Chatbots are already proving useful for some retailers.

In today’s booming e-commerce environment, in which thousands of online merchants compete for shoppers’ attention, it is critical e-retailers provide an excellent customer experience. That means e-retailers must provide them with the specific information they need to ultimately make a purchase decision.

“An ideal online shopping experience is like the one you would get in the real world, where the customer goes into a store and engages in a meaningful conversation about what he wants with a knowledgeable sales rep,” says Jordi Torras, CEO of Inbenta, a vendor of customer service and search technology that uses artificial intelligence. “Historically, that has been difficult—if not impossible—to accomplish online, where customers either scroll through a catalog of products looking for what they want or try to use a clunky keyword-based search function for answers to their questions.”

While typical e-commerce websites offer product descriptions, FAQ sections and “contact us” options as ways for customers to learn more about products, Torras says most retailers haven’t been able to interact with customers or provide the degree of service they could render in a physical store. 

Torras contends that’s changing, thanks to technology that utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) through machine learning. Machine learning is a type of AI that allows computer programs, when exposed to new data, the ability to learn and do new things without being explicitly programmed to do so.

“Artificial intelligence software is able to combine knowledge of products and how they’re used to help customers find merchandise very quickly and efficiently, as well as receive intelligent answers to any questions they may have,” he explains.

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One AI-powered tool that accomplishes this is a chatbot. Chatbots work similarly to live chat sessions, but rather than being operated by humans, chatbots are powered by artificial intelligence. The chatbot uses conversational language to respond to customer queries and engage the customer. “It’s a live chat conversation not with an actual agent, but with virtual intelligence—an AI entity,” Torras explains.

Chatbots are already proving useful for some retailers. For example, when eBay Inc.-owned online ticket seller Ticketbis recently experienced an increase in customer support tickets, its staff struggled to respond quickly. At the same time,

Ticketbis wanted to reallocate its live agents to more complex, higher value customer interactions. To gain efficiencies, it implemented Inbenta’s self-service and chatbot technology.

Ticketbis saw changes soon after implementation. Among them, it reduced chat sessions with human agents by 80% and decreased inbound email support tickets and customer inquiries by 20% because the chatbot handled requests human agents previously would have and the overall number of customer inquiries went down. The changes meant the company was able to reallocate its human support agents to higher value customer interactions.

“Creating intelligent virtual agents with Inbenta fundamentally changes the way buyers and sellers experience our brand,” says Andreia Ferreira, live chat and customer service manager at Ticketbis. “The technology uses conversational language, enabling customers to use their own words and phrases to answer simple questions or wait for a live human agent if it’s a more complex matter.”

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Torras says artificial intelligence services such as chatbots not only save time and resources for retailers, it also helps increase conversion rates.

“When customers have a great shopping experience and receive all the information they need about products, they buy them,” he explains, adding that one Inbenta client recently boosted its conversion rate by 3% after implementing artificial intelligence technology. “AI allows retailers solve these and other common challenges retailers face quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively.”