Why One Industry Expert Thinks Chatbots Are Retailers’ New Best Friends

Jatinder SinghJatinder Singh is a retail industry expert at San Francisco’s Slalom Consulting, where he guides ecommerce clients on all things omnichannel. When we say “expert,” we’re not kidding: Jatinder or “J” (his preferred nickname) made his way to Slalom after helping Target’s Omnichannel Innovation team conceptualize and launch their Beauty Box initiative and a next-gen Back to School shopping experience. He also led Target’s highly successful Wedding Registry program, which reaped $150 million in revenue.

These days, J spends a lot of time thinking about how conversational commerce will transform online shopping. Narvar asked for his thoughts on achieving a state of ecommerce bliss, buying cat food and dreaming of the Italian countryside.


Tell us about your role at Slalom Consulting.

As a retail industry consultant, I help clients transform their business through innovative technologies. We identify and clearly define both an existing problem or challenge and the end goal or desired outcome. My team and I help formulate a strategic direction, identify key solutions and implement a process to bring about a positive transformation. Along the way, we objectively measure and analyze changes and improvements across various business metrics.  

You could say my goal is to help retail clients achieve “omnichannel nirvana.” Truly innovative retailers must become not just omnichannel but omnipresent. I think the new breed of “always listening” virtual assistants is a key tool for reaching this goal, both in terms of setting consumer expectations and extending retailers’ omnipresent capabilities.

So that’s where the opportunity for retail “nirvana” lies?

Yes. Here’s an example from my own life. The other day I was opening a can of cat food and realized I had only three cans left. I “woke up” my Amazon Echo and said, “Alexa, reorder cat food.” Alexa reconfirmed the brand based on my last purchase, requested my pin code and then placed my order, all in about one minute. The speed and ease with which Alexa transformed my retail need into an actual purchase exemplifies the new omnichannel nirvana consumers will soon expect from all retail experiences.

Another area to watch is experiential retail. Innovative AR/VR technologies are bringing a whole new meaning to the adage “try before you buy” and allowing retailers to rethink traditional brick and mortar spaces. New Balance, Nike, Bonobos, Warby Parker and Target are creating retail spaces where consumers interact with and experience products before they purchase.

Truly innovative retailers must become not just omnichannel but omnipresent.

How would you explain “conversational commerce” to a novice?

Conversational commerce is technology that allows consumers to interact with brands based on natural language. Customers can directly contact a retailer through Facebook Messenger, Skype, Slack or SMS – all the services they already use to communicate with family and friends.

The technology powering conversational commerce is called “chatbots.” Chatbots help customers quickly and easily order anything from pizza and coffee to office supplies and apparel. This technology is helping to streamline and simplify ecommerce, and it’s redefining the customer service space, too.

Imagine a customer wants to order flowers for his wife. He goes to Facebook Messenger and chats with a “FlowersBot.” The conversation might go something like this:

FlowerBot

That’s conversational commerce in action. Easy, right?

You seem pretty excited about this technology.

The potential impact of conversational commerce on ecommerce is unprecedented. So, yes, I’m excited!

For consumers, conversational commerce will significantly simplify all their digital interactions with brands. When consumers everywhere – especially in regions with limited Internet access or technology experience – can use natural language via voice or text to bank, shop or even consult with a doctor, they will be more empowered, connected and informed than ever before.

For businesses, conversational commerce will allow for hyper-personalized interactions and experiences. A chatbot knows a consumer’s preferences based on previous conversations and uses this information to make highly customized recommendations about goods and services. Such extreme personalization will boost conversion rates and build long-term brand loyalty.

So when will robots become our new overlords? (Sorry, we had to ask.)

I’m not worried about terminators taking over our world just yet. That being said, some highly respected technology visionaries including Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking have raised concerns that artificial intelligence (AI) might one day harm humanity. At this point, however, it’s impossible to predict if AI will ever have enough self-awareness, plus a loathing for humanity, that robots will seek to enslave us.

That’s a relief. Please name one thing on your Netflix watch list.

Stranger Things. It has an 80’s classic rock soundtrack, pays homage to Steven Spielberg-style science fiction, features a really scary monster and has phenomenal synth-laden credit music. Need I say more?

What’s your ideal place to live and why?

I’d live in Italy for its food, wine, architecture, beautiful countryside, stunning shoreline and its future-defining history. I’ll never get enough of Italy in just one lifetime.