactly how much “extra” time you have to browse and explore.

Discover the Possibilities for Your Own Retail Bot

Not sure which idea would provide the most value for your retail customer experience? Or maybe you’re excited by these ideas, but don’t know where to start? DecisionPoint is here to help. For over 25 years, we’ve provided technology solutions for the retail industry. Click here to find out more about working with us – whether it’s implementing our retail enterprise software or building your own retail bot.

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