Software Development: How to Build a Chatbot for E-Commerce
It is truly fascinating how e-commerce has evolved over the last decade. In 2009, most shoppers were frustrated to choose online stores instead of the physical ones. Ordering items online made people uneasy, there wasn’t enough personal connection to the product.
In 2019, the e-commerce landscape has changed drastically. Amazon’s prosperity proves that people got over the fear of online shopping – statistically, over 70% of e-commerce websites users consider themselves experts in choosing the best offer.
There’s no doubt that e-commerce will keep progressing, up to the point of replacing traditional retail. In this post, we’ll take a look at a trend that will shape the landscape of online shopping in the next decade – chatbots. You’ll find out why the technology is more than a buzzword, what are the ways to build an intelligent assistant for your business, other than hiring a remote software developer.
Why Is E-commerce On The Rise?
By 2021, e-commerce will account for over 17% of all retail sales – compared to only 7.4% in 2015. Over the last few years, thousands of online stores emerged, and existing industry leaders got remarkably stronger. Amazon, for one, made a leap from over $19 billion in 2009 to over $232 billion last year.
What is the reason of increasing trust and popularity to e-commerce? Let’s take a look at some reasons that explain the industry’s sudden rise.
- No location limitations. Physical stores have a reach, that’s often limited to a single country, city, or area. Business owners can’t hope to attract clients at the same pace throughout long time frames. Eventually, there will be fewer people who haven’t heard of the brand. For e-commerce, geographical constraints are not as challenging.
- When you run an online business – the whole world is at your feet. Shipping goods abroad the Amazon way or creating an international network of distributors are both realistic ways to scale an e-commerce business. Seeing a broader range of opportunities, aspiring entrepreneurs are more likely to opt for online retail, not the traditional way.
- Lower maintenance cost. Compared to a traditional retailer, an e-commerce business owner doesn’t need to hire employees or rent a property for a store and a warehouse. When it comes to marketing activities, using flexible cost-per-click online advertising models is cheaper than publishing poster, newspaper, or TV ads.
- Better navigation. Moving inside a big store is a lot like getting trapped in a labyrinth. Customers are challenged to find a needed aisle, get to the cash desk, and walk with full shopping carts. On a website, all types of products are grouped into separate tabs, there are search tabs that help pinpoint needed goods with surgical precision. Other than that, e-commerce retailers use technology to record shoppers’ preferences and curate personalized product reels.
- Zero travel time. Visiting a favorite store by clicking the mouse or tapping on a smartphone screen is faster than getting there physically. As a result, e-commerce platforms are in-demand for people with busy schedules as well as the residents who live in the suburbs and have no direct access to big shopping malls.
- Informed decision-making. E-commerce gave rise to comparison shopping. Customers can compare dozens of offers on various platforms and settle with the most convenient option.
- 24/7 access. Last but not least, e-commerce stores are always open – it’s a win-win situation for retailers and customers alike. The former will be able to maintain a constant stream of orders while the latter don’t have to wait for the opening of the favorite mall by the closed doors.
All the factors listed above contributed to the development of e-commerce. In the future, online shopping is likely to overshadow traditional retail. There are red flags already.
Amazon.com And Alibaba: the Most Powerful E-commerce Duo
To understand what lies ahead for e-commerce businesses, look no further than at two frontrunners of the industry. Amazon is storming all over the west, while Alibaba is rivaling JD.com in China and has a considerable international presence.
Let’s take a look at what makes these projects as famous and well-received by shoppers and get to know the companies’ aspirations for the future.
- Over 197 million monthly active visitors;
- Accounts for 49% of all e-commerce sales in America;
- On average, Amazon members spend over 1.4 thousand dollars per year.
Amazon is a poster case of what it means for a company to be in the right place at the right time. As the company has been founded in the early times of the web, Amazon has seen multiple trends and managed to evolve every single time.
Adaptability is a significant, yet not the only reason Amazon took off so rapidly. Here’s a closer look of what the e-commerce giant has to offer that other retailers fail to.
- Wide coverage of products – as for now, Amazon sells over 12 million items;
- Credibility – all products can be sorted by reviews. Also, the retailer strictly verifies the credibility of all comments.
