Conversational Commerce - Just a buzz or a trend with substance?

Conversational Commerce - Just a buzz or a trend with substance?



This last decade has witnessed the emergence of myriad buzzwords. And 2016 is no exception: E-Commerce, Web 2.0, Social Media, Augmented Reality, and Instant Messaging – the list is endless. The latest creation? Conversational Commerce. While most of these buzzwords have now found a home in our vocabulary, they tend to mean different things to different people. Here is an attempt to shed some light on the new kid on the block.


The Man behind Conversational Commerce

Behind each memorable Buzzword is a great mind. In this case, the invention of the term “Conversational Commerce” is attributed to Chris Messina. Back to January 2015, he published an insightful article on the topic whose headline set the tone for what was to come: “messaging apps bring the point of sale to you.”

Chris Messina is no stranger in the digital scene. He happens to be at the source of the Twitter Hashtags. His idea of indexing content using Hashtag (#) proved very successful – a success he didn’t anticipate since he neglected to patent his work. This however, didn’t prevent him from making it to the social media wall of fame, with or without patent.

In January 2016, he went on to publish another article “2016 will be the year of Conversational Commerce”. Since Chris Messina’s reputation as a visionary digital genius extends beyond the introduction of the Hashtags, the topic of Conversational Commerce deserves a strategic and content deep dive.

What Conversational Commerce is not?

It is in the nature of buzzwords to be often perceived as complex and difficult to grasp. Following this logic, numerous articles have linked Conversational Commerce to so-called Chatbots – Messenger apps using robot programs to simulate customer dialogue through virtual employees, a practice that is still in the experimental phase. Conversational Commerce can impossibly be mistaken for Chatbots.

In 1999, four American scientists published the Cluetrain Manifesto – a powerful and visionary publication. Well before the Web 2.0 became reality, this manifesto accurately predicted how the social media channels would come to life and evolve. To date, this ‘statement of belief’ remains a credible source, which went as far as foreseeing the emergence of Conversational Commerce: Thesis 1 “markets are conversations” and Thesis 3 “conversations between people sound human. They will lead to human voices.” could easy be regarded as the key pillars of the Conversational Commerce movement.

So what is actually Conversational Commerce?

It boils down to a fairly simple statement: “Social Media meets e-commerce”. Historical references come here very handy: Conversational Commerce is the fruit of Digital Transformation. It started with the appearance of e-mail in 1971, prevailed through the emergence of e-commerce at the beginning of the century and reached its peak with the Social Media wave in 2009. After 7 years of trial and error, it became clear that social media activities shared one common denominator: they all evolved around communication – or dialog to be precise. The dialogues were mostly user-focused, free of any sales or marketing motivation. This user-centricity put the consumers and their needs at the heart of the conversations.

E-Commerce essentially boils down to a conversation with the user at its heart.

The picture is a different one with e-Commerce: Companies’ own best interest were at the core of the communication, namely generate revenues and growth. But the needs of consumers and businesses are now slowly but surely converging.

But why this step in the digital evolution? Why now? Simple – Up until now, there was no available technology enabling dialogue and commerce in such a way that consumers and businesses can be brought together. The messaging technology makes it possible now. Almost anyone today is familiar with WhatsApp, Threema, and Facebook Messenger. Messenger apps facilitate Conversational Commerce: the connection between product providers AND technology paved the way to a new form of user communication. It is as close to the usual analog sales pitch as it can get. Airlines companies understood it: Through smart connection over messenger apps, they can now provide the same service level as analog commerce. The beauty of this: Conversational Commerce works with minimal individual efforts, regardless of time or place.

To close with the words of Chris Messina: “messaging apps bring the point of sale to you’.

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