Shoppers are ready for chatbots, the interactive software that uses artificial intelligence to simulate human conversation. After all, two out of five consumers say they’re open to interacting with a chatbot in a retail scenario, according to a survey conducted on behalf of customer service vendor 24/7 Customer Inc.

But it isn’t enough for a retailer to develop a chatbot, it needs to map out why it aims to do so, says Rohan Deuskar, CEO of Stylitics Inc., a fashion e-commerce technology vendor that has built three bots for the mobile messaging app Kik and is building several more for Kik, Facebook Inc.’s Messenger app and several other platforms.

Deuskar knows that sounds obvious. But today’s chatbots are a lot like the first mobile apps that rolled out soon after the iPhone launched. Many of those apps were amusing, but few had a clear reason for existing and even fewer offered functionality that produced a better shopping experience than a retailer’s website.

“When the first iPhone apps came out, people were drawn to create them, but they didn’t know what the greatest use cases were,” says Matt Schlicht, CEO of the chatbot-building tool Octane AI and founder of Chatbots Magazine. “So we saw things like the fart app become wildly popular. It took years for apps like Instagram and Snapchat to appear. Right now, we’re in the fart app phase of chatbots.”

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