- Personalization. This includes curated newsletters, intelligent ‘Recommendations’ tab, and so on.
- Innovation. Amazon is a frontrunner in implementing AI and other modern technologies. Projects like Amazon Go are clear proof of the retailer’s trailblazing nature.
Doing e-commerce the Amazon way is not the only path to success in the industry. Let’s take a look at a different side of the online shopping coin – the Chinese-based Alibaba.
- A self-proclaimed leader in initial public offering – over $25 billion.
- The company’s annual revenue has grown up to $13.9 billion last year;
- The platform accommodates 8.5 million active sellers.
Alibaba’s beginnings are similar to Amazon’s. Founded in Jack Ma’s apartment in Hangzhou back in 1999, the platform took off at a pace like no other. In 5 years, the online marketplace Taobao.com was launched, Alipay, and Aliwangwang (an instant messenger app) followed.
The reasons for Alibaba’s success, however, differ significantly from those for Amazon. Let’s take a closer look at the main factors that make the platform so attractive to online shoppers.
- Placing a bet on SMEs. Alibaba mainly tailors to individual shoppers and small companies. While a single small enterprise would not be able to spend a ton on Alibaba, collectively, local businesses are a force to be reckoned with. Thanks to its B2B positioning, Alibaba managed to withstand the rivalry of Amazon and JD.com, a powerful local competitor, successfully.
- An integrated e-commerce ecosystem. Alibaba focuses on providing sellers with a reliable platform for running a business. A fair share of the company’s innovations are retailer-facing: an advertising platform, a logistics platform, an environment for processing mobile and terminal payments.
- Exploring the power of big data. Alibaba uses data science to fuel its credit system and provide risk-free loans, to help advertisers reach the target audience in the cheapest way possible, and to create a stronger bond with an end consumer.
Alibaba manages to retain its market share thanks to a business-friendly approach. Attracting millions of sales, the retailer manages to accommodate the cheapest offers. Alibaba.com has a reputation of the platform that collects all the most convenient deals.
4 Factors That Determine The Success of Ecommerce Businesses
E-commerce businesses are multi-faceted. A company manager has to attract customers, provide them with the top-notch digital customer experience, ensure a safe and fast delivery, and create a framework for continuous customer support.
There are multiple factors that determine if an e-commerce project succeeds or fails. The following aspects are the cornerstones of a highly functional business in online retail:
1. Customer Support
The lack of connection with the brand is a recurring issue shoppers have with e-commerce businesses. A successful e-commerce company needs to go out of its way to show trustworthiness and reliability. That’s why investing in customer support is not optional.
To maintain 24/7 support, a company manager would have to hire hundreds of employees, willing to work at night. Engaging so much workforce is impossible for businesses at founding stages. That’s where automation comes in handy.
Chatbots are a way to offer 24/7 customer service without investing in dedicated teams. Customer satisfaction surveys indicate that people prefer text communication over voice – having an intelligent assistant they that’s available for a chat anytime is a win-win both for company managers and end customers.
2. Multi-channel promotion
A successful e-commerce business doesn’t count on a single marketing channel. Instead, it encompasses all platforms – both traditional and emerging ones. While the value of posters and TV ads will not pay off in higher conversion rates, these promotion means will bring force more reputational gain than digital advertising.
Combining social media, PPC, email, content marketing, and offline promotion strategies is a way for online businesses to get the word of their existence out there, attract customers and website visitors.
3. High accessibility
To be successful, an e-commerce platform has to be easy to use. Mobile online shopping is a growing trend – business managers have to comply with it. To provide customers with the highest accessibility out there, companies launch native smartphone apps or optimize web applications to make them as mobile-friendly as possible.
Another facet of accessibility is making sure that visually impaired customers will be able to navigate the website with no issues. To achieve that, designers use larger fonts and contrasting colors in themes.
4. Secure data storage
In the light of data breaches as massive as the one at Facebook last year, the web users become more aware and cautious when it comes to security and sharing personal data. E-commerce businesses deal with sensitive data on a daily basis – personal information, credit card numbers, and shipping addresses. Using AES-256 and other encryption algorithms is crucial to protect the database records from third-party attacks.
Using SSL-encryption is another way to attack-prove the platform. Google encourages websites to use the certificate. Thus, SSL-protected pages score higher in the search rankings.
Guide To Building A Simple Chatbot For Your Business
We mentioned chatbots as an impactful innovation in e-commerce customer service. If you’re running a small business, investing heavily in building a chatbot might not be on your list of plans.
The good news is, there are ways to build a chatbot that would not cost an arm and a leg. Here’s a short non-tech guide on creating one for an e-commerce business.
Step 1. Brainstorming
Building a chatbot starts with planning out all the features you want it to perform. Run a-few-hour-long brainstorming session and outline the following points:
- Target audience – who are the users of the chatbot?
- Goals of a bot;
- Functions it should carry;
- Budget you’re willing to invest
- Deadline constraints (if any).
After all of the above has been outlined, you will have a clear understanding of how much time and money it will take to bring all the features to life.
Step 2. Design the flow
Next up, sketching a path a user needs to walk to complete his query. Usually, chatbot user flows have a tree-like structure. You can either draw a visual map on your own or use chatbot prototyping tools, like the following ones:
- BotMock – a powerful platform for editing and creating prototypes. It is jam-packed with features – collaborative editing, a wide gallery of layout templates, and so on.
- BotFrame. A non-tech tool for chatbot prototyping. It allows developers to sketch user flows in no time, without having to create an account.
- BotPrototype – a tool with dozens of presentation options. Users can export prototypes as PDF files, videos, or images.
Step 3. Write for the bot
Once the flow is ready, think about the way a chatbot will talk to customers. It’s a crucial part of the development curve as you have to design a personality that would present the company in an appealing way.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you write lines for a chatbot:
- Stay conversational. A bot should speak in simple terms, be friendly and on equal ground with a user.
- Keep boundaries. Imitating human conversations is recommended only to an extent. A responsible chatbot developer needs to let the customer know loud and clear that he’s dealing with a virtual assistant, not a human.
- Avoid dead ends. If a chatbot is out of its depth, make sure it sends a customer to a human, not an article or a website. This way, the company lowers the odds of losing prospect leads.
- Keep the messages short to ensure mobile users have a comfortable reading experience.
Step 4. Choose a development platform
For business managers with no tech experience, building a bot from scratch would be needlessly challenging. Going for a chatbot development platform with off-the-shelf layouts and no coding experience as a prerequisite is a better alternative.
As a starting point, consider trying out the following tools:
- Chatfuel – a simple platform for building Facebook Messenger assistants;
- Botsify – a Facebook Messenger bot builder that supports artificial intelligence, human takeover, and many more convenient features;
- Flow XO – an interaction powerhouse, with over 100 available options.
- Mode.ai – a golden mean for people with medium-level tech knowledge. You’ll be able to customize a bot by writing Node.js code manually or use built-in layouts.
Step 5. Test the bot
Once the chatbot is ready, it’s too early to release it without testing. To avoid conversion pitfalls, company managers thoroughly assess a bot’s performance – how many clicks it takes to get an answer, if there are duplicate or redundant lines, if the tool is easy to access and bug-free.
While there are platforms for chatbot testing, using a small focus group is the most efficient way to see how a virtual assistant performs in the real-world context.
Step 6. Deploy the bot
When the bot is ready, deploy it to the platforms that are widely used by your customers. Some of the popular options include:
- Facebook Messenger;
After the bot is out, schedule regular reporting sessions when you analyze customer feedback and evaluate if there’s room for improvement.
E-commerce is an industry with a broad pool of opportunities – worldwide target audiences, 24/7 access to customers, multiple marketing channels, and so on. It is also an extremely competitive niche, with giants like Amazon and Alibaba in the picture.
Small businesses need to implement innovations so that they don’t get lost in the tough crowd. Chatbots are a way to capitalize on the website and social media visitors and turn them into leads. You will be able to consult regular customers and turn their interest into chat conversion 247. There’s a wide range of free tools that help build a bot from scratch – give them a try to make the most out of the innovation without investing a cent.