Retailers are among the first businesses to hop on board Apple’s new Business Chat feature that allows iPhone consumers to easily text customer service agents.

Lowe’s Cos. Inc. and 1-800-Flowers.com Inc. are among the first few retailers experimenting with Apple Inc.’s Business Chat for iPhones.

The function is available to consumers who have updated their software to iOS 11.3, which Apple released at the end of March. Currently, 11 brands use Apple’s Business Chat, including The Home Depot Inc. (No. 8  in the Internet Retailer Top 500), Newegg Inc. (No. 21) and Apple (No. 2).

     
The new business chat feature lets iPhone consumers use their normal “Messages” app to text with retailers. Here’s how it works: An iPhone consumer searchers on her iPhone for a retailer, such as “1-800-Flowers.” The smartphone results display a list of related suggestions, including related websites, locations in the Maps app and apps for the retailer, with one of the top suggestions to message 1-800-Flowers. A consumer can then tap on the Messages icon and then the Messages app opens to a chat window with 1-800-Flowers.

A consumer can then text the retailer and a customer service agent will respond within the chat.

Consumers can ask about order status, schedule a delivery and pay with Apple Pay within the Messages App.

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“At 1-800-Flowers.com, we are always looking for innovative ways to enhance the shopping experience, so we are very excited to support Apple Business Chat, which provides a powerful new avenue for connecting with our customers wherever and whenever they choose,” says a 1-800-Flowers spokeswoman.

For a retailer to integrate with Apple’s Business Chat, the merchant must already use one of the following customer service platforms: LivePerson Inc., Genesys, Salesforce.com Inc., Nuance Communications Inc., Zendesk Inc. or InTheChat.

Apple does not share the consumer contact information, according to Apple.

Lowe’s decided to implement the feature in order to communicate with shoppers in the way they prefer. Lowe’s has noticed that shoppers often choose an instant message over a phone call or email, says Gihad Jawhar, vice president of digital development at Lowe’s.

“Messaging platforms provide customers another way to engage with a brand that is often times faster, more efficient and personal,” Jawhar says. “More and more, customers are showing that they prefer the convenience of messaging customer service versus making phone calls. Our support for Apple Business Chat makes messaging exponentially more powerful for our customers and our customer service agents.”

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Lowe’s has worked on deploying Apple Business Chat for just less than a year, Jawhar says. In that time period, the retailer has launched pilots and trained its customer service representatives on how to use it. Currently, Lowe’s has Business Chat in select markets in the U.S. and is analyzing how many consumers use it and for what need. The retailer’s goal is to expand the program nationwide in a few weeks, he says.

When a shopper messages Lowe’s via Business Chat, the message goes directly to one of its customer service agents or to a chatbot. The chatbot will answer common customer questions, which allows agents to answer more complex questions, Jawhar says.

1-800-Flowers is No. 59 in the Top 500, and Lowe’s is No. 25.

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