24/7 Chatbots: Future of Online Retail or Hype?

24/7 Chatbots Save Time and Make Money

The age of 24/7 ecommerce is upon us. With customers demanding instantaneous service and support at all hours of the day and night, online retailers are turning to 24/7 chatbots to provide that always-on experience. These automated conversational agents can handle common customer queries, guide shoppers to products, provide recommendations, and more. The question for retailers now is whether to rely solely on automated chatbots. Or combine bot with human agents for escalation. Each has its benefits – bots enable round-the-clock service while live chat provides a personal touch. As chatbots grow more sophisticated through advances in natural language processing and AI, they are poised to transform online shopping into a seamless, customized and immediate experience for customers.

Chatbots provide some clear advantages for online shopping – they enable 24/7 customer service, can respond instantly to common questions, and allow retailers to scale conversations during times of high demand. However, chatbots also have some distinct limitations. Their conversations can feel robotic and impersonal, they struggle with complex inquiries beyond their training data, and customers often want to talk to a real human agent when making a purchase. Whether these limitations can be fully overcome remains to be seen.

As natural language processing improves, chatbots are getting better at understanding context and having more natural conversations. Advances in AI may eventually enable them to handle more complex customer needs. However, consumers seem to crave human interaction for purchasing decisions, support issues and building loyalty. While chatbots will likely play a key role in e-commerce as virtual assistants, the future may be a hybrid model where bots and human agents work together to provide the best overall customer experience. The technology still has progress to make before chatbots can fully deliver on their promise to transform online retail.

Background of Human chat programs

Chatbots and live chat platforms have become ubiquitous in online business over the past decade. Companies like Olark and tawk.to pioneered conversational interfaces that allow real-time interaction between customers and business representatives. Olark was founded in 2008 as one of the first embeddable pure-play chat solutions aimed at customer support and sales. Tawk.to emerged in 2012 as an open-source and freemium alternative focused on simplicity and ease of integration.

These chat tools and others capitalized on the rise of messaging platforms and demand for immediate, personalized customer service online. Using chat software, companies could engage visitors proactively, improve conversion rates, and provide 24/7 assistance. Over the years, live chat has evolved from a novelty to a necessity for online businesses. Today, Olark and tawk.to offer advanced features like co-browsing, bots, and analytics while facing competition from integrated platforms like Intercom and Zendesk. The market for conversational commerce continues to grow as chatbots gain adoption and the tools become more intelligent.

How much would it cost to have chat manned 24 hours a day?

Offering live chat support around the clock can be a significant investment for a company. The costs will vary based on the number of chat agents needed, their wages and benefits, the chat platform fees, and managerial overhead. A basic calculation might assume needing 5 chat agents working 8 hour shifts to provide 24/7 coverage. If chat agents are paid $15 per hour plus benefits estimated at 25% of wages, that’s $22,500 per agent annually. For 5 agents, that’s already $112,500 in annual costs just for wages and benefits.

Adding in licensing costs for chat software, management, training, and other expenses could easily bring the total annual cost to $200,000 or more. Companies have a few options to manage these costs – they can try to limit live chat to peak hours of operation and leverage 24/7 chatbots or self-service for off hours. They can also hire remote or overseas chat agents at lower hourly wages. However, providing truly 24/7 live chat at a high level can require a substantial investment for an online business. The return comes from higher customer satisfaction, sales conversion and loyalty.

Definition and examples of retail 24/7 chatbots

A retail chatbot is an AI-powered conversational agent that interacts with customers to provide assistance and services in online stores and shopping apps. 24/7 Chatbots in retail can handle a variety of functions such as answering product questions, recommending purchases, processing returns, and even making sales.

Leading retailers are deploying chatbots to enhance self-service options for shoppers. For example, 1-800-Flowers uses a chatbot named GWYN to provide gift recommendations and manage orders for special occasions. Home Depot’s chatbot allows customers to query product availability and get home improvement advice. Sephora’s chatbot guides users through selecting makeup products best suited for their needs. And Amazon’s chatbots assist with post-purchase customer service issues. As these AI assistants grow more advanced, they aim to deliver a personalized, conversational shopping experience that builds loyalty while freeing up human customer service reps for higher-level interactions.

Benefits offered by automated 24/7 chatbots

Around-the-clock availability is one of the biggest benefits provided by automated 24/7 chatbots. With a bot, customers can get immediate answers to common questions at any time of day or night. Bots eliminate the need to wait for business hours or call center availability. Automated chatbots also allow retailers to handle spikes in traffic without getting overwhelmed. Bots can chat with thousands of customers simultaneously and provide consistent, accurate responses drawn from their knowledge base. Customers appreciate the convenience and speed of self-service. Retailers benefit from increased sales and customer satisfaction as more questions are answered.

Additional advantages include cost savings from reduced call volume, scalability to meet changing demand, and data collection to identify trends and improve service. As natural language processing advances, chatbots become even better at delivering 24/7 assistance and an on-demand customer experience. Their always-on availability satisfies consumer expectations for immediacy in the digital era.

Limitations and Challenges of Chatbots

While 24/7 chatbots offer benefits, they also come with some distinct limitations. One major challenge is their inability to easily handle complex customer requests. Bots work well for common questions but often struggle with nuanced inquiries that require deeper subject matter expertise or interpretation. They also lack the human touch and empathy that comes naturally to live service agents. Customers often want to speak to a real person when making a big purchase decision or dealing with a sensitive issue.

Additionally, privacy and security remain concerns surrounding bot usage. Customers may be wary of providing personal information to a bot versus a human agent. Retailers need to make sure chatbot systems are not vulnerable to data breaches. Going forward, advances in conversational AI may help 24/7 chatbots become more fluid, contextual and emotionally intelligent. But for now, some customer needs are simply better served through human connection and discretion rather than automated assistance.

Assessment of the Role of Chatbots in the Future of Online Retail

While retail chatbots are becoming more sophisticated, the consensus is they will enhance but not fully replace human customer service. Bots work best for addressing simple, repetitive inquiries like order status, product availability, and shipping and return policies. Handling these routine questions allows human agents to focus on building relationships with customers and handling complex issues. A key factor going forward will be providing a seamless hand-off to a live agent when a customer inquiry exceeds a chatbot’s capabilities. The goal should be combining the always-on convenience of bots with the personalized care of human representatives.

Chatbots are also limited by some customers’ desire for human interaction, especially when making purchases. Retailers need to strike the right balance and use bots for automated simplicity while maintaining access to empathetic service. With smart implementation that plays to their strengths, retail 24/7 chatbots can provide a competitive edge in e-commerce. But the human touch will remain essential.

Conclusion of 24/7 Chatbots

In summary, chatbots have firmly established themselves as an important e-commerce tool when used properly. They offer 24/7 availability and scalability which enables retailers to handle high volumes of simple, repetitive customer inquiries in a cost-effective manner. However, bots do have limitations including struggles with complex requests, lack of human empathy, and privacy concerns. These downsides mean chatbots are best suited for common customer service questions rather than sensitive interactions.

Going forward, the winning strategy will be thoughtfully integrating 24/7 chatbots and live human agents. With humans handling more nuanced conversations and bots providing an always-on automated presence, retailers can balance convenience, personalization and cost. Managing the limitations and benefits of both will be key. When carefully implemented in a complementary fashion, 24/7 chatbots have the opportunity to enhance online shopping without fully replacing the human touch. Sign up today for an ecommerce chatbot.