What are Chatbots? A Handy Breakdown

Although heralded as no less than “the future of marketing” and “the next frontier” in mobile engagement, most people still have no idea what a chatbot even is. We’re here to help.

What is a chatbot? Even older than Clippy, the helpful paper clip on Microsoft Word, chatbots have been around since the 1960s, but are now entering the mainstream. To put it simply, chatbots are automated computer programs that are designed to carry on a seemingly natural conversation with a human. They utilize ever-evolving artificial intelligence capabilities to be able to provide information, solve problems, sell products, or simply entertain.

Chatbots can take many forms and live in many places, but the chatbots we want to focus on are the ones at the heart of all the current buzz: messaging app chatbots. Messaging platforms are the ones that let you text your friends cost-free—think Facebook Messenger, Kik, Viber, What’s App, Slack (typically used internally by companies), and others. Recently, Facebook Messenger, Kik, and Slack have all opened up their platforms for developers to create chatbot experiences that live in them. Practically speaking, this means that you can “chat” with a brand instead of with your friend. How does it work? See below:

1. Search for brand the same way you search for a friend.

2. Say hi by pressing “Get Started.”

3. You’re now in a chat with a brand.

Next is where the “bot” part of chatbot kicks in. You are not actually chatting with a human customer service agent sitting on the other end. Instead, the brand has computer programs that allow it to communicate intelligently with you.

What comes in that communication is up to what the brand created. Both Nordstrom and DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse had holiday season bots that helped you select gifts for others, which you could purchase then and there. Uniqlo IQ is a general shopping bot created by Japanese retail giant Uniqlo. The 1-800-Flowers bot lets you send flowers without ever leaving Messenger, and the Victoria’s Secret Pink bot, found in Kik, finds you the perfect bra size and fit–an example of the power chatbots have to create a totally customized experience. Indeed, Headliner Beauty – a chatbot we built on Messenger – asks users some style questions and allows them to upload a selfie, which it uses to provide customized makeup recommendations chosen specifically for them that they can purchase within the bot. Links to videos, articles, coupons and contests can be implemented within bots, making them even more interactive and custom.
Sounds simple enough. So why are chatbots considered the future of e-commerce? Read our next blog post to find out!

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