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An Interview with Tom Wark of the National Association of Wine Retailers (NAWR)

May 18, 2017

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All That Chatter: Chatbots Angling to Get More Action in eCommerce

April 18, 2017

While basic chatbots (computer programs designed to simulate conversation) have existed in some form for decades, it was perhaps in October 2011, when Apple incorporated Siri into their iPhone operating system (iOS 5), that they became mainstream.  In fact, less than 5 years later, a survey taken by Creative Strategies found that 98% of iPhone owners have used Siri.  A significant factor in this the adoption of Siri is that users find it quicker and easier to ask a bot a question and get an immediate and helpful response than to search for the same information manually.  We’ve reached a point where chatbots are sophisticated enough to be the fastest way to answer certain questions and obtain information.

 

While most people are familiar with Siri and other proprietary chatbots that leverage speech recognition like Alexa, Cortana, and OK Google, there’s now also a blossoming chatbot industry focused specifically on integration with messaging applications such as Facebook Messenger, Slack, and Skype.  For a great example, try going to Fandango’s Facebook page, and sending a message asking about local movie times.  You’ll receive a series of chatbot-driven replies that will ask for your location, list out available films and times, and even allow you to purchase tickets!  Every response is nearly immediate, making it faster than using the Fandango website or mobile app.

 

Unlike proprietary chatbot celebrities like Siri and Cortana, most of the chatbots deployed on messaging apps handle parsing text and speech to interpret meaning and intent through API’s--tools that allow the developer to leverage and integrate 3rd party programming.  The upshot is that, just as it’s easier and cheaper to buy a Lego set to make a creation than it is to manufacture your own blocks from scratch, building a sophisticated, helpful chatbot has become significantly simpler due to the emergence of APIs.  We will likely soon find them becoming far more ubiquitous.

 

In wine retail eCommerce there still are no live examples of chatbots making product recommendations and guiding consumer purchases yet, but it seems like this type of application is a natural fit for online retailers.  In-store interactions and recommendations are often a huge part of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience.  Some online wine retailers are using “live chat” tools that connect visitors with store staff to answer questions, but live chat tools not only take more staff to maintain but also can’t be manned 24/7.  

 

That said, at least one company is planning to have an impact our wine retail eCommerce this year.  Magia, a San Jose startup founded last year, is developing a chatbot that will first take aim at answering consumer questions about wine and guiding users to product recommendations.  When it goes live, retail partners will supply an inventory feed to Magia (similar to setting up a Wine-Searcher feed), and the bot will process the details and begin incorporating them into its correspondence with consumers.   What’s more, with help from the eCommerce site developer, there are possible integration points with actually placing orders or checking on order statuses through the chatbot.
 

While chatbot messaging technology doesn’t have much saturation in eCommerce interactions today, the fact that it’s becoming easier and cheaper to deploy solutions, suggests we will soon see them with much greater frequency--including in our own industry.

 

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