Bot Invasion: Will Facebook’s New In-App A.I. Messaging Change The Face of Ecommerce?

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One of the most intriguing announcements to come of out of F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference, has got many ecommerce businesses bracing for impact – bots. Read on to find out how bots might fundamentally change your online business model below.

How May I Help You?

What Are Bots?

Bots are an in-Facebook Messenger software tool that will allow customers to ask questions, make comments, and even place orders directly with a company through its Facebook account’s message interface. How are bots different from conventional on-site customer service?

• Automation vs Artificial Intelligence. We are all familiar with “self-serve” on-site answers support which searches help articles relating to a customer’s questions. With bots, customers will engage with a rudimentary form of a.i. which directly answers questions in a conversational voice. Think Siri, with an encyclopedic knowledge of one ecommerce site’s total catalog.

• Bots can take orders. Conventional online business software typically directs customers through category, product, cart, and checkout pages to complete a sale. A bot will allow customers to complete a purchase from start to finish without ever leaving Facebook Messenger.

• Live recommendations = better upsells. An a.i. bot will not only answer questions, but suggest relevant products, like a highly-informed salesman working on your company’s behalf.

Bots and Your Existing Facebook Marketing Campaign
If you already advertise on Facebook, your ecommerce marketing plan probably looks something like this:

1. Spur new user engagement through highly targeted display ads and posts.
2. Remarket to that group with powerful incentives to click through to an external ecommerce site.
3. Use site content and structure to entice visitors to convert.

Bots could dramatically reduce the number of steps involved – the new normal for Facebook marketing might look like:

1. Place targeted display ads with the objective of direct message contact.
2. Allow bots to describe and sell your inventory.

For today’s enterprise ecommerce seller, this might sound like science fiction. The vast number of complex factors which must be harmonically integrated to run a large-scale enterprise business could never be automatically managed by a cheerful robot salesman… or could they?
Will Bots Be Integrated Into Popular Ecommerce Platforms?
Today’s top enterprise ecommerce platforms already execute a form of this automation. What is enterprise ecommerce if not the expert automation of customer management, order fulfillment, and all the various systems which fuel a business? Bots are surely just the latest iteration of such automation – with one difference – the new bot platform announced at F8 will only run through Facebook.

The risks of running your entire business through Facebook apps: there goes your bottom line. Though Mark Zuckerberg conveniently didn’t announce pricing details yet, you can be 100% certain Facebook will innovate ways to charge businesses at every step of the bot process, including percentages of sales, in addition to the hefty ad costs you are already paying.
The human touch cannot be replaced (yet).
Popular ecommerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce already struggle to provide true enterprise-level automation to the broad range of individual businesses using the platforms. Without dedicated and highly specialized design and development support, many young startups find their ecommerce plans crashing and burning because custom architecture is simply not possible off-the-shelf.

While true bot implementation is still years off, we will always need to augment our latest tech advances with human insight, creativity, and experience. The best business software is a tool to wield with intention and intelligence, qualities which can never be automated